Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Twin Peaks: Can You Go Home Again?



Back in 1990, the Boston Phoenix ran a review of the first few episodes of Twin Peaks along with the plot of the sitcom Wings. 


It was an odd juxtaposition, intentionally so, contrasting David Lynch's highly-anticipated boutique series against a paint-by-numbers half-hour comedy. But the reviewer was a cynical bastard, and cast a jaundiced eye on the potential of a quirky auteur like Lynch to appeal to a mainstream television audience. 


The verdict was that Wings would stick around but Twin Peaks would not, its tone and style too idiosyncratic for a medium that, at the time, counted its audience in the tens of millions.


I tuned into the first season of Twin Peaks-- a miniseries, really-- but found it to be a bit too much of a compromise between Lynch's surrealist vision and the narrative demands of mainstream television. There was also a creeping absurdism that sometimes threatened to undermine the grim procedural drama that framed it.

I had high hopes for the project, having been brain-seared four years earlier by Blue Velvet. The first time I saw it I almost had an out of body experience- and not the pleasant kind- since it seemed so disturbingly familiar to me. Frank Booth was like any number of dangerous men that floated through the edges of my world, strange presences in bars in Weymouth Landing or Quincy Center. 

Frank Booth also reminded me all too much of a recently-released ex-convict my friend's mother had taken in as a boarder; a volatile alcoholic who drove a big old Cadillac and who, presciently, believed that cable TV was being used to spy on people.


A few years after seeing Blue Velvet I'd work for a woman who was close friends with Dennis Hopper's daughter Marin, who I'd later meet. I was told that Hopper wasn't actually acting in Blue Velvet, that that was basically his behavior on any given night before he rehabbed. Hopper told Lynch as much while auditioning for the part, insisting that he was Frank Booth.

Frank Booth was the black hole of Blue Velvet, the irrestible center of gravity around which the rest of the film revolved. I saw Blue Velvet twice at the Waverly Theater on Sixth Ave in Greenwich Village, and once Hopper blasted off you could feel the physical pressure descend upon the room. People walked out, not just a few, that's how intense it was. I brought two friends the second viewing and their knuckles were white the whole time. 

They were from Braintree, so they knew.


Twin Peaks didn't have nearly as compelling a focus, not Leland Palmer, not Bob, not anyone. Given the strictures of early 90s broadcast television it couldn't have. Instead the show went for mood and atmosphere and slowly-building tension. That, the lush scenery, appealing cast and seductive Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack were enough to sustain the series at first. 

But it failed to answer the central question ("Who killed Laura Palmer?") in its initial miniseries run and subsequently lost a lot of the curious and more besides. (AMC's remake of The Killing would make the same mistake more recently).


Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost distanced themselves from the series in the second season, for a number of varying reasons, including Lynch's work on Wild at Heart, which would star Nicholas Cage and Lynch muse Laura Dern. 

Even so, Lynch would direct episodes at the beginning and end of the season. But the spell the series had cast had been broken. The new production team didn't quite get a handle on Lynch's mix of darkness and whimsy (as if anyone else really could) and the new episodes seemed to lapse into self-parody without the author's oblique ability to square the contradictions.


But there were glimpses of a deeper magic, including cryptic subplots dealing with an alien satellite, demonic possession, doubles of dead characters and scenes inside the mysterious extradimensional portal, the Black Lodge. In short, the second series had a ton of potential on the conceptual end but a lot less so execution-wise. Plus, it was all a bit too challenging for network drama then. It would probably be just as much so today, which is why it's being revived on Showtime.

By the time it was cancelled Twin Peaks had been moved to the Saturday night death-slot and had slumped badly in the ratings. Lynch wanted another crack at it, however, so a spinoff film was planned. But Kyle MacLachlan felt betrayed that Lynch and Frost had bailed out on the show's second season (and by its resultant quality slippage), so after initially turning the picture down he agreed to a limited role. Chris Isaak, then a hot property, stepped in to play a ringer. Lara Flynn Boyle opted out for the same reasons as MacLachlan, forcing Lynch to recast the role with a non-lookalike replacement.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is one of those special kinds of films that has garnered a type of cult audience that tends to overlook what a total catastrophe it was in its initial release. Fire was outright butchered by the critics and didn't even earn back half its production budget in the US. Twin Peaks Fever had long since, uh, peaked, and the movie doesn't even try to meet a mainstream audience halfway. 

