Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

Synopsis of TV Show

“She's dead. Wrapped in plastic.”

If you’re the kind of couch spud that likes literal storytelling, that feels at your TV-viewing best when you’ve got a firm grasp on what you’re watching and total comprehension, then this wasn’t the show for you. According to its cultishly prodigious lore, the idea for Twin Peaks came about when writer/producer Mark Frost and writer/director David Lynch were in a coffee shop musing about the image of a beautiful woman’s corpse washing up on a gravelly beach. It’s possible they had some cherry pie at that meeting, or some coffee as “black as midnight on a moonless night” (which is how their lead character Dale Cooper took his in the show). But then again, with these two minds at work, anything was possible. Maybe the diner didn’t exist at all. Maybe it was all in one of their dreams. Or maybe it did and their waitress was a midget or a giant, or maybe there was odd taxidermy all around them. Maybe.

By the time Twin Peaks debuted on April 8, 1990, the show had been aggressively hyped by both the network marketing whizzes and the critics who had seen its previews as something brand new to television—as television “art,” even. Frost had been a writer on Hill Street Blues, and Lynch, that most famous curator in the museum of weird, had made a name for himself with movies like Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet. This creative teaming, plus all that preemptive hype, meant that viewers were talking long before there was anything to be viewed.

The show’s eerie opening sequence said it all: a trance-like synthesizer score from Angelo Badalamenti, little birds cocking their heads, smokestacks pumping away, a sawmill shooting sparks, and striking images from the forest surrounding the town—which in any other context would make for some nice postcard shots, but here, they filled a watcher’s gut with a bit of intrigue and dread. Choose your subtext (because in this show, you always could): nature’s invasion by man and his industry, but nature knowing something more than man, despite it all. There were a thousand and one themes to muse about in Twin Peaks, reams and reams of interpretative theories to be churned out, and it all started with those simple but forbidding opening credits.

The fictional Twin Peaks was a small logging town in the Pacific Northwest, just a few miles south of the Canadian border, and in many ways, time there had stopped. There were still acres and acres of Douglas firs that seemed untouched by man, the show’s notoriously sexy young leading ladies were known to slink around in saddle shoes and plaid skirts, and all the townspeople seemed to speak with words and phrases that didn’t quite register them as patrons of present time. A lot of the show just looked and felt slightly…well, off, and there was a constant feeling that things were afoot—which was exactly the point.

When erstwhile prom queen Laura Palmer’s plastic-wrapped and serenely beautiful dead body was found in a local lake, and then another young woman was found tortured but alive in the forest, FBI agent Dale Cooper (played by Blue Velvet's Kyle McLachlan) arrived to investigate. The identification of Laura’s body—Twin Peaks was a small town and Laura was a well-known girl—would prove about the only thing that was cut and dried. As the episodes unfolded, Agent Cooper uncovered bizarre dimensions of intrigue that tied the townspeople together—there were love triangles and secrets and nefarious business scams galore. Cooper took most of it in stride, but as viewers, we were often left jaw-agape when the show broke for commercial. The curtain fell on the first season with a dramatic cliffhanger, and the Laura Palmer crime still unsolved.

But Agency Cooper kept at it…he befriended local Sheriff Harry Truman, recorded his observations in a dictaphone which he then sent to unseen secretary Diane, and when he needed to clear his head, he was known to throw rocks in the woods or indulge in the “damn fine coffee” and cherry pie at the local diner. He also paid close attention his dreams, which were populated by dancing dwarfs who spoke backwards, giants who spoke in epigrams, and dark mystical lodges where he confronted his enemies, the victims, and his own troubled soul. The catholic range of methodology worked, because he eventually solved the Laura Palmer murder—sort of (and read no further if you feel like renting a batch of old episodes and holing yourself up for a little weekend festival of the surreal). Laura’s dad, Leland Palmer, was technically the guilty party, though he was inhabited at the time by the soul of “Killer Bob,” a forest-dwelling supernatural bad guy who could enter the souls of Twin Peaks residents and wreak utter, and horrible, havoc.

The devoted kept on with their Twin Peaks viewing parties, and there was a healthy circulation of tapes, just in case anyone missed an episode…but the weird factor, by this point, was beginning to wear some viewers out. This wasn’t a show that you could take a break from and then come back to, after all—the plots were too layered and complex. And no one had a shot at complete show omniscience—the best way to stave off hopeless confusion was by watching, and hopefully discussing, each and every episode with fans just as intrigued and deliciously confused as you.

After the first season, Cooper’s nemesis became Windom Earle, his old partner who had gone nutty after his wife had been killed while in his and Cooper’s custody. Earle and Cooper played an elaborate chess game via the mail and newspaper columns—he was a master of disguises, he coerced many of Twin Peaks’ weirdest to do his bidding, and of course as aforementioned, he was downright insane. Television drama usually has one or two token “quirky” characters, but in Twin Peaks, those types were the rule, not the exception: The Log Lady, hard of hearing Bureau Chief Cole (played by Lynch himself), one-eyed Nadine…the list was long and macabre.

Since Twin Peaks didn’t exactly chronicle the American experience—at least one hopes it didn’t—and its progressive artiness always felt otherworldly to say the least, the show did very well internationally, especially in Japan. The two-hour premiere episode, with an eighteen-minute ending not shown in the States, was released theatrically in many countries. And in terms of tone, Twin Peaks inspired a slew of other 90’s shows to flirt with, or downright embrace, all that was odd in life—The X-Files and Northern Exposure, to name just a few.

