Wrapped In Paper

[Contains re-classified dossiers and SPOILERS!!!]

“The Secret History of Twin Peaks” by Mark FrostTo properly prepare for the imminent arrival of Season Three, I decided to pick up a copy of Mark Frost’s epistolary novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016), to read alongside the Entire Mystery boxset. However, I’d seen some rather mixed reviews for it online, and opted to borrow the hefty hardback from my local library, rather than buy it blind… and I’m glad I held back, because it’s not a book I’m ever likely to read again for the “story”, and half of it isn’t even about the eponymous town! I can’t help wondering if Frost got a little confused between his own landmark series and The X-Files (which do both feature David Duchovny playing an FBI agent, after all), because there’s an awful lot of UFO/Masonic/Illuminati conspiracy stuff in there, which eventually feeds back into the established mythology of the TV show, after taking you on a slightly tedious amble through an animatronic waxwork museum of former American Presidents (Nixon!) and English occultists (Crowley!). In my own mind I credit Frost with keeping David Lynch on a more even keel, genre and plot-wise, but I find his presentation here painfully prosaic… so I’m glad that the forthcoming revival will be a collaboration between the two of them, rather than a solo project like this novel or Fire Walk With Me.

Heather Graham as ‘Annie Blackburn’ in “Twin Peaks” (S2)Possibly the weirdest diversion from what we’ve seen (or believe we’ve seen?) in the TV series, is the retconning of aged newspaper editor Douglas “Dougie” Milford (a very minor and short-lived character who wasted precious screen-time in the second season with that whole old-man-marries-bewitching-gold-digger bullshit) as a bad-ass “Man in Black”, and his succubus-bride as a secret assassin sent by the Deep State to sex him to death! Frost also pointedly elides the character of Annie Blackburn, despite a lengthy section about her sister Norma’s thwarted romance with “Big Ed” Hurley, and a couple references to the ill-fated “Miss Twin Peaks” contest (from which she was quite noticeably kidnapped). Likewise, Windom Earle only earns a brief namecheck or two, as a former FBI agent (and mentor to Dale Cooper) who subsequently went insane… but there’s no mention of him ever infiltrating the town itself, or littering the place with giant corpse-filled-chess-pieces! Maybe the author’s saving all that for his second book, The Final Dossier? Considering the apparent absence of both characters from the forthcoming season, I’m thinking maybe not…

The mysterious markings seen on Major Briggs (left) and The Log Lady (right) in “Twin Peaks” (ep #25)On the other hand, more popular townsfolk do receive substantial and reverential coverage here… such as Margaret “The Log Lady” Lanterman’s introduction in a newspaper report about three children being “abducted” in the woods (p. 143-6)*, which is followed later in the book by a five-page editorial feature laying out her backstory and making a strong case for her general/undeniable awesomeness (p. 315-9). Incidentally, we also learn that her maiden-name was “Coulson”… presumably in honour of Catherine E. Coulson, the late actress who brought her to life so indelibly on the screen. Bless. Curiously, the book includes a “physician’s intake exam” that was written shortly after young “Maggie” returned from the woods, stating (along with a diagram) that she was marked with a mysterious scar resembling three triangles… which in the TV series was actually the brand that Major Briggs bore on his neck, following his “abduction”, while her markings resembled a simplified drawing of two mountain peaks (ep #25). There’s a great article about the book on the Twin Peaks wiki-site, which details all of these continuity discrepancies and also highlights some interesting “easter eggs” hidden in various entries. It’s suggested that some of the inconsistencies may be intentional, as they appear in unverified documents written by unreliable witnesses… or that Frost may be playing some sort of mind-game with the reader…? I guess we’ll just have to give him the benefit of the doubt… for now…

Joan Chen as ‘Jocelyn Packard’ and Piper Laurie as ‘Catherine Martell’ in “Twin Peaks” (S1)Meanwhile, I was relieved to discover that Audrey Horne survived the explosion at Twin Peaks Savings & Loan that was part of the season-closing bumper-pack of cliff-hangers (p. 223-4)… though she wasn’t in particularly fine-fettle when the attending fire-crew found her, it’s worth remembering that she did once shake off an involuntary opiate-addiction like it was nothing more than a slight case of the sniffles, so she clearly has some sort of superhuman healing ability! There were also some great stuff about the shady shenanigans of Catherine Martell and Jocelyn Packard… though frankly I found the latter’s lengthy “rap sheet” as a patricidal triad enforcer (p. 172) stretched my credulity to breaking point. Then again, she did end up trapped in a hotel-room drawer-pull for all eternity, so… whatever…

In theory, this novel sets up a shiny new character, FBI Agent Tamara Preston, but we don’t learn much about her from the marginal notes she makes here, beyond the fact that she’s kinda snarky/sceptical… though she is now fully up-to-speed on all the folk-lore and conspiracy theories surrounding the town, and may even be aware that Cooper is “not what he seems”, so it will be interesting to see how she comes into play in the third season. According to IMDb, she’ll be portrayed on-screen by Chrysta Bell, who previously recorded an E.P. of songs with Lynch, and starred in a bunch of music videos that he produced, but hasn’t had much other acting experience…

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* One of the other children was supposedly Carl Rodd, the trailer-park manager from FWwM, played by Harry Dean Stanton… which is a nice conciliatory nod to Lynch, though I personally felt making him a former resident of the town was a bit of a stretch.

