Who killed Laura Palmer? Our original 1991 review of Twin Peaks

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 11, 1991

It is a rare program that enjoys the popularity of Twin Peaks. Hang the ratings; The Guide can always tell, because a queue of the most unlikely beggars forms in the office, bowls at the ready, hoping to borrow the blessed tapes.

It had been bad enough fending off the delightful pest who beseeched us for weeks to reveal if Melissa and Lee would get it together in thirtysomething (they did), but now the preview tapes for Twin Peaks keep disappearing from the vaults in which we keep our treasures.

So this reviewer, a supporter of Agent Dale Cooper and the sense of righteousness he so far represents, was unable to watch this week’s episode and, panting with curiosity after the brush with the llama, had to jump an episode and go straight to the next, in which the tantalising Audrey Horne begins to do her thing.

The interesting reaction was that it was very easy to skip a week. David Lynch (he plays the telephone voice of Agent Cooper’s boss and later will appear in this role) has masterminded a first-class soap, steeped in mystery and stewed with a clever soundtrack. The central factor – who killed Laura Palmer? – soon recedes into the general mayhem of an ongoing scenario frequented by a one-armed shoe salesman and a one-eyed curtain track freak.

At the stage at which this series now stands, Lynch had not considered finding a killer. He aimed to wander among the menacing, maniacal folk of Twin Peaks, snowed and drizzled upon and up to their ears in daunting theme music, as they go about each other’s business high up in the Rocky Mountains, 8 kilometres south of the Canadian border. Where was the need to name the murderer? Like The Fugitive before it, this sort of fun could last for ever or a day.

What we have is a leg-pull of considerable class. While it is impossible to go overboard with the New York Post TV critic, David Bianculli, who considered Twin Peaks the best thing on television since The Singing Detective, there is no doubt that Lynch has devised the most original TV drama and certainly the best soap, to emerge from Hollywood in years. The catchline, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” rivals the famous “Who Shot J.R.?”

J.R. was shot in 1980 at the end of the second season of Dallas. It was a triumphant touch that turned a popular series into a worldwide hit.

Lynch’s trump card was that, eschewing normal practice, he put the cliffhanger right at the beginning. We had a body in the opening minute and not too many minutes later we had the arrival of FBI Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), perhaps the most beguiling cop the Bureau has sent out on an investigation since Ephrem Zimbalist jun.

The pity is that, having created a brilliant point of sale – Who killed Laura Palmer – the American Broadcasting Company decided that it needed an answer. At that time, Lynch and his co-writer/director, Mark Frost, had been salting the barrel with red herring, but in truth had no villain in mind.

Things can be a bit slow in this soap of many moods. A show that can make a catchline out of Agent Cooper’s preference for “damn good coffee” may not tickle the intelligence too much, but we should cherish a bit of fun while it lasts.

Things may go downhill once the culprit is named, but for now, welcome to Twin Peaks: population 51,201. Well, make that 51,200 and, the way things are going, on the downhill slide.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 11, 1991

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.