Twin Peaks: Episode 1 & 2 – initial thoughts

et-twinpeaksWell, I’ve just watched the first two episodes of the new season of Twin Peaks and, while I’m still processing exactly what went on, here are some initial thoughts.

Some spoilers for the first two episodes of the new season of Twin Peaks follow:

This is not the Twin Peaks you grew up with

Showtime described this new version of Twin Peaks as the ‘pure heroin’ version of David Lynch, and they weren’t kidding. It’s closer in tone to Lynch’s later films like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and obviously Fire Walk With Me. At times, it’s like watching a brand new Lynch film, with little interludes from the original cast inbetween. It’s dark, violent and foreboding and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. I can’t wait to find out what the remaining 16 episodes have in store for us.

Despite Angelo Badalamenti being credited with the score, there’s very little of the light jazzy music that accompanied almost every scene in the original. Instead, Lynch has taken the role of sound designer, and put some harsh, discordant audio over the most disturbing scenes. It’s effectively creepy but takes some readjustment. Also, there’s a blonde female singer singing in the bar at the end, but it’s not Julee Cruise – instead, it’s Ruth Radelet with her band Chromatics. This does rather hint at the reason loads of musicians are named in the new cast – will we see Sharon Van Etten playing out one episode with Serpents in the next few months?

Hello, Old Friends

Not all of the original cast make an appearance in the first two episodes but long-term fans won’t be disappointed. Kyle McLachlan is still trapped in the Black Lodge (looking remarkably well preserved for a man who’s just sat in a red room for 26 years), and his doppleganger is causing havoc murdering people. Evil Cooper now has long hair (a nod to Bob) and a rather weather-beaten complexion, while Good Dale pretty much looks the same as he did last time we saw him. That Damn Fine Coffee has some good anti-ageing qualities, obviously.

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Of the rest of the cast, we see Ben Horne and his brother Jerry bantering away in one scene, Lucy and Andy who are now married (Kimmy Robertson also looks pretty much the same), Deputy Sheriff Hawk seems to be in charge (there are now two Sheriff Truemans, one of whom is ill, the other who has gone fishing – as Michael Ontkean has officially retired, I’d imagine they’ve brought in Robert Forster as his brother), has a distinguished mane of long grey hair and is looking for Agent Cooper (recalling the line that Cooper uttered in the original: “Hawk, if I’m ever lost, I hope they send you to find me”). Doctor Jacoby also appears very briefly towards the start, and in the last scene we see Shelly (Madchen Amick, who’s had a pretty successful career in TV since Twin Peaks, so her appearance isn’t so much of a jolt from the past) and James Hurley (who doesn’t really speak, but I bet he’s still the Absolute Worst).

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And, upsettingly, there are two brief appearances by Catherine Coulson aka The Log Lady, obviously filmed very close to her death in 2015, looking very frail and in pain. It’s lovely that she found the strength to film her scenes, but seeing how ill she looks made me feel quite sad.

Meet the new cast, not the same as the old cast

There’s an awful lot of new characters to get your head around in the first two episodes. Matthew Lillard plays Bill, a school principal accused of murder who, by the look of it, is probably tied up in whatever Evil Cooper’s doing (this section of the show feels weirdly like Fargo). There’s a very strange sub-plot set in New York where a man has to stare at a glass box (this is eventually revealed to be a portal from the Black Lodge), and Ashley Judd appears briefly as Ben Horne’s new secretary. Some people may be disappointed at the lack of time spent in Twin Peaks itself, but I found the new plots totally gripping and can’t wait to see how they tie in to the overall mythology.

David Lynch has still ‘got it’

I was a bit wary that, with Lynch not directing a feature since 2006, that he may be a bit rusty. This was a spectacularly stupid assumption to make. From the opening few frames, this is all recognisably, (un)comfortably Lynchian. Some of the cinematography is breathtaking – there’s been so many slow-moving aerial shots of New York’s skyline that you doubt it could be done any differently, but Lynch’s panoramas are eerie, beautiful and weirdly creepy. There are his trademark long shots and languid style, and he’s still an absolute master of creating a sense of almost claustrophobic foreboding. If he really is going to retire after this round of Twin Peaks, then it’s quite the swansong to go out on.