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Wrapped In Plastic – Pt. 3

[The conclusion of my lengthy ramble about Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery. Contains “sultry rock music” and SPOILERS!!!]

Moira Kelly as ‘Donna Hayward’ and Sheryl Lee as ‘Laura Palmer’ in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”Although I’ve seen Fire Walk with Me (1992) several times in the past, it’s always been in isolation from the TV series, usually separated by a handful of years… so watching it straight after the show that spawned it was a novel experience for me, but also quite a jarring one. There were, it has to be said, several behind-the-scenes snarl-ups, that negatively affected the finished film… first was David Lynch’s estrangement from co-creator/writer Mark Frost… second was the reticence of Lara Flynn Boyle, Kyle MacLachlan, and Richard Beymer to return to their well-established roles, resulting in the recasting of ‘Donna’, the reduction of Special Agent ‘Dale Cooper’s involvement in the opening investigation (with Chris Isaak taking up the slack as a substitute agent), and the total absence of ‘Benjamin Horne’, despite his close connection with both Laura and Leyland Palmer, who are the central characters of the piece. This results in numerous narrative contradictions/disconnections between the series and the film… but there’s also a severe tonal discontinuity, with the film taking a much more sombre (some might say “turgid”) approach to the material, which is peppered with graphic gore and nudity. It’s no wonder that many Twin Peaks fans were outraged when it was first released, resulting in a box-office belly-flop, which scotched Lynch’s plan to produce a trilogy of prequels/sequels.

Sheryl Lee as ‘Laura Palmer’ in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”Overall, I do find FWwM a bit on the boring side, at times… it probably doesn’t help that we already know most of the facts about how/when/why Laura died, so seeing it all acted out, like a reconstruction on a crime-stoppers show, isn’t exactly the most gripping way to spend two hours of your evening… but there are just enough disorienting blasts of Lynch’s trademark dream/nightmare-logic to keep you glued to your seat, with eyes and ears wide-open… even when your brain is taking a quick cat-nap. As Al Strobel notes in one of the interview featurettes, you’re better off approaching it as a piece of challenging video-art, rather than easy-going entertainment.

As for the cast, Sheryl Lee delivers a bravura performance in the lead role of tormented teen-prostitute/“homecoming queen” ‘Laura Palmer’, doomed to die a miserable and untimely death, but still praying for redemption via the angelic painting on her bedroom wall. The series had never allowed her much opportunity to play Laura as a living, breathing human being, and she clearly relished the opportunity to exhume the character… even if it meant channelling all of the loneliness, shame, guilt, confusion, and self-destruction that weighed Laura down as a victim of demonic/domestic abuse. In a more successful/accessible film, Lee’s courage and commitment might have bagged her a brace of trophies, but sadly she was only nominated for two awards (a Saturn, and an Independent Spirit), and didn’t win either one of them… while the intense and demanding nature of the experience (not to mention the subsequent backlash) might well explain why Lee hasn’t pursued the high-flying acting career that she more-than-earned during her time in Twin Peaks.

Moira Kelly as ‘Donna Hayward’ in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”Meanwhile, Moira Kelly is suitably doe-eyed/adorable as Laura’s bewildered BFF ‘Donna Hayward’… and Phoebe Augustine‘s sparky cameo as Laura’s partner-in-crime ‘Ronette Pulaski’ made me wish we’d seen more of her character when she was still “compos mentis”. Mädchen Amick scored a disappointingly brief (but still very endearing) appearance as Laura’s apathetic co-worker ‘Shelly Johnson’… and newcomer Pamela Gidley made a strong impression as ‘Teresa Banks’, an unfortunate mutual acquaintance of Laura and Leyland, whose foolhardy attempt at blackmail led to her getting murderised. Catherine E. Coulson’s cameo as ‘Margaret Lanterman’ (aka “The Log Lady”) warrants particular attention, partly because of how much I love her character/performance, but also because of how hard I was pulling for Laura to simply turn around and follow Margaret back to her cabin for a nice hot cup of tea and some cookies, instead of carrying on into the Roadhouse, and date-rapey oblivion. In fact, I wish we could all follow Margaret back to her cabin and hide out there listening to her uber-earnest sermons, while the rest of the world goes to Hell… though, I imagine she’d probably have something disapproving to say about that too…?

