The following contains spoilers about the “Twin Peaks” premiere.
The granddaddy of “surreal-ity TV” is back, as “Twin Peaks” returned with a two-hour premiere that laid the groundwork for this 18-episode revival – again defined more by director David Lynch’s trademark eccentricities than its tangled web of a plot.
Liberated by the move to pay TV, the opening salvo on Showtime appeared determined to serve notice to strange-shows-come-lately of the debt they owe to the 1990 series. Step aside, “American Gods” and “Legion,” and see how TV that dares to confuse is done.
Lynch, clearly, will take his time baking this cherry pie and bringing together the various ingredients. Hoping to hasten that process, Showtime is making the third and fourth episodes available online in advance of next week’s airing to help crystallize elements that confound as much as they amaze.
Casual viewers probably need not apply. Even fans would benefit from having done their homework, brushing up not only on the original series but its movie prequel, “Fire Walk With Me.” And it’s not clear that will entirely help.
Welcomed back with considerable fanfare, this revival feels a bit hemmed in by expectations. Like an aging band touring to equally geriatric crowds, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost are almost obliged to play the hits – reintroducing original characters while weaving in new ones, including an abundance of celebrity cameos. (The dizzying cast list includes more than 200 names.)
The main challenge story-wise centered on accounting for the 25-year hiatus. The writers have addressed the passage of time by leaving FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) trapped in the Black Lodge’s eerie waiting room, or the equivalent of Purgatory, while his doppelganger runs amok.
Extricating Cooper, however, is only one thread in the slow-unraveling plot, which included a grisly murder, a poor lad tasked with watching a mysterious box in New York City and, of course, the odd doings in Twin Peaks. Then there are all those cryptic clues dispensed by, among others, the late Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and a tree-like creature that isn’t named Groot.
Unlike recent serialized series that indulge in hard-to-decipher storytelling, “Twin Peaks” has earned the right to be weird. Lynch’s style can be mesmerizing even when it’s confounding – from the dissonant sounds to the uncomfortable silences, the quirky humor mixed with a foreboding sense of dread.
If nothing else, the show should be a boon to recappers and websites that parse the minutia of such shows – a cottage industry that didn’t exist when the program premiered on ABC.
Questions linger as to whether “Twin Peaks” will actually deliver any sort of closure or finality; and if viewers who can’t immediately identify the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson, who shot scenes before her death in 2015) will find this new journey rewarding or satisfying.
Not that, one suspects, Lynch really cares. His filmography, and this signature example of it, has always bent less toward “Twin Peaks: The TV Series” than “Twin Peaks: The Sensory Experience.” Unlike the first time, the return engagement won’t need to reach a mass audience to qualify as a success. Indeed, the buzz it has generated already counts as what feels like a victory for Showtime.
It’s too soon, ultimately, to conclude whether “Twin Peaks” will justify the investment or, like many a revival, should have stayed in limbo. The first two hours should, at least, pique any fan’s curiosity. And for a program that never fit in a neat little box, Lynch and company have seemingly found the right time and place to reappear.
“Twin Peaks” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.