Yet there are two important things about the pilot that tend to get forgotten over time. One is that Twin Peaks did not start as the cult phenomenon it would become later, as diehard fans clung to the series through diminishing ratings and a 1992 feature, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, that caught the zeitgeist too late. The pilot was a bonafide smash, the highest-rated of the 1989-90 season and the fifth ranked show of the week, and about 35 million Americans tuned into ABC to watch it. For perspective, only two primetime telecasts in 2019 had a higher viewership, and they were both football games. It was an impossible (and fleeting) moment when art infiltrated the mainstream, and the Sunday night mystery that introduced characters such as the Log Lady and Nadine, the eyepatch-wearing housewife with a drape obsession.
The other surprise, revisiting the pilot, is how emotion defines it as much as eccentricity. Twin Peaks is remembered as a strange show, and it would certainly get stranger as its mythology spun out over three seasons and a movie. The death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) would become a Lynchian mystery box that had no bottom, just an unending series of dark and surreal revelations about a secret, insinuating evil that lurked on the edges of an idyllic north-western town. But in the pilot, it’s treated more simply as a tsunami of grief that crashes over its characters, who have never experienced losing one of their own, which makes it seem like a sudden death in the everyone’s family. It’s not just Laura’s mother, Sarah (Grace Zabriskie), who breaks down in inconsolable anguish, but the high school principal delivering the news over the PA system and poor Andy (Harry Goaz), the crime scene photographer.
Photograph: Allstar/Twin Peaks Productions
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