Kimmy Robertson as ‘Lucy Moran’ in “Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces”The major selling point of the Entire Mystery boxset is that it contains 94 minutes of extended/deleted scenes from FWwM (edited together, and exhibited as The Missing Pieces)… many of which feature characters from the TV series who don’t appear in the film, as well as call-backs (forwards?) to events from the pilot, which might have made it much more “of a piece” with its progenitor. Although the sheriff-station slapstick in scene #26 (starring the otherwise AWOL Kimmy Robertson as ‘Lucy Moran’) would have felt rather out-of-place amidst the darker material, and has no bearing whatsoever on the plot, there were a couple lighter scenes that could have helped to leaven the film, while also adding to its story… specifically scene #10 in which the Palmers enjoy a hearty/hysterical laugh over Leyland’s attempts to teach them Norwegian (to impress a group of visiting investors), in stark contrast to the more fraught and terrifying dinner scene we see later in the film after Laura identifies her father as her abuser… and also scene #13 in which a tearful Laura flees to Donna’s house for some respite, and shares a genuinely sweet and tear-jerking moment of wholesome familial warmth with the Haywards (including Mary Jo Deschanel as ‘Eileen Hayward’), again providing a counter-point to the horror lurking in Laura’s own home.

Joan Chen as ‘Jocelyn Packard’ in “Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces”There’s also a classic bit of Lynchian comedy in scene #15 with ‘Pete Martell (Jack Nance) and ‘Jocelyn Packard’ (Joan Chen) debating the value of an American dollar with a disgruntled customer… and a freaky-as-hell super-slow-motion close-up of Laura becoming partially-possessed by Bob (Sc. #16), that will give you nightmares for weeks! Oh, and there’s even a couple scenes set after the events of the series finale, including one with ‘Annie Blackburn’ (Heather Graham) being wheeled into hospital, where she delivers her drowsy plea to Laura (which is seen in the film, as a prophetic vision), before a nefarious Nurse steals the Owl Ring off her patient’s feeble hand (Sc. #29). Boo! Whether Annie died or not, I couldn’t say… but Graham has lamented the fact that she wasn’t asked to return for the new season, so we won’t be seeing much of her character this time around, and may never have an answer to Evil Dale’s question: “How’s Annie?”

There are a couple interesting extras on the final disc, including the rather bizarre “Between Two Worlds” featurette, in which Lynch interviews Lee, Zabriskie, and Ray Wise in-character as the Palmers, bringing viewers up-to-date (sort of) on what’s happened to them since the events of the film/original series. It was recorded in 2014, specifically for the boxset, so it must have been quite a challenging acting exercise for them, to try to reconnect with those characters after so much time had passed… but at least it gave them (and Lynch) a head-start on the rest of the cast who’ve returned for the third season! On a purely logical/pedantic level, it does bug me a little that Leland and Laura have aged naturally (albeit beautifully), despite being dead all this time… but using fiddly de-aging FX doesn’t seem like Lynch’s style, and you can’t really apply real-world “logic” to what happens to people in the Black Lodge anyway… in theory, things appear in a form that the observer can understand, so (if pain and sorrow can become creamed corn) there’s no reason why spirits/echoes/doppelgangers of departed/trapped spirits can’t appear to age in real-time. Right…?

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The Pervy People’s Princess

Nikki Glaser in “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser” (S1)I know I’m a year (or more) late to the party here, but I just discovered the joy of Nikki Glaser’s sex-centric comedy, via her 2016 stand-up special (modestly titled “Perfect”), and her short-lived talk-show Not Safe with Nikki Glaser (both of which were produced by Comedy Central). Besides being a naturally funny performer/story-teller, and a warm and appreciative hostess, Glaser is also passionate about promoting an open-minded and sex-positive outlook, and combatting shame… her use of the word “pervs” as an all-inclusive term of endearment for her guests and audience members, while cheerfully/curiously exploring all kinds of kinks and erotic occupations, genuinely made me feel better about my own dirty little secrets, and helped me laugh away some of my pesky prudishness. Her zealous proselytising and quippy/snarky monologues made me think of her as “The Samantha Bee of Sex”, though obviously there’s some overlap between them when it comes to the political aspects of sexuality, health, and gender, which Glaser also addressed with gusto and playful teasing.

Still, for all the admirable investigative work she did, I think the highlight of Not Safe for me was the recurring “Tinder Tapout” segment (eps #1/5/10-11/16/20), in which Glaser adopted the persona of a smoking-hot-but-highly-unstable “Party Bitch” named Kayla, to test the patience of male admirers on the eponymous “dating” app, and see how much straight-up insanity they were willing to excuse/ignore, in the hope of getting laid. The horrifying stream of casual (often criminal) confessions, neck-snapping non-sequiturs, and inappropriately cute emojis that spewed forth from her filthy fingers, had me laughing so hard it physically hurt, and I had to keep pausing the show so that I could recover before the next bombshell dropped. Overall, I’d rate the show a solid “A”, but those Tapouts were a gold-plated “A++”!