The Black Lodge

Fans will be pleased that the Black Lodge plays a big part in at least the first two episodes. The chevrons and red curtains produced goosebumps in me when watching, and just seeing Sheryl Lee and McLachlan recreate that iconic dream scene was worth it. It was also a chance to briefly see Ray Wise as Leland, and Al Strobel as the One Armed Man. Carel Struychken also returns, although he was intriguingly credited as ????? ????? rather than The Giant. Oh, and there was also a talking tree instead of The Man From Another Place (probably due to Michael J Anderson’s spectacular falling out with Lynch which happened during filming of this new season). The ending of episode 2 seems to indicate we won’t be back in the Black Lodge for a while, but as ever with Lynch, who knows?

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The first four episodes of Twin Peaks are available to watch on the Now TV app. Episodes 1 and 2 will be reshown on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday 23rd May at 9pm.

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Twin Peaks: It Is Happening Again….

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It’s fair to say that Twin Peaks changed the TV landscape forever. When it first debuted in 1990, television was staid and conventional. Storytelling was told in a linear fashion, everything was usually wrapped up by the episode’s end, and anything slightly arty or strange was frowned upon.

Then, along came a body wrapped in plastic floating on a river…

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Twin Peaks changed everything. Without Twin Peaks, you’d have no The X Files, no Sopranos, no Buffy The Vampire Slayer, no Lost – in fact, arguably the whole ‘HBO/Showtime’ model of television wouldn’t exist. This was a world where FBI agents dreamed of red-curtained rooms where dancing dwarves talked backwards. Where a lady walked round carrying a log. Where eerie, dreamy music played while a dark undercurrent of murder and sexual abuse slowly came to the fore. A show which wasn’t afraid to be slow and languid, and wasn’t bothered about pushing the envelopes of what a censor may find acceptable.

Twin Peaks famously shone brightly but shortly – after the murder of Laura Palmer was solved, about 9 episodes into season 2, David Lynch and Mark Frost pretty much departed the show and a new creative team took over. The weirdness was still there, but in a very stylised way – this felt like someone trying to be David Lynch, rather than the man himself. There were sub-plots that went on and on: James Hurley’s affair with a married woman, Ben Horne becoming obsessed the Civil War, a teenage ‘black widow’, and Deputy Andy involved in a love triangle with Lucy the receptionist and a man named Dick.

Yet it was all worth it for the show’s final episode, probably the most surreal 50 minutes ever to be broadcast on television, in which Agent Cooper eventually entered The Black Lodge, had coffee with the backwards-talking dwarf, met the giant again, did battle with his own evil doppleganger and met up with the ghost of Laura Palmer who tells him “I’ll see you again in 25 years”. And, indeed she does, for the new season of Twin Peaks starts tonight in the USA: picking up just after 25 years.

I can’t embed videos on this version of WordPress, but here’s a YouTube link of that very scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL57-9171pk

Impressively, absolutely no information has leaked out about the new season. There’s been a couple of blurry on-set photos, and two trailers (which give very little away). There was even a premiere of the first 2 episodes in front of an audience in Los Angeles on Friday night and nobody has so much sent a tweet about it. There’s been no screeners sent to the press, which means the vast majority of people will re-enter Twin Peaks at the same time on Sunday night.

  • What’s happened to Cooper?

The last scene of the second season of Twin Peaks was famously Agent Cooper, possessed by the spirit of Killer BOB, grinning manically and asking “How’s Annie?” (referring to his girlfriend, who he’d gone into the Black Lodge to save). It was an absolute gut-punch to end the show and one of the most unsettling scenes ever broadcast: the personification of good had turned into the personification of evil. Would Cooper start killing people now he was possessed by Bob? What happened to the good Cooper (still stuck in the Lodge, according to a scene in Fire Walk With Me)? Has he been there for 25 years? Will he get out?

