Why no one but David Lynch could do it


Many have tried. All have fallen short. That's because no one else is David Lynch.

Why no one but David Lynch could do it

In the years since Twin Peaks enraptured a nation, so many attempts to channel its brilliance have launched. "It's like Twin Peaks, but with _____" is now shorthand. For real.

As its central storyline, you have the story of a beloved teenage girl from a good family in a small town who is shockingly, brutally murdered. The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, (and more pressingly, how this could have happened here) pervades and informs every other aspect of the show. 

Then you learn of Laura's secrets, and the town's secrets, and that this quaint, picturesque little tourist town is not at all what it seems. Sure, all the townsfolk (and visiting FBI agents) have their lovable and instantly identifiable quirks, but soon the mystery leads to other mysteries, and you find that nothing at all wraps up nicely with a tidy, shiny bow.

For those who had followed David Lynch the filmmaker, none of this was terribly surprising. Themes of 'what seediness lurks beneath the suburban American dream' have been present in his work since the beginning. (For a short but deep dive, just watch Blue Velvet.)

But of course, none of those films were made expressly for network TV. So when the David Lynch/Mark Frost production Twin Peaks took a nation by storm, it influenced everybody.

There were the instant quirkfests:

Why no one but David Lynch could do it

                                                            Northern Exposure

The questionable plot lifts that would have been better off as homages instead of outright shoplifting:

Why no one but David Lynch could do it

                                   The Killing, itself a remake of Danish show Forbrydelson

And the show that every person writing about its premiere called 'Twin Peaks lite':

Why no one but David Lynch could do it

                       Wayward Pines, based on Blake Crouch's totally-inspired-by-TP novel

And, inevitably, one completely brilliant homage that worked so well, it got a huge percentage of the original cast of Twin Peaks involved:

Why no one but David Lynch could do it

                                          Psych's classic homage episode, "Dual Spires"

Writing television and movies isn't like baking. You can't measure out the same amounts of the same ingredients, stir, bake at 350, and come out with the same tasty cake every time. 

But perhaps there's another baking analogy here as well. You also can't go "hey, I really like chocolate chips, so I'm gonna take out the flour and the eggs and the butter and just add more chocolate chips," because all you'll end up with is a bowl of melted, burned chocolate.

Did any of these shows that clearly dove dippers into the Twin Peaks well ultimately satisfy? Sure, some people. That's not to say there were no redeeming qualities about any of these shows, nor that mass inspiration is a bad thing. 

What it is, perhaps, meant to say is that no one else skillfully weaves all those elements together into a single piece of cloth like David Lynch. And that, perhaps, is why we as viewers feel let down in the hands of other storytellers. You might like someone's pie crust, but if their filling sucks, you won't be coming back for seconds. That whole pie had better be something if you're gonna take the time.

Twin Peaks returns on Showtime on Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 9pm ET/PT with a two hour premiere. You have plenty of time to rewatch the original series (and watch Fire Walk With Me, and listen to the Dale Cooper tapes, and read Laura Palmer's diary).