Nikki Glaser in “Perfect” (2016)My only negative criticism of Not Safe would be that Glaser sometimes flubbed her lines during the monologues, which spoiled the scripted jokes and dulled her barbs a little… but her off-the-cuff humour more than made up for it, especially during the field-pieces and interview segments. Speaking of which, she managed to “perv out” with an impressive array of celebrity guests across the first season, including: Rachel Feinstein (ep #1.1), Kristen Schaal (eps #8/12), Natasha Leggero (ep #1.10), Mary Lynn Rajskub (ep #1.11), Riki Lindhome (ep #1.13), Maria Bamford (ep #1.14), and Margaret Cho (ep #1.19). Sadly, the series wasn’t renewed, and won’t returned for a second run this year… but there are still 40 episodes of the spin-off podcast for me to listen to, so that’s some comfort, at least. I will miss Glaser’s little shoulder-shimmy as she danced to the intermission music though… :(

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Wrapped In Plastic – Pt. 2

[Continuing my lengthy ramble about the first two seasons of Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Contains a mangled rowing-machine and SPOILERS!!!]

Catherine E. Coulson as ‘Margaret Lanterman’ (aka "The Log Lady") in “Twin Peaks” (S1-2)One of the biggest selling points of the series for me is the eclectic (and eccentric) cast of women who appeared throughout its run, from up-and-coming newbies to veterans of stage and screen…

Regardless of the official credits order, first and foremost has to be ‘Margaret Lanterman’ (aka “The Log Lady”), played by Catherine E. Coulson, who’d worked with Lynch in an off-camera capacity on his debut feature Eraserhead (1977), and also appeared in one of his earliest shorts (The Amputee (1974)). She doesn’t appear as often in the series as her popularity and prominence in the official merchandise* might suggest… but she does make a very strong impression, with her peculiar pronouncements and ever-present “pet” log. And her introductions to the individual episodes, originally produced (by Lynch) for Bravo’s 1993 re-airing of the series, are a highlight of the boxset… beautifully-written and delivered slices of mystical insight and/or befuddling nonsense. Tragically, Coulson passed in September 2015, and at this point it’s unknown whether she recorded any scenes for the new season, but she will be sorely missed, either way. Laura may have been the face of Twin Peaks, but Margaret was most definitely its heart and soul.

Sheryl Lee as ‘Maddy Ferguson’ in “Twin Peaks” (S1-2)According to Wikipedia, Sheryl Lee was cast in the role of ‘Laura Palmer’ because she was local (to Seattle, where they were filming) and cheap. At that point, Frost & Lynch hadn’t really figured out where the story would go after the pilot, so all they really needed was a pretty girl willing to play dead on a riverbank wrapped in plastic, then frolic in some silent (but incriminating) camcorder footage. While filming the latter, Lynch realised that Lee was vastly over-qualified for the role of a pale-faced prop corpse, and so, when the series was picked up, he created a living/breathing character for her to play: ‘Maddy Ferguson’, Laura’s nerdy brunette doppelganger… who slowly became more and more like her near-identical-cousin, until she met the same curse’d fate. Harsh. Looking back, it seems strange to me that Lee doesn’t rank among the cast members who’ve subsequently gone on to enjoy greater fame and fortune, because she’s clearly a very committed and capable actress… not to mention very beautiful and lively… and her “Homecoming Queen” photo is still one of the most recognisable images associated with the hit series, so it’s not as if anyone could forget who she was! I really hope it was her choice to retreat from the limelight, rather than a case of her being so strongly associated with that one role/show, that no one else knew what to do with her…?

Mädchen Amick as ‘Shelly Johnson’ in “Twin Peaks” (S1-2)In a similar vein to Maddy, the character of adulterous diner-waitress ‘Shelly Johnson’ was expanded to capitalise on Mädchen Amick’s abundant charisma and acting prowess, after she wowed the creators/producers during the casting process. And that decision definitely paid off, as Shelley was put through the emotional wringer by her abusive husband ‘Leo’ (Eric Da Re), and Amick ably straddled the line between the intense tragedy of her home-life and the breezy comedy of her work-life. I can’t really blame a besotted Lynch for wrangling an on-screen kiss out of her, in his role as FBI Regional Bureau Chief ‘Gordon Cole’… and I thought it was a very sweet and romantic notion that she was the only person in the world he could hear without the need for artificial aid (in one of the featurettes, Lynch jokingly admits it was “sick” of him to exploit his position like that, while Amick insists that it was an “honour” to work so closely with him!). On a side-note, one of the few bright spots of the second season’s let’s-all-enter-the-Miss-Twin-Peaks-contest-so-one-of-us-can-get-kidnapped storyline, was Amick’s mocking impression of a stereotypical “beauty queen”, with her forced Cheshire Cat grin.