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  • It’s going to be weird

This is pretty much a given. It’s Twin Peaks, after all. The fact that all 18 episodes will be directed by David Lynch only adds to that suspicion. Lynch has never been a conventional filmmaker, and his last work, 2006’s Inland Empire, was a 3 hour epic in which Laura Dern played a film star…and, well, that’s all I can tell you. I still have absolutely no idea what happened in it, apart from there was a family of puppet rabbits in some kind of sit-com, and the whole thing was very dark and foreboding.

Lynch himself has said that Fire Walk With Me would be good preparation to prepare for the new shows. I hereby present two typical clips from Fire Walk With Me:

The first involving none other than David Bowie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nSqDMqCJQw

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And then this. Just, well, this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEl8hw7tdwg

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So, don’t expect anything too normal.

  • The cast

Lynch has pulled out all the stops with the cast. He’s brought back pretty much all the surviving original cast (sadly, some actors have died, such as Don Davis, Jack Nance and Frank De Silva, but in De Silva’s case, I’d imagine some old footage or CGI will be used. You can’t have Twin Peaks without BOB) with the exception of Lara Flynn Boyle and the now retired Michael Ontkean). Some cast members who have died since filming (Catherine Coulson, Miguel Ferrer and Warren Frost) will be appearing. Intriguingly, Alicia Witt, who played Donna Hayward’s sister and appears in just one scene in the original series, is shown in one of the trailers, indicating she may have a pretty big role.

Some of the cast who died in the show are coming back too, such as Ray Wise as Leland, Sheryl Lee as Laura/Maddy Ferguson. Lynch and Mark Frost have explicitly said that this season of Twin Peaks will be in the present day, 27 years after the original show. So, who will they play? Will they be just in the Black Lodge, where we last saw them? Or will they even be playing new characters?

There’s also a massive list of new names – most excitingly, Laura Dern She has worked many times with Lynch (their partnership stretches back to 1986’s Blue Velvet), and there’s been some speculation that she may be playing Diane, Cooper’s previously unseen secretary who he used to communicate with through a Dictaphone. There’s also other Lynch alumni such as Balthazar Getty and Naomi Watts, plus musicians like Eddie Vedder, Trent Reznor and Sharon Van Etten.

  • Will it be any good?

Frankly, who knows? It certainly won’t have the impact that the original episodes had, and as it’s the first thing Lynch has directed in over 10 years, it could well be an unholy mess. The show’s reputation also means that a whole new generation will be watching it who may not have seen the original – which, frankly, will be an absolute disaster. It’s very likely that you won’t understand a thing that’s going on if you’ve never seen an episode of Twin Peaks before. And more than likely that will also apply if you’ve seen each episode multiple times.

However, it will be the strangest, most interesting and unusual show of the year (and I say that as The Leftovers is currently redefining how surreal a weekly TV show can get). Lynch has never been involved with anything boring or conventional, and although he only directed a handful of the original shows, they were on a whole different level to the rest of the series.

As Agent Cooper would say: “I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange

Twin Peaks season 3 will premiere on Showtime in the US on Sunday 21 May. It will be simulcast on Sky Atlantic at 2am, and then repeated on Tuesday 23 May at 9pm.

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Happy birthday (and, erm, death day) William Shakespeare.

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23rd April, as well as being St George’s Day,  marks William Shakespeare’s birthday (if records are correct) and also the day he died. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d remember some of the best Shakespeare adaptions I’ve seen.

I’m not a massive Shakespeare aficionado, although I have enjoyed what I’ve seen. Off the top of my head, I’ve seen stage versions of Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Winter’s Tale, Romeo & Juliet, and As You Like It. Hopefully, I’ll be seeing Robert Hastie’s production of Julius Caesar at the Sheffield Crucible in May.

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The best Shakespeare stage adaption I’ve seen is As You Like It at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in the summer of 2011. I always find Shakespeare to work best when the director takes some risks and doesn’t just stick to the tried and tested period dress of the time. Greg Hershov presented a three hour plus production, which sounds testing but absolutely flew by. There was a wrestling match, a full-on singalong to round things off, and a fantastic performance by Cush Jumbo as Rosalind (she would later go on to great success in the USA in the Good Wife and its spin-off show The Good Fight). I’ve seen many plays at the Royal Exchange, but this was a definite highlight.