There's no wondering why: it's an incredibly dark and polarizing film and can be as hard to watch as Blue Velvet, if not for different reasons.


But it certainly follows a vision; it's not a cash-in on any level. It may not be light entertainment but in the long run it didn't hurt Twin Peaks' rep, in fact it undid most of the damage inflicted on the franchise by the frivolity of the second season. 

Even so, it would five years before Lynch would release another feature, 1997's Lost Highway. That too would be a deeply polarizing commercial disappointment.




It's been 11 years since Lynch released a feature film, 2006's masterpiece, Inland Empire. That in turn came five years after another masterpiece, 2001's Mulholland Dr. Both films are deeply informed by the vision Lynch cultivated on Twin Peaks, even if they bear little resemblance thematically, or even stylistically. It's more a feeling.

Mulholland Dr -- which Inland Empire models itself on in many important ways-- also began life as a TV pilot for ABC and was only morphed into a feature after the network passed. 


For my money, Mulholland Dr and Inland Empire remain Lynch's best, most fully-realized works. Like all of his creations they mine dream reality to a level of numinosity that most film-makers are incapable of reaching. It's both telling and damning that he's either been unable to secure financing or unwilling to jump through the requisite hoops needed to have followed up on them. 

I really don't know if Lynch felt a burning desire to return to Twin Peaks but I do know he's a better artist now than he was when he worked on the series. However, the power of a brand name trumps artistic vision in this environment. In that Mulholland and Inland are just as much elegies as films.


Judging from the press releases for the revival it seems Lynch's absence from longform film-making hasn't been for lack of energy. He directed all 18 episodes, wrote a 400 page screenplay (whether this was for the first episode or the series itself is unclear) and cast 217 actors. So both the spirit and the flesh seem to be willing in this case.

But is his mind in that space? This is the danger of the revival syndrome. 


It's been 27 very long years since the series first aired and we're living in an entirely different world now. The 1950s world that informed Lynch's vision isn't even a memory anymore. And the actors are no longer young, hot unknowns; many are more than twice as old as they were back then and some have come out the wrong end of Hollywood's merciless grinder. 


The inherent promise of the revival (or the reunion) is that the intervening years will melt away and we can vicariously return to the Garden, back to our innocence. It's not only the promise but the danger; woe betide you if you don't fire up that time machine for your audience. With an artist as quirky and unpredictable as David Lynch that danger only multiplies. Exponentially.

Lynch has already proven himself unwilling to pander with the Twin Peaks franchise, having unleashed a film as caustic and uncompromising as Fire Walk with Me. You get the sense he bores very easily, and might well use this opportunity to unleash all kinds of ideas he's been warehousing for other projects. That's both exciting and worrying. Exciting creatively and artistically, worrying critically and audience-wise.

Last year we saw Chris Carter use the X-Files revival as a soapbox for some truly confrontational storytelling, and the similar hype parade we're seeing now for Twin Peaks is giving me a bit of deja vu. But The X-Files was a bonafide cultural phenomenon, a game-changer. It's part of the common lexicon, worldwide. 

Twin Peaks is more a cult thing, an artifact of the Curator Era. Lynch could bring his absolute A-game and still confuse the hell out most of his new audience. And in the Internet Age that could go south very quickly.


Twin Peaks may have been a high point for Lynch as far as visibility but it also presaged a difficult stretch for him creatively, commercially and critically, with Wild at Heart and Lost Highway-- as well as Fire Walk with Me-- damaging his rep as an auteur. He restored his glimmer starting with The Straight Story but, frankly, he's a weird guy and you never know where his muses will carry him.  

The story of Twin Peaks, the franchise, is one about a boatload of potential that was never fully realized. Here's hoping Lynch closes the deal this time around. That will make it a story for the ages.