Still, I think my favourite among the younger townsfolk has to be attention-seeking hotel-princess ‘Audrey Horne’, who (once again inspired by the actress’s own energy, as perceived by Frost & Lynch) was equal parts impish-femme-fatale and plucky-good-girl-sleuth. In-keeping with the show’s obsession with duality, Sherilyn Fenn was required to play both a sultry seductress and a virginal naïf, and she nailed both sides of Audrey’s persona perfectly… all the way up until the back half of the second season, when the writers shunted her off into a bullshit animal-conservation subplot (I mean, I’m a supporter of the cause in real life, just not in this particular context). I was particularly appalled by the fact that no one even mentioned her getting hooked on heroin during her undercover investigation/imprisonment at One Eyed Jack’s, once she’d been rescued and returned to the Great Northern… as if all it takes to recover from “Class A” drug addiction is a good night’s rest in your own bed! Tch!

Sherilyn Fenn as ‘Audrey Horne’ in “Twin Peaks” (S1-2)Apparently, Frost & Lynch had intended to pursue the attraction between Audrey and ‘Agent Cooper’ (Kyle MacLachlan), which had been simmering since the first season… and Fenn was all for it, but MacLachlan objected because he felt it would be inappropriate for their characters, considering that Audrey was still (presumably) in high school at the time, and he was a straight-arrow law-man. Consequently, they were both given extremely-attractive-but-far-less-interesting (or established) alternative love interests, and barely even saw or spoke to each other for the remainder of the series. Feh! Although the accusation wasn’t included in any of the boxset featurettes, Fenn has been quite insistent in other interviews (such as the one she gave to The A.V. Club in 2007) that propriety wasn’t the only reason for her co-star’s resistance to the plot-development: I’m not supposed to say it… [but] what happened was that Lara [Flynn Boyle] was dating Kyle [MacLachlan], and she was mad that my character was getting more attention, so then Kyle started saying that his character shouldn’t be with my character because it doesn’t look good, ’cause I’m too young. Literally, because of that, they brought in Heather Graham – who’s younger than I am – for him and Billy Zane for me. I was not happy about it. It was stupid.” Amen.

I also have to give an honourable mention to Piper Laurie, who played scheming saw-mill mistress ‘Catherine Martell’ (as well as her post-“death” alter-ego, the mysterious Japanese businessman ‘Mr Tojamura’)… to be honest, I didn’t really like her character so much, but I loved Laurie’s performance and playfulness. Her nemesis/sister-in-law ‘Jocelyn Packard’ was played by Joan Chen… though the part was originally written for an Italian actress (presumably Lynch’s gal-pal Isabella Rossellini), before the producers tailored it to suit Chen (an Asian-American actress) instead. Yay for them!

Wendy Robie as ‘Nadine Hurley’ in “Twin Peaks” (S1-2)Meanwhile, sheriff-station receptionist ‘Lucy Moran’ (Kimmy Robertson), drape-obsessed cyclops ‘Nadine Hurley’ (Wendy Robie), and Laura’s bereaved BFF ‘Donna Hayward’ (Lara Flynn Boyle), all gave a good showing in the first season, before becoming increasingly stupid and cartoon-y in the back-half of the second season. In an interview included in the boxset featurettes, Robertson states that she thought the later episodes straight-up “sucked”… and while I don’t know if I’d go that far myself, some of the subplots were definitely verging on sucky, and the one with Lucy’s duelling baby-daddies mentoring a little brat who plays mean pranks on them was almost certainly the suckiest. So, I certainly understand why she’d feel that way, considering how her character was reduced to such a fuzzy sketch of her former self. Likewise Nadine went from being a raging “wronged woman”, who could inspire both sympathy and revulsion, to a super-strong “cougar” who happened to talk and behave like a high-schooler, after a failed suicidal overdose resulted in regressive amnesia, and the domestic tragedy of her life was overwritten with wacky slapstick and sex-comedy shenanigans. WTF!? At least the revelations regarding Donna’s parentage gave Boyle another opportunity to do some serious emoting, but somehow she ended up looking like the villain of the piece, just for wanting to know who her biological father was! And where the hell were her two sisters (half-sisters?) hiding out during that whole shebang? Sigh…

Other notable cast members included Grace Zabriskie as Laura’s distraught psychic mother ‘Sarah Palmer’… Peggy Lipton as loveable (but kinda boring) diner-queen ‘Norma Jennings’… Heather Graham as Norma’s sheltered sister ‘Annie Blackburn’… and Alicia Witt as Donna’s piano-prodigy sister ‘Gersten’. The latter was just a one-scene cameo (in ep #2.1) to showcase her musical skills, but Witt will be returning for the revival… and hopefully she’ll get some real dialogue to deliver this time, now that she’s an established actress!

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* For example, Funko’s forthcoming set of action figures comprises four characters from the series: Dale Cooper, Laura Palmer, Bob, and The Log Lady.

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Wrapped In Plastic – Pt. 1

[Contains damn fine coffee and SPOILERS!!!]

