What the fuck is it?
Twin Peaks is a now-cult show that ran for a year and two seasons in 1990. It is widely considered the opus of David Lynch, and marked a high point in his career. Everyone was talking about this show when it was on. They actually ran ad campaigns with the tagline "If you miss it tonight, you don't know what everyone's talking about tomorrow" and they were absolutely right. Before Lost, before any of its many successors, this was the original water cooler show. And it was awesome.
What's it about?
The premise is a fairly simple one: in the tiny town of Twin Peaks, Washington- the kind of place where the local beauty pageant is a huge deal, one businessman owns half the town, and everybody knows everybody's name- the homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, is found dead on the beach. Because her death resembles another recent murder that took place across state lines, the FBI is called in to investigate. That's the basis. From there, we're drawn into the town itself, and all the various dramas going on within the lives of the residents. Everyone has some kind of secret, and Laura's death sends ripples through everyone's lives. Remember, this is a tiny, tiny town. The loss of one person- and in such an unexpected, violent way- has the potential to tear away the illusions that were held about the town's occupants and show what the residents of Twin Peaks really are. Everything is connected. Every event causes a chain reaction. And it all ties back to the central question of the series: who killed Laura Palmer?
Okay, who's in it?
Not a lot of people you would recognize. This actually works to the show's advantage, because nobody brings preconceptions attached to previous roles- they are their character. And this show has a truly brilliant cast. Most of the younger actors (who compromise a good chunk of the cast) were virtual unknowns when the show began, and their ability and dedication to their roles is stunning. Here, have some screencaps:
Obviously still images can't capture the nuances and subtleties of their performances, but my point still stands. This. Cast. Is. Incredibly. None of their careers really took off after the show ended, which makes me deeply sad. They all deserved stunning careers. But at least we'll always have the series to look back on and admire.
So who are these fabulous characters they're playing?
As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of characters in this show. It's basically a show about the entire town. I saw it described as a Dickens-esque story in scope (no, don't run away! They weren't paid by the word, I promise!) and I think that's a really accurate description. But for clarity's sake, let's go through a few of the major players. First, you've got Agent Cooper, the FBI agent who gets sent in to investigate Laura's murder.
This is what the second episode opens with, and it's a pretty good summation of Cooper as a character. He's quirky. He's eccentric. He loves coffee and pie. He narrows down lists by throwing rocks at bottles and seeing which ones shatter. He's fascinated by Tibetan spirituality. I don't think I'm going a great job of selling him here, because a good 80% of his appeal lies in watching him in action. Just trust me when I say you'll like him
This is Laura Palmer
Yes, I know she's dead for the entirety of the series. But honestly, she's so omnipresent- and more than that, developed- that I have to include her here. Laura Palmer is the homecoming queen, the girlfriend of the football captain, and the darling of the entire town. She's also a cocaine addict, cheating on her boyfriend with at least one other guy, and dead. A motif in David Lynch's work is the exploration of what lies beneath sunny suburbia, and Laura is the absolute personification of that. He takes the homecoming queen archetype and subverts and twists it so thoroughly that we end up with a completely different person than we expected. And that person is fascinating, and more than a little tragic. By the time you reach the end of the first season, you'll probably be mourning Laura along with the rest of Twin Peaks.
This is Leo Johnson.
Leo is the town's resident drug dealer/wife-beater/all-around skuzzball. He may have killed Laura, and he was definitely selling drugs to her. He is fucking terrifying. If you weren't hiding behind your couch before his scenes with his wife, you certainly will be afterwards. He also sold drugs to Laura's boyfriend Bobby who, unbeknowest to Leo, is also sleeping with his (Leo's) wife. This is him.
He's the captain of the football team and Laura's boyfriend (well, former boyfriend I guess). He thinks of himself as a tough guy. In actuality, he is a gigantic dork. You'll see.
Finally, this is Donna Hayward
She was Laura's best friend when she was alive, and now that she's dead, she's determined to find out who killed her. I have a hard time selling her as a character, because I don't really have any strong feelings about her. A lot of fans seem to hate her, and I think that stems from her actress's bad attitude about the show in general. Like I said, I don't have any strong feelings (aside from thinking that she's not all that bright) but since she's one of the major players, I thought I should introduce her.
This (last one, I promise!) is Audrey Horne.
Audrey Horne is the daughter of Benjamin Horne, town businessman, hotel owner, and neglectful parent. Audrey is also a fucking BAMF. When she finds out that Laura was murdered, she investigates that shit. She trips up her father's business schemes because she hates him, and also because he's a heartless bastard who ruins lives for his own personal gain. When she sees Cooper and decides to hit that six ways from Sunday, she immediately goes about seducing him, because Audrey Horne does not sit around waiting for guys to hit on her. (Not that she'd have to, because look at her.) Audrey infiltrates a brothel all by her own goddamn self, and interrogates supects, because she's just. that. badass.
. . . okay, that kind of turned into an extreme macro there. Anyway.
So now that you've broken my bandwidth explaining the characters and the plot, any more reasons why I should watch this?
Because it is fascinating, dark, and twisty, filled with deep and complex characters who are also fully capable of grabbing your heartstrings and yanking on them. Because it's a cornerstone of popular culture, and influenced everything that came after it. Because the first season and a half are what I consider some of the best material to ever be put on a television screen. Because it has awesome ladies.
See that? That is NINE major female characters with their own storylines and agency and motivation. How many shows currently on air can offer that? (None.) The women on this show are fascinating, complex, beautiful, young, old, idealistic, amoral, sweet, and cunning. There is not a single storyline that they don't impact in some way. They are, for me, a huge part of the show's draw. They're my girls, and they're awesome. Also-
JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! Who is that creepy fucker, and what is he doing on my TV screen? Is he a ghost? Maybe. A drug-fueled hallucination? