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Is TV Ready for David Lynch? : The director of 'Blue Velvet' and 'Eraserhead' brings his unique vision to the prime-time soap opera 'Twin Peaks'

February 18, 1990|STEVE WEINSTEIN

Out of the early morning fog that lingers on the still waters by the lumber mill, the town's blonde, teen-age beauty queen, meticulously shrouded in a white plastic tarp, her cherubic face washed deathly white, her full lips drained of color, floats gently ashore--her youthful sexuality more alluring in death than in life.

So begins "Twin Peaks," ABC's bizarre and quirky new nighttime soap opera--the horrific murder of Laura Palmer unlocking a Pandora's Box of secrets, mysteries and illicit trysts that eventually touch the lives of nearly all the peculiar inhabitants of this small lumber town nestled in the lush green forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Created by "Blue Velvet's" David Lynch and his partner, Mark Frost, "Twin Peaks" has already been described by one TV critic as "daringly, perhaps insanely different." ABC is so concerned about attracting viewers that when it launches the series at an as-yet-unspecified date this spring, it is considering taking a six-figure loss by running the first of its eight episodes without commercials, just to make an event of it.

"Twin Peaks" is certainly like nothing else on television: A serialized murder mystery that is all mood--one moment the height of campiness, the next disturbingly eerie. A tangled tale of sex, violence, power, junk food and suspicion. One husband, correctly suspecting that his lusty young wife is cheating on him, combs through dozens of squashed butts in her ashtray, finally confronting her when he discovers the remains of cigarette brands different than hers.

"I really like the idea of a continuing story and soap operas," Lynch, the acclaimed director of such unusual art-house feature films as "Eraserhead," "The Elephant Man" and "Blue Velvet," said of his first network television venture. "You can pay more attention to smaller details. 'Twin Peaks' has an awful lot to do with coffee, doughnuts and pie.

"Movies have time limits. To really linger over the details of a crust of cherry pie and really get into the saucer and the cup of coffee just as someone is talking about an affair, those are the things you can do in a soap opera. I think there are certain kinds of moods, especially in getting at the mood of a murder mystery, that take time to conjure up."

"Twin Peaks" seems to be conjured up from the dark recesses of Lynch's sugar-stimulated mind. An admitted junk-food lover, Lynch conceived many of the scenes for "Blue Velvet" on napkins while high on the glucose rush of Bob's Big Boy milk shakes and myriad cups of coffee loaded with sugar. Though he restricts himself to a cappuccino in a plastic-foam cup while on the set directing the second episode of the series, his central character--an FBI agent (played by "Blue Velvet's" Kyle MacLachlan) called in to investigate the murder--raves about a piece of cherry pie he ate at a local diner into a mini-cassette recorder he ostensibly uses to record relevant facts about the case.

MacLachlan believes that one of the show's strengths is that all the characters in the fictional town "have certain quirks of behavior. Usually, in a film, you'll have one character who is a little off-kilter and he's used for comic relief. Here it's everyone. I think it's great that the policeman cries at the scene of every crime or that my character talks about trees into the tape recorder as he drives up the mountain. It's all about these little moments of behavior. It's like sitting down and just watching people, and I think viewers will love it because we all have that voyeuristic tendency."

Whether the mainstream television audience will indeed love it is the big question. Many television critics have lavished praise on the two-hour pilot in one sentence and then in the next expressed near-certain belief that the people who prize such shows as "Who's the Boss?" and "Matlock" will not even give "Twin Peaks" a chance.

Frost, a former writer on "Hill Street Blues" who co-wrote the pilot with Lynch, downplays the idea that this series is too strange for television audiences. He says simply that he and Lynch have tried "to re-imagine the nighttime soap in a way not dissimilar to what 'Hill Street' did with the cop show 10 years ago. We've kicked up the storytelling a couple of notches in intensity. We've tried to bring a hyper-realism to the telling of a very complicated mystery story."

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