I originally started watching the other-worldly whodunnit Twin Peaks (1990-1991) in order to parody it, in a comic strip I was drawing at the time. There was so much hype surrounding its arrival on our screens (including the publication of pages from prime-murder-victim Laura Palmer’s “secret diary” in the newspaper my parents read*), that my knee-jerk reaction was a cynical desire to mock it. But when I actually sat down to see what all the fuss was about, I quickly got sucked in like millions of other fans around the world, and cast my snarky notepad and pencil to the carpet. Now, with the imminent arrival of a long-awaited and highly-anticipated third season (scheduled to begin May 21st), I realised it was time to revisit the series, via the very swanky (but now erroneously titled) “Entire Mystery” boxset.

Sheryl Lee as ‘Laura Palmer’ in “Twin Peaks” (S1-2)My immediate reaction after re-watching the feature-length pilot was that it was the greatest police procedural ever made… conforming to the established conventions of that genre, while also doodling all sorts of supernatural surrealism, soap-y melodrama, and broad sitcomedy/slapstick in the margins. Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch, with direction by the latter, it played like an attempt by slightly out-of-phase aliens to synthesise the most popular forms of Earthling entertainment, and it was, in a word, magnificent! Sadly, the quality (and ratings) noticeably declined over the following two seasons, in direct proportion to the level of involvement of the show’s creators: If either one of them had a hand on the wheel, then it looked and sounded like the Twin Peaks we knew and loved, but if both were absent from the writing/directing credits, then it was generally well below-par. Never boring, or “bad”, necessarily… but Frost & Lynch set the bar so high with the pilot, that even the best episodes by other writers/directors failed to deliver the same beautifully-“lensed” smorgasbord of laughter, chills, and owl-crap-craziness that launched the series with such a cinematic splash. Weirdly, of all the substitute directors that worked on the second season, the one I thought got closest to the original spirit of the show was a moonlighting Diane Keaton! There isn’t a single reference in the boxset featurettes to explain how she came to be involved with the show… so I’m just going to imagine her riding into the studio like Zorro to save the episode (#2.15), before riding off into the night again, her mysterious mission accomplished…

Wendy Robie as ‘Nadine Hurley’ in “Twin Peaks” (S1-2)Apparently there was some heated debate between Frost and Lynch over whether the central mystery of the first season (“Who killed Laura Palmer?”) should ever be resolved, in any sort of explicit way onscreen… unsurprisingly, the notoriously opaque Lynch was against it, while Frost was in favour of appeasing the audience’s fanatical curiosity. As a result, her murderer (or at least the human vessel used by her murderer) was identified, caught, and killed-off around the middle of season two (ep #2.09, to be exact)… leaving the show without a compelling central investigation to anchor all the other subplots and randomness. Instead, we were asked to invest in the machinations of ‘Windom Earle’ (Kenneth Welsh), an FBI-agent-turned-poor-man’s-Joker-wannabe, who cackled and connived his way around town wearing a series of ridiculous disguises, like a far-less-sinister Count Olaf (from A Series of Unfortunate Events). In other words, he was a sucky substitute for the psycho-killer-combo of ‘BOB’ (Frank Silva) & ‘Leland Palmer’ (Ray Wise), and he dragged the series down into a quagmire of Scooby-Doo-ish idiocy. Lynch valiantly tried to rescue the series from this artistic/intellectual nosedive with season two’s extended finale, hastily overwriting many of the character changes that had occurred in his neglectful absence, redeploying several iconic supporting players who’d been forgotten in the meanwhile, and refocussing the show’s wandering attention back on the jazzy-purgatory of The Black Lodge… all while (thankfully) giving Earle as little screen-time as possible! Phew! As far as I can tell, the third season will be a limited series written-and-directed by the original creators, and therefore has a very good chance of living up to the fans’ expectations, and repaying their loyalty…

Russ and Amber Tamblyn ala the “Twin Peaks - The Entire Mystery” Blu-Ray/DVD Release Screening at the Vista Theatre in Los Angeles, California (July 15, 2014)As for the boxset itself, there are some great extras included here, and I especially enjoyed a featurette called “Postcards From The Cast”, in which the actors shared various anecdotes from their lives outside of the show, such as Sheryl Lee’s eco-friendly sabbatical in Africa, Richard Beymer’s shamanic drug-trip in the Amazon, and Al Strobel’s near-death out-of-body experience following the car crash that took his left arm. There’s also a cameo by Amber Tamblyn, recounting how her father (Russ Tamblyn) took her to a cast signing event when she was 7 or 8, and she got them all to autograph a shiny new pair of shoes she was wearing… which remain one of the family’s most treasured possessions. Bless. Oh, and Wendy Robie was uber-adorable in her segment, discussing Frost & Lynch’s initial concern that she might be too happy and smiley to play an angry character like ‘Nadine’! But I’ll be discussing casting a little more in my next post, so let’s not get into all that now…

P.S. Generally speaking, I can’t stand instrumental music, regardless of the style or artist responsible… but Angelo Badalamenti’s score for this show is one of the few exceptions to that rule… in fact the Twin Peaks soundtrack album is one of the first CDs I ever bought, and I’ve listened to it countless times since then. Of course, Julee Cruise’s vocals are a plus, but even without them, there’s something so wonderfully hypnotic and strange about the score, that my ears just never get tired of hearing it.

