'Damn fine coffee' - Why the return of 'Twin Peaks' is a very big deal

With the new series set to premiere early on Monday morning, we look back at an unlikely TV phenomenon...

'Damn fine coffee' - Why the return of 'Twin Peaks' is a very big deal

Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks. Image: Showtime

"Diane, if you ever get up this way, that cherry pie is worth a stop..."

In the world of American TV and film production, very little is sacred. Countless beloved productions have received belated reboots or sequels in a bid to tap into the public's endless appetite for nostalgia. It rarely ends well.

It's a tricky thing, bringing back a popular series - few such resurrections have the creative energy to justify their existence, and many don't even attempt to hate the cynicism behind their existence. For every gem like Mad Max: Fury Road, you have a dozen disappointments.

Yet there's something uniquely exciting about the return of Twin Peaks, the first episodes of which will be broadcast in the early hours of Monday morning (yes, the first episode is showing on Sky Atlantic at 2am). Not only does it mark the first major work - art pieces and idiosyncratic music releases aside - from acclaimed director David Lynch in more than a decade, it's also a chance at redemption for a series that originally went out with a whimper rather than the bang it deserved.

27 years after the pilot aired, it's difficult to understate just how unlikely a pop cultural phenomenon Twin Peaks was in the first place. When David Lynch first attracted attention with a series of wildly experimental short films and 1977's seminal cinematic nightmare Eraserhead, few could have predicted the crossover success he enjoyed in the later 80s and early 90s.

Twin Peaks has its roots in Blue Velvet; a magnificent 1986 film about the dark underbelly of suburban America, Blue Velvet saw Lynch successfully delivering his surrealist style in a more accessible package - without diluting its inherent strangeness. After the critical and commercial success of the great (but comparatively conservative) The Elephant Man and the high-profile failure of Dune, Blue Velvet marked the moment when Lynch's unmistakable style began to seep into the popular consciousness.

Even despite the modest success of that film, few could have quite anticipated the stir Twin Peaks would cause after it premiered in 1990. A collaboration between Lynch and writer Mark Frost, the show somehow attracted millions and millions from its very first episode (a feature-length pilot).

Watching the first few episodes of Twin Peaks today, in the context of the countless examples of artistically ambitious and complex TV shows that followed in its wake, it remains an extraordinarily weird and wonderful piece of work. Everything seems to take place in a sort of hyper-reality - part cheesy soap opera, part wacky satire, and part horrible nightmare.

From the very start, it constantly balances farce and terror. As locals inspect the body of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) - her murder is the series' central mystery - one officer begins sobbing uncontrollably to the point of absurdity. An ominous foghorn roars in the background. It's strange, it's funny, it's over-the-top, it's deeply unnerving. Welcome to Twin Peaks.

Throughout its short first series and the first half of the second, Twin Peaks was a television wonder - indeed, it was such an artistic revolution for the medium that it's arguably second only to The Simpsons in terms of its importance and influence.

It contained a dozen or more iconic characters - from the mystery Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) who introduced every episode, to Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, a Blue Velvet veteran) who effectively became the show's protagonist. It was endlessly quotable ("Fellas, don't drink that coffee! You'd never guess. There was a fish in the percolator!"). It offered up countless iconic locations and scenes - none more memorable than the still peerless dream sequences set in the Black Lodge (still the strangest sequences ever broadcast on mainstream television).

As a pure melodrama, Twin Peaks is one of the finest television has produced. As a comedy, it's often riotously funny. But it's the darkness that makes it quite unlike anything else; this is a show haunted by violence and unease, with nightmarish elements aggressively intruding into this deceptively peaceful rural town. It shines a light on American society, and doesn't turn the camera away from the ugliness it finds.

That it manages to balance the potentially conflicting tones is kind of miraculous - particular credit must be paid to Angelo Badalamenti's unforgettable soundtrack for keeping everything in order.

And yet, despite its success, the history of Twin Peaks - the TV show, much like the town itself - is a troubled one. The show's quality declines significantly midway through the second season: after the show's central mystery is solved, it starts indulging in all sorts of misguided subplots. Only when Lynch - who was working on other projects at time - returns to direct the magnificent final episode does everything fall back into place. But it was too late: the show, initially a ratings juggernaut, was unceremoniously cancelled.

Lynch returned to direct a prequel film in 1992, subtitled Fire Walk With Me. Although it is an often powerful piece of work that significantly dials up the sense of foreboding and darkness of the original series, it was nonetheless poorly received at the time. Given the film's failure to advance the plot after season's two memorable cliffhangers, it's no surprise that many fans and critics were left frustrated (it has since built a significant cult following).

Fire Walk With Me, alas, killed Twin Peaks for a few decades.

But now, 25 years later, it's coming back. Frost and Lynch are both returning, with the latter directing all 18 episodes. Lynch hasn't directed a film since 2006's challenging but brilliant Inland Empire, so cinephiles are understandably excited to see what he has to offer - the first two episodes, indeed, are premiering in Cannes.

The revival also boasts a genuinely astonishing cast: alongside many of the surviving original players (a few - such as Michael Ontkean and Lara Flynn Boyle - have opted out), a sizeable list of others have also chosen to join the now massive ensemble. It'll be particularly exciting to see Naomi Watts and Laura Dern visit Twin Peaks - both have done some of their best work with Lynch.

Despite the infamous decline in quality of season two, Twin Peaks returning remains a very big deal. Almost three decades later, it remains a show of uncommon ambition and character that is truly unlike anything else. TV has come a long way since 1990, so it will be fascinating to see what one of the first 'prestige' shows can do with a generous budget and far fewer broadcasting taboos. And, again, more David Lynch is always a cause for celebration.

Even if the third season of Twin Peaks is a creative disappointment, one thing's for certain - the coffee and cherry pie will be damn fine.