People.com has a documentary on the revival here.


32 comments:

  1. My first exposure to Twin Peaks differs from a lot of people who gained their first glimpse of the world of Twin Peaks as a TV series. The show was long off the air when I was in high school so my first exposure to Lynch was through his movies -- Blue Velvet first, Fire Walk With Me second, then Lost Highway and all the rest, and truly loving every one of them. So for someone like me it really is fascinating to hear about all of the people who were really turned off by the movie version of Twin Peaks because for me and a lot of other people the movie was our first introduction to that world and most people I know really love it.

    I didn't even check out the TV series until many years later after Lynch had stopped making films so the old TV series almost served as an antidote for Lynchian withdrawal and for that it was more than suitable. I rewatched the series again recently and the final scene in the Black Lodge remains one of the most unnerving TV/film scenes I've ever seen -- the execution is simply masterful.

    Like you Chris I'm a bit skeptical that the team will be able to capture the original "magic" of Twin Peaks (the series or the film) but when it comes to Lynch I'll take anything I can get because I know that regardless of the series as a whole that there will likely be some moments in there that will be just as memorable as anything else out there -- Lynch just seems to have a talent for ripping the unconscious open and letting it drip onto the screen in a very prescient way and I think that we can at least all look forward to that (and the soundtrack!)

    Btw-- I read somewhere that Frost and Lynch wrote the 400 page script for the series and then broke it into single episodes after it had been filmed but I forget where I read this. Bummer that Michael J. Anderson and Frank Silva will be left out of this one -- two of the most memorable parts of the original show.

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    1. Not sure if you know or not, but Silva died in 1995, so his being left out wasn't really a choice. Anderson appears to still be with us, and I agree with you that those two were quite memorable and were great characters (Silva almost being the most important of the show).

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    2. Michael Anderson made some bizarre allegations against Lynch. I'm surprised the incident didn't get more hype, considering how sensationalistic it is. But if you left it to me to pick one image to sum up the 90s it might well be the Little Man From Another Place dancing in the Black Lodge.

      https://www.datalounge.com/thread/18601794-michael-j.-anderson-accuses-twin-peaks-filmmaker-david-lynch-of-being-a-pedophile-rapist-murderer

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    3. And don't forget Michael Ontkean isn't coming back. Tragic. I hope it's a big fake-out.

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    4. I was aware that Silva died but was not aware of Anderson's allegations against Lynch. Hard to know what to make of all that.

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    5. Anderson seems to have gone off the rails the past few years. The appropriate place to level accusations against someone vis a vis crimes like that are law enforcement authorities, not on a FB post during contract negotiations. That goes a long way in impugning his own credibility.

      As to Twin Peaks, I'm not sure where it will be headed but I look forward to watching either way. But I'm not going into it with any expectations.

      I just can't believe it's been 27 years. That scares the crap out of me. In my head it's still 1990, or thereabouts.

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  2. No matter what happens, I know I'll love it! Not many sure things in Hollywood, but for me Lynch is undoubtedly one.

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    1. I agree; let's hope for a homerun but be grateful for getting any new Lynch at all.

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  3. The first half hour of Lost Highway is not surpassed for pure menace, tension and atmospheric build-up, by anything else Lynch has done. Then the film goes off the rails, but it is still very watchable. Lynch's failures are still worth watching, because there is nothing else like them out there. They are set apart.

    As far as this Twin Peaks revival goes, I have nothing but misgivings. You can't go home again, not after thirty years.

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    1. Well, maybe he'll go somewhere else with it. Honestly, I can't see him trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

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  4. I'm looking forward to the reboot, though keeping my expectations in check. Obviously, as I learned with the X Files reboot, you really can't go home again. However, that doesn't mean you can't still do something good with the old tools, as we saw with the two-part opening and closing episodes of the X-Files reboot. My first exposure to Lynch was Blue Velvet, and I was blown away in way too numerous to mention. I enjoyed Lost Highway personally, and recently finally saw Mulholland Drive, which was excellent. I only watched Twin Peaks (and Fire Walk With Me) for the first time about a year ago, so it will still be pretty fresh in my mind when the reboot hits. I hope it won't be too disappointing, but as I said, I'm keeping expectation in check until I see the first episode. I think there is great potential for it to be quite good, even if the show itself isn't very successful generally (in fact, the less the mass audience likes it, the better it will probably be, IMO).