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* Fun fact: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was written by David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Lynch, with minimal supervision and input from him.

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GothWatch: Abby Sciuto

[Contains a potentially lethal intake of energy drinks and SPOILERS!!!]

Pauley Perrette as ‘Abby Sciuto’ in “NCIS” (S1)Considering my abiding obsession with Gothiness, and my professional interest in police procedurals, it’s kinda sad that it’s taken me this long to watch a full season of N.C.I.S. (Naval Criminal Investigative Service). I have seen bits-and-pieces of various episodes in the past while idly flicking through the channels, but something about the obnoxious banter between the main characters always put me off, and made me wonder why the show had become such a huge success in the first place. Now that I’ve worked my way through the entire first season (2003), I have a better sense of how comforting the show can be, as a way of winding-down from more serious or involving tasks… but still don’t really *like* any of the main agents, or the needling way they provoke each other. And that whole “geeky-type starts rambling/digressing, then gets cut short by gruff-authority-type” thing got very old, very fast… I wouldn’t even call it a “running gag” as such, it’s just something that happened in almost every scene involving any medical/scientific/tech-y exposition, and it made me (metaphorically) grind my teeth every damn time. Gah!

Pauley Perrette as ‘Abby Sciuto’ in “NCIS” (S1)Of course, Pauley Perrette is absolutely adorable as ‘Abby Sciuto’, the team’s perky Forensic Specialist… and top marks to the producers for casting an actress who was at least familiar with goth-y/punk-y culture, even if she doesn’t identify herself as such. Apparently a lot of Abby’s tattoos are genuine, although the spider’s web on her neck is added in make-up, so that there’s always some ink showing even when she’s wearing a lab-coat! The music they have her listening to in the lab is a little bland for my tastes, but I assume that’s a budgetary issue, rather than a reflection of what she’d genuinely listen to if she existed in real life… it would be way too pricey to licence headline bands every week, just to provide some background music for them to gab over. It would also be pretty distracting, now I come to think about it… so fair enough. Since it’s a work-based show, and Abby is a serious professional (most of the time), she didn’t do anything overtly “spooky” on-screen… though there was one episode (#1.13) where a sniper’s bullet came to rest in a crate of boxed-up baby-dolls, and she chose to strip them all naked and separate their heads from their bodies during the course of her examination, despite it being blatantly obvious which one contained the actual evidence (‘cuz of the large entry “wound” and rattling sound). Her confused and discomfited colleagues noted that it “must be a goth thing”, as they surveyed the table of dismembered/disgraced plastic corpses.

Pauley Perrette as ‘Abby Sciuto’ in “NCIS” (S1)Curiously, Abby seems to be the only team-member that their hard-nosed, ex-Marine boss ‘Gibbs’ (Mark Harmon) treats with any consistent warmth and good-humour. Generally speaking, he keeps most people (including the other main characters) at a distance with spiky disdain and glowering cynicism, but he usually has a cheery smile on his face when he’s talking with Abby, and jokes with her (rather than *at* her) when he’s in a more relaxed mood. He even let her skip out to a party during an investigation in ep #1.20, simply because she asked him nicely! It probably helps that she’s such a reliable clue-cracker, and conduit for damning evidence… though I was very disappointed with her in ep #1.4 when she inexplicably confused the words “parley” and “melee” while discussing an online RPG, and displayed some truly atrocious computer-acting in the scenes where they had her supposedly navigating the game for herself. She was just madly mashing random keys, as fast as she could, like she was playing some old-timey “button-basher” on the ZX Spectrum, rather than holding down a small number of specific keys (and/or mouse buttons), as you do with more sophisticated, modern-day dungeon-crawlers, like the one that was depicted on her monitor. So that seriously undercut the character’s geek credibility, despite all the jargon she dropped in her other dialogue-heavy scenes (by a wacky co-inky-dink, Samantha Bee used a clip of Abby frantically bashing away at her keyboard to stop some sort of hack-attack, for a recent episode of Full Frontal, and also mocked how ridiculous and ineffective she looked).

Pauley Perrette as ‘Abby Sciuto’ in “NCIS” (S1)According to EW, as of August 2011, Perrette had the highest Q Score (a measurement of familiarity and appeal) of any actor on a U.S. primetime show, which presumably also makes Abby the most famous fictional Goth in America? In that case, I guess we should be grateful that she’s presented as such a sweet-natured, intelligent, and functional member of an elite crime-fighting force, rather than some sewer-dwelling, self-harming ghoul… I just wish she weren’t trapped in such a square-toed show, surrounded by snide-y jag-offs. Feh!