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Othello at the Crucible in Sheffield, also in 2011, was a memorable experience for any fan of the TV show The Wire, as it marked the appearance of Dominic West and Clarke Peters on stage together. Daniel Evans staged a typically enjoyable version of the psychological drama. The set was magnificent, the story was thrilling and West and Peters were great together. It’s not my favourite Shakespeare drama, but it was fun to watch McNulty and Lester lock horns.

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Edward Hall’s all-male company Propeller staged a raucous version of A Winter’s Tale back in 2012 which was really good fun. It was boisterous and entertaining, with some contemporary references to Beyonce and Chumbawamba. There was also a superb performance from Tony Bell (later seen as Peter Taylor in the WYP production of The Damned United) as Autolcyus, reimagined as a louche rock star.

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Of the film adaptions of Shakespeare, only two really stand out – Joss Whedon’s wonderful Much Ado About Nothing and Baz Lurhman’s Romeo & Juliet. Whedon’s movie was filmed as a break from The Avengers – a simple, low-budget affair filmed in black and white at his house in Hollywood. It basically involved all his friends (any fan of Whedon’s TV shows will have enormous fun playing spot the cast of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and so on), and that sense of fun is evident throughout. It’s the only Shakespeare adaption to genuinely make me laugh out loud, especially Nathan Fillion’s hilarious portrayal of Dogberry.

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It’s also impossible to understate the impact that Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet had – this was Shakespeare reintroduced to a brand new audience, with Leonardo DiCaprio fans flocking to see him in anything post-Titanic, and Claire Danes getting her first big break after the cult TV show My So-Called Life. Luhrmann directed proceedings with a real energy and verve, and chose a brilliant soundtrack of The Cardigans, Radiohead and The Wannadies. I’ve not seen it for years, but I’d imagine it still stands the test of time.

Happy birthday Billy S!

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The rise of Jigsaw TV: This Is Us and Big Little Lies

NBC-This-Is-Us-AboutImage-1920x1080-KOTelevision used to be a pretty straightforward affair. Simple tales, told in a linear fashion, wrapped up with a happy ending. Then along came Lost, with its flashbacks, its flashforwards and its flash-sidwards. There’d been non-conventional story-telling devices used before, in Twin Peaks of course, and to head-spinningly funny effect in Arrested Development, but Lost really took the format and ran with it.

Two shows have recently been broadcast which really make use of non-linear storytelling. This Is Us (which has just finished broadcasting in the UK on Channel 4) and Big Little Lies (currently in the middle of its run on Sky Atlantic) make the flashbacks and different timelines an essential part of the show. It invites the audience to view the show as a jigsaw, slowly putting the pieces together until it all makes sense.

Spoilers for both This Is Us and Big Little Lies from here on in:

This Is Us makes it’s structure the major selling point of the show. For the majority of the pilot, you think you’re watching a show about a different set of people who are all turning 35 on the same day: Jack, who’s married to Rebecca who’s due to have triplets; Kevin, a disillusioned sit-com actor in Los Angeles, Kate, his overweight twin sister, and Randall, a black Wall Street worker trying to trace his biological father. It’s only in the last 5 minutes that it’s brilliantly revealed that the Jack storyline has actually been a flashback to 1980, and that Jack and Rebecca are Kate and Kevin’s parents and adopted Randall when he was born (the third triplet having died during birth).

It’s the sort of episode that you want to watch twice to catch all the little clues that creator Dan Fogelberg has left scattered around. And although the surprise factor of that first episode is lost through the rest of the season, the non-linear structure means that plenty of other mysteries are left for the audience to work out – for instance, it’s revealed early on that Jack is dead in the present day, but even at the end of the season, it’s still unknown exactly how he died (I have a horrible feeling that this storyline may remain unresolved until the very last episode of This Is Us).

There are plenty of other reasons to love This Is Us besides its unconventional structure. The acting is wonderful throughout, with Sterling K Brown standing out as Randall and Milo Ventimiglia showing he can do far more than the brooding bad boy that he made his name with on Gilmore Girls. The music is also brilliantly chosen, with several Sufjan Stevens songs tugging on the emotional heartstrings.