For its second season, ABC moved Twin Peaks to Saturday nights and continued to juggle it around timeslots after that. And cultish following or not, the show’s ratings began a downward trend that never turned back around. In 1991, a two-hour finale aired. In 1992, however, largely to sate those cultish fans, Lynch directed the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a prequel to events on the TV show, which chronicled Laura Palmer’s life in the days before her death.

Twin Peaks had kinky humor, crime intrigue, characters that redefined whimsy, plots that defied prediction, and a range of thematic undertones that acted like one big, weird playing field—in which fans could run around interpreting text and subtext as freely and wildly as they liked. For those who liked to scratch their heads and feel—at least for a little while—that the world is a loaded and utterly unpredictable place, the strange brew of this show actually proved a sort of elixir.

Release History of Prime Time Show

4/8/90 - 4/18/91 ABC

TV Sub Categories


Television Network


Television Studio


TV Cast

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper Kyle MacLachlan
Sheriff Harry S. Truman Michael Ontkean
Jocelyn "Josie" Packard Joan Chen
Catherine Packard Martell/Mr. Tojamura Piper Laurie
Shelly Johnson Madchen Amick
Bobby Briggs Dana Ashbrook
Benjamin Horne Richard Beymer
Donna Marie Hayward Lara Flynn Boyle
Audrey Horne Sherilyn Fenn
Dr. William Hayward Warren Frost
Norma Jennings Peggy Lipton
James Hurley James Marshall
"Big Ed" Hurley Everett McGill
Pete Martell Jack Nance
Lucy Moran Kimmy Robertson
Leland Palmer Ray Wise
Leo Johnson Eric DaRe
Deputy Andy Brennan Harry Goaz
Eileen Hayward Mary Jo Deschanel
Deputy Tommy "Hawk" Hill Michael Horse
Laura Palmer/Madeleine "Maddy" Ferguson Sheryl Lee
Dr. Lawrence Jacoby Russ Tamblyn
Major Garland Briggs Don S. Davis
Mike Nelson Gary Hershberger
Jerry Horne David Patrick Kelly
Nadine Butler Hurley Wendy Robie
Windom Earle (1991) Kenneth Welsh
Sarah Palmer Grace Zabriskie
Hank Jennings Chris Mulkey
Annie Blackburn (1991) Heather Graham
Montana (1990) Rick Giolito
Midge Loomer (1990) Adele Gilbert
Male Parole Board Officer (1990) James Craven
Female Parole Board Member #2 (1990) Mary Chalon
Emory Battis (1990) Don Amendolia
The Man From Another Place Michael J. Anderson
Jeffrey March (1991) John Apicella
Ronette Pulaski Phoebe Augustine
Johnny Horne Robert Bauer
Mrs. Tremond (1990) Frances Bay
Mayor Dwyane Milford John Boylan
Richard Tremayne Ian Buchanan
Black Rose "Blackie" O'Reilly (1990) Victoria Catlin
Margaret Lanterman, The Log Lady Catherine E. Coulson
DEA Agent Dennis/Denise Bryson (1991) David Duchovny
Julee, the Roadhouse singer Julee Cruise
Sylvia Horne Jan D'Arcy (I)
FBI Forensic Specialist Albert Rosenfield Miguel Ferrer
Nancy O'Reilly (1990) Galyn Gorg
Vivian Smythe (1991) Jane Greer
Nicolas 'Little Nicky' Needleman Joshua Harris
Lana Budding Milford Robyn Lively
Malcolm Sloan (1991) Nicholas Love
FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole David Lynch
Diane, Cooper's secretary Carol Lynley
Caroline Powell Earle (1991) Brenda E. Mathers
Evelyn Marsh (1991) Annette McCarthy
Andrew Packard (1991) Dan O'Herlihy
Ms. Jones (1991) Brenda Strong
RCMP Officer Preston King (1990) Gavan O'Herlihy
Jacques Renault (1990) Walter Olkewicz
The Giant Carel Struycken
Jean Renault Michael Parks
Jonathan Lee/Jonathan Kumagai (1990) Mak Takano
Janek Pulaski (1990) Alan Ogle
Bob Frank Silva
Suburbis Pulaski (1990) Michelle Milantoni
Harold Smith (1990) Lenny von Dohlen
Elizabeth Briggs Charlotte Stewart
Trudy Jill Rogosheske
Philip Michael Gerard, "Mike" The One-Armed Man (1990) Al Strobel
Harriet Hayward (1990) Jessica Wallenfels
Bartender Kim Lentz
Thomas Eckhardt (1991) David Warner
Swabbie Charlie Spradling
Joey Paulson (1990) Brett Vadset
Bernard Renault (1990) Clay Wilcox
Emerald/Jade ("Invitation To Love") (1990) Erika Anderson
Internal Affairs FBI Agent Roger Hardy (1990) Clarence Williams
Chet ("Invitation To Love") (1990) Lance Davis
Mrs. Tremond #2 (1990) Mae Williams
Jared ("Invitation To Love") (1990) Peter Michael Goetz
The Elderly Room Service Waiter Hank Worden
John Justice Wheeler (1991) Billy Zane
Gwen Morton (1990) Kathleen Wilhoite
Female Parole Board Member #1 (1990) Mary Bond Davis
Einar Thorson (1990) Brian Straub
Heba (1990) Mary Stavin
Theodora Ridgely Eve Brent
Jenny (1990) Lisa Ann Cabasa
Decker Charles Hoyes
Tim Pinkle David L. Lander
Walter Neff (1990) Mark Lowenthal
Gersten Hayward (1990) Alicia Witt
Eolani Jacoby (1990) Jennifer Aquino
Johnny Horne (1990) Robert Davenport
Coach Wingate (1991) Ron Taylor

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