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    1. Lynch has a lot more leeway with this project than Carter had with the XF reboot. There was a lot more history to deal with and a lot more fan service to deliver. Lynch doesn't have all that weight on his shoulders. The Secret History book certainly had a lot of interesting concepts- hopefully, a lot of them will make it to the screen.

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  5. Hi Chris,

    I watched Twin Peaks from the beginning in the 90's and was amazed that this was a television show at the time. Being a Lynch fan from the "Eraserhead" days, I was also taken in by the "Dune" film even though everyone seemed to hate on it, even Lynch himself---probably for daring to bring to film what should possibly have stayed fixed as a book.

    But, from the ashes of Lynch's unrealized work, "Ronnie Rocket," I see the birth of "Twin Peaks" coming out of from that; dreamlike with elements of the world Lynch knew growing up meshing with the day-time soap opera melodrama's turned inside out.

    "Twin Peaks", to me, was a painting. A work of moving art that Lynch drew freehand for us week after week. Creating the meta-experience of that golden ring of appetite and satisfaction that permeated the series itself and reflected the desires of the viewing audience episode to episode. Originally, this idea of the murdered homecoming queen was never supposed to be solved. "Twin Peaks" was not a 'whodunnit' in the sense of a standard crime drama. It was a deep dive into the meaning of darkness and light supplemented in shades of red---an allegorical drawing of the 'garmonbozia' we all hold inside of us. Lynch wanted to expose it and explain it not so much in words but with images that dance harlequinesque around the words. This, in its inception I think, was the intent of the piece. I don't believe he was able to do what he wanted to do with it as the collaboration with Mark Frost proved to be in contention towards the end of the series run. But, I would argue that the work of Lynch and Frost is what made this show the cult phenomenon it would become. The deep abstractions of Lynch which might have been totally lost on many more of the viewers was given a shape by Frost's pen that strove to define rather than obscure meaning to the theme as he envisioned it.

    It is my hope that Lynch has had time to reflect on this unfinished work and wishes to revisit it and place it in its proper frame, beyond the dimensions of the television screen and into the zig zagged lodgings of our own hearts and minds. The art of the telepainting is most inspiring when we see ourselves in it.

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    1. I guess I differ from a lot of people in that I don't really see Twin Peaks as all that vital in Lynch's mind. If it were he wouldn't have essentially bailed out in the second season and would have taken more care with FWWM. I don't know if he really has the kind of producer's mindset that would allow him to focus on a project this big for an extended period of time. This revival feels like a paycheck first and foremost, but one that Lynch is using as an opportunity to air some ideas he's had gestating for some time now. Again, I think the intervening years have obscured just how weak that second season was. So much so that Lynch had a hard time getting his principals to sign on for the feature film.

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    2. You make an excellent point, Chris. I guess my view of it is more from my own love and appreciation of the thing and then, from there trying to fill in the pieces of Lynch's creative process which are entirely subjective to my admiration for what got started and then resorted with the release of "Fire Walk With Me."

      I was one of those geeks that obsessed constantly over the details of the show back in the days when that kind of thing was left to your own ability to research sources as the internet was not what it is today, of course. I subscribed to the old fanzine, "Wrapped in Plastic," and kept up with literary essays on the show that were being written around the time the initial shock of the series hit the high water mark and stated to ebb back after the failure of the second season.

      Your comment above was the brassy tack that burst my pretty balloon, man! But hey, on second thought, you are probably right. I tend to view these things from "ars gratia artis" and often forget that paychecks and people---just being people---are the strings that are welded to the struts that hold up that 'Hollywood' sign.

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  6. >Frank Booth was like any number of dangerous men that floated through the edges of my world, strange presences in bars in Weymouth Landing or Quincy Center.