P.S. I was watching this as a palate-cleanser after Twin Peaks, to help me come back down to earth… so it was a little jarring when Sherilyn Fenn guest-starred in one episode (#1.10) as an amnesiac who awakens in a shallow grave, with a vague memory of helping to plant a bomb on an unknown naval vessel! Her character went on a pretty intense journey,  but it’s still kinda sad seeing the once-and-future “Audrey Horne” reduced to playing a victim/villain-of-the-week… and I suspect that Fenn would agree with me, if asked!

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The Flame Of The Furious

Vanessa Hudgens as ‘Emily Locke’ in “Powerless” (S1)Back in the day, I was a big fan of DC’s comedy titles, like Justice League International, Lobo, and The Heckler (all co-written by Keith Giffen, oddly enough), so I was intrigued when it was announced that NBC was making a sitcom set in the same universe as these fondly remembered books that brightened up many a boring school lunch-break/field-trip. Powerless stars Vanessa Hudgens as ‘Emily Locke’, a rather naïve country-mouse who’s travelled to Charm City to take up the position of “Director of Research & Development” at Wayne Security, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises that produces gizmos to help civilians survive the crossfire between rampaging supervillains-and/or-heroes. I couldn’t help noting the similarity between this show and Better Off Ted… and it’s not a very favourable comparison, because Ted had much more satirical bite to it, owing to the fact that the featured corporation (Veridian Dynamics) was straight-up evil, and snidely proud of its soulless greed, despite the best intentions of some of its more sympathetic, lower-level staff members. Here the corporation is genuinely trying to make the DC universe a little safer and more secure, despite the indifference, cynicism, and selfish pettiness of the main characters… which isn’t as funny or as subversive, when you think about it.

That said, Hudgens is doing some fine work in the lead role, deploying her doe-eyed-idealism (and killer karaoke skills) to maximum effect… and I was happy to see A to Z’s Christina Kirk snarking it up as ‘Jackie’, the long-suffering personal assistant to their spoiled-rich-boy boss ‘Van Wayne’ (played by the always-hilarious Alan Tudyk). Fun fact: Although I assumed he was an original character created for the series, Van actually made his first comic-book appearance all the way back in 1962! (Batman #148)

Natalie Morales as ‘Green Fury’ in “Powerless” (S1)Still, my main reason for sticking with the show this long is the addition of Green Fury (aka Beatriz da Costa) as Charm City’s go-to guardian-gal. I’m pretty sure she was known as “Green Flame” back when she first joined the JLI, and set my pubescent pulse a-racing, before eventually rebranding herself as “Fire”… but Wikipedia informs me that “Green Fury” was her original moniker, when she made her comic-book debut back in 1979 (via Super Friends #25). Whatever she calls herself, she’s a feisty Brazilian firebrand with bright green hair and awesome powers, and I’m really loving the way she’s portrayed here by Natalie Morales (who I like to think of as the Latin Anna Chlumsky, because I’m strange/racist like that). I should also say her costume looks fantastic, and the FX they’re using to depict her fiery powers are top-notch… especially considering they must be on a fairly tight budget, and she isn’t even a main character. Although this is a sitcom, she isn’t being set-up as a clownish “joke”… her badass attitude and heroic agency are being respected, while much of the humour derives from how a sexist and superficial media focus on her physical appearance and personal relationships, rather than her life-saving acts of derring-do. The gossip-mongers even attempted to misrepresent her budding friendship/workship (?) with Emily as a lesbian fling… which wouldn’t be totally out-of-character with how Fire was portrayed in her post-JLI comic-book appearances, but probably isn’t on the cards for this show (no matter how much pervs like me might fantasise about it).

Natalie Morales as ‘Green Fury’ in “Powerless” (S1)Sadly, Powerless isn’t exactly bringing in big ratings (or any critical acclaim), so I doubt it’s going to help Fire break-out into the mainstream consciousness… but for me, her inclusion here was way more exciting than the announcement of a Wonder Woman movie. In fact, whenever I think of WW, I remember the way she was portrayed in the old JLI comics, as a flawless alpha-female, who all the men were mooning over, and Fire kept calling a “bitch” under her breath. The thing I liked about those comics was that they (mostly) focussed on the second-string heroes and underdogs, rather than the headliners, so the fact that Powerless has done the same (first with an Americanised version of “Crimson Fox” (Deanna Russo), and then with Fire) is a big plus in my book. Even the dismissive name-dropping of “Justice League Europe” made my fanboy heart skip a beat! I wonder if there’s any way the show’s writers could be convinced to slowly bring in more JLI characters, and retool it as a Super Buddies series, with Van taking the place of Maxwell Lord…?

Update: The day after I posted this, news broke that the series had been cancelled… sort of. Basically NBC pulled the remaining 3 episodes from their schedule, and still haven’t said when/if they’ll air. Pesky!

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