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Big Little Lies is less reliant on the flashbacks to tell its story, but there are stil mysteries to be sold. It opens with the discovery of a body that’s seemingly been pushed, and then we flash back to meet Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Renata and Bonnie, who all live in Monterey, California. Is the body one of them? Is one of them the murderer? What’s the deal with Jane, the single mother who’s just moved to town, and who’s the father of her son Ziggy? Is Celeste’s marriage as perfect as it seems to outsiders, or is there a darkness lurking underneath? And what’s the truth when Renata’s daughter accuses Ziggy of bullying her?

Over the course of its 7 episodes, Big Little Lies answers all those questions, and does so compellingly. It’s a little bit soapy (so is This Is Us to be fair) but the quality of the acting from its A-list cast is first-rate: Reese Witherspoon is hilariously feisty as Madeline, Shailene Woodley is an absolute revelation as Jane, and Nicole Kidman produces some of her best work in years as Celeste. Her relationship with Perry, chillingly portrayed by Alexander Skarsgard, is almost too uncomfortable to watch at times.

To say any more would be spoiling things, and part of the beauty of Big Little Lies is picking up the clues and watching them come together at the end. There’s no loose ends – this is just a 7 episode show with, at the moment at least, no plans for a second season – so there’s a satisfying sense of closure as the final episode finishes.

Even though both shows can be melodramatic and a bit emotionally manipulative, the ‘jigsaw’ nature of them means that it’s a pleasure to search for all the missing pieces.

 

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The Breakdown on SheffieldLive

I made one of my occasional appearances on SheffieldLive’s Breakdown show yesterday afternoon.

It’s 2 hours worth of the best new alternative music, and it’s a really good listen (not just saying that because I’m on it, I genuinely listen every week).

Here’s the podcast link if you’d like to listen https://www.mixcloud.com/thebreakdooown/the-breakdown-180317/

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Hidden Figures – Film Review

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Hidden Figures is based on the true story of three African American female mathematicians – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – who worked at NASA in the 1960s. Given the racism and sexism of the time, this was an achievement in itself, but these three woman really did smash the glass ceiling and played a pivotal role in how the space race developed.

Like the Oscar-winning Moonlight, Hidden Figures was another film with a predominately black cast to be nominated for several Academy Awards. Unlike Moonlight, it didn’t actually win anything, which is a bit of a surprise. Whereas Moonlight is uncompromisingly ‘arty’, downbeat and contemplative, Hidden Figures is far more of a feel-good audience pleaser. There are inspirational speeches from our trio of heroines, some heart-tugging moments and a decent soundtrack of ’60s soul classics.

However, it can be, at times, ever so slightly dull. There are only so many times you can watch complex mathematical equations being scribbled on a blackboard, and you’d have to be really into space and know about the global politics of the 1960s to be truly captivated by the story. The way racism is depicted though is very well done – the coffee pot with ‘coloureds’ scrawled on it, and the fact that Katherine had a 40 minute round trip to find a ‘couloured persons’ bathroom is shocking.

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Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae (in her second Oscar-nominated film of the year, following Moonlight) are all engaging and magnetic performers, and Henson in particular has one of the best scenes of the film when she eventually loses her cool about the racial segregation she’s put through. Kevin Costner is as reliably gruff as ever as her supervisor (actually a composite of different real-life figures) and Jim Parsons plays a slightly less abrasive version of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.

There are moments in Hidden Figures that you can imagine have been dreamed up by Hollywood to make it more palatable for a white audience. The scene where Costner takes a sledgehammer to the ‘coloured bathroom’ sign never actually happened in reality and seems to have been written just so Costner can take the ‘white saviour’ role. Similarly, there’s one too many montages of Katherine running for the bathroom. In these instances, less would probably be more.

Yet despite its flaws, I found Hidden Figures to be an enjoyable and thoughtful tale, and by the time the credits roll around, showing the real photos of the three woman we’ve been watching, with a list of their many achievements, you can’t help but feel in awe of them.

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