    Damn, you got that right! Lot of them are still roaming Hancock Street. It can be quite unnerving.

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  7. Like "LK," I was first exposed to "Twin Peaks" via "Fire Walk With Me" and was totally blown away. I actually bought the whole series on VHS when I was around 13-14 in the mid-1990s. I only saw the pilot to "Twin Peaks" for the first time in the last two years as for years it was sold separate from the series (apparently because it was released as a feature film in Europe).

    I actually quite enjoyed the second season, though I agree with you that the execution is lacking at times. I think the writing was undone by trying to capture Lynch's humor --some of the concepts introduced in season two are riddled with potential (i.e. the links to Blue Book, the general mysticism) but when the writers delved into subplot's such as Ben believing he is Robert E. Lee, things really went off the rails. Still, the mythos introduced in season two were some of the most original every presented on TV up to that time.

    "The story of Twin Peaks, the franchise, is one about a boatload of potential that was never fully realized."

    I actually think this is why Lynch opted to come back to "Twin Peaks" again, after all these years. I'm sure that he's had ample ideas over the past decade plus that he's been out of directing and "Twin Peaks" has provided him with the resources to peruse these ideas that would not otherwise be available for an original property, but "Twin Peaks" is the only project he's shown any inclination to returning to in general. And he went back to it for the first time in 1992, when it had become a perpetually punch line, as you noted above. I always got the sense that Lynch felt he had hit upon something special with "Twin Peaks" but had let it slip away when he went to work on "Wild at Heart." The franchise was never quite the same, despite his efforts at the end of the second season and with "Fire Walk With Me" to make things right. Now he has one more shot with the benefit of two and a half decades of hindsight and almost unlimited resources. I definitely think he will rise to the occasion.

    But I'm not expecting a nostalgia trip --far from. I think Lynch learned with "Fire Walk With Me" that the franchise was different from where it was at in season one and will expand upon that in the revival. I've tried hard to not follow online gossip about it, but there is a persistent rumor that a good chunk of the revival will take place in Vegas. I'm thinking that far less of the show will actually be set in Twin Peaks than many are expecting. Who knows, perhaps they'll expand on the concept of different openings into the Black Lodge, as the David Bowie's character's disappearance in Argentina indicated in "Fire...".


    -Recluse

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    1. Fire Walk with Me is a very difficult film but it is certainly a lot more unfiltered than what we got with the series. I think the series was just a little ahead of its time- a few years later and Lynch would have been less hamstrung in his storytelling. I think that's why he bailed to do Wild at Heart- network censorship was not something he was used to and it must have driven him crazy. Which may be why FWwM is so over the top in places.

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  8. Dune was one of my 'founding books' (we all have them), and I was 17 when Lynch's movie came out. My reaction to the Lynch movie was to refuse to watch anything by him for two decades, just on principle(*)... except, oddly enough, Blue Velvet back in 1989(+).

    So i missed out on Twin Peaks while it was on, though I did much like the soundtrack (some of which could be called proto-triphop). I remember hoping that this is what the Music of the 90s was going to sound like... but we got mostly Grunge instead.

    I have since tried watching the original Twin Peaks, twice (10 years ago, most recently last year) , but it just doesn't 'hook' me for whatever reason.

    That said, I still plan to check out the reboot. Twenty-seven years is a long, long time. (I'm also reminded that I've got some catching up to do on Lynch's movies).

    Speaking of reboots, I'm not at all embarrassed to say I'm excited about Samurai Jack (one of my own 'model wizards'), coming back for a 5th (and apparently final) season after a 13-year hiatus (50yrs, for him).

    In times like these, we need all the samurai/wizard help we can get...

    (*)Hey, I was 17... I'm over it now. Dune's about as good a movie as you were going to get out of that book in 1984.

    (+)Agreed about Booth BTW: I grew up a few miles north of you, a few blocks from Whitey Bulger's Winter Hill. Have Hopper drop a few R's here and there, you could have a character straight out of The friends of Eddie Coyle. Deep Menace.

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    1. Dune has its moments. But it was a very frustrating experience for Lynch since he saw it as an expensive art film and De Laurentiis was trying to launch a Star Wars. But what really crippled Dune was the limitations of feature filmmaking, specifically the time limitations. I actually thought the SciFi Channel adaptions were pretty decent, though they certainly lack Lynch's flair. But I don't know if Lynch really got Herbert's worldview. I know he found the whole experience grueling and unpleasant.

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  9. Loved Twin Peaks when it came out, sort of a regular ritual with friends at the time (back in college) to gather at someone's apt for a potluck Twin Peaks nite (emphasis on pot). I was already familiar with Lynch's work by then thanks to our University's cult film club--which is how I was introduced to Blue Velvet & Eraserhead. Also fortunate to have some good video rental stores in the area at the time that had a collection of Lynch's early work on videotape, which now of course is available online:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHG80MX9Nxs

    Twin Peaks touched on some dark themes which however absurd or surreal in their presentation somehow came across as very real at times. There was a definite shamanic vibe that was present in certain intense moments which could never be sustained by the constraints of network TV, as in the Black Lodge for example as mentioned above. Fire Walk With Me had that as well, but it was better executed (hence the haters--never failing to put down what they can't understand).

    Bowie's part in particular was VERY intriguing:

    http://twinpeaks.wikia.com/wiki/Phillip_Jeffries

    The fact that Lynch originally wanted to bring David Bowie back on board for the revival says a lot:

    http://nerdist.com/david-bowie-was-going-to-be-in-the-new-twin-peaks/

    If only.

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    1. Well, I think the times are more right for Twin Peaks now than they were in the early 90s. Audiences are more acclimated to quirk than they were in the LA Law era. I have to say that The X-Files- which drunk so deep from TP's well, especially in its first five seasons- had a lot to do with setting the stage for the kind of TV that makes a revival possible today. And again, this is going to be on Showtime, not a major network. So it can be more idiosyncratic and Lynchian.

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  10. For a more in-depth look at a shamanic interpretation of Twin Peaks, check out:

    http://21stcenturywire.com/2015/04/20/inside-david-lynch-an-esoteric-guide-to-twin-peaks/

    "I like things that go into hidden, mysterious places, places I want to explore that are very disturbing. In that disturbing thing, there is sometimes tremendous poetry and truth."--David Lynch

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  11. So ironic to see David Lynch on the cover of EW again. Back in the 90s they put out a 5-year anniversary issue. There was a sidebar about "mistakes" they put on the cover. Celebrities whose careers fizzled out after being featured on EW. Lynch, "the Tarantino of his day," was one of them. I think Vanilla Ice was another. Just think, there was a time EW was lumping Lynch in together with Vanilla Ice.

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    1. Stick around long enough and your failures become battle scars. But again, it's a totally different cultural landscape today than it was then.

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  12. Before they got the go ahead for TP, Lynch and Frost originally tried to pitch a show called 'the Lemurians' about FBI agents battling an invasion force from the lost continent. Frost is or was into Theosophy.

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  13. If anyone is interested in a light-hearted and very interesting alternative 'interview' of David Lynch, he was just on a podcast hosted by Brendon Walsh (episode 268 of 'the bone zone'). I highly recommend you at least listen to David, Brendon and Randy sing Aerosmith's 'Rag Doll', karaoke style.
    http://bonezonepodcast.com/268-david-lynch-episode-13-of-2017-season-4-ep-60/

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  14. I hear you, Chris. For this to 'work' or feel satisfying to more than hardcore Lynch fans I think he'll have to dance and compromise a little, which he's probably not willing to do. Even so, I just don't see the point of a Twin Peaks reboot-sequel-thingimajig. Let sleeping owls lie, man. The show was such a product of its time that I wonder if it can catch any currents and energies in its new form. Like so much of what's happening nowadays, who the hell really knows? Guess we'll see.

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  15. A few of my thoughts as we get ever closer to its return: http://www.reddirtreport.com/red-dirt-grit/owl-dream-expectations-high-advance-twin-peaks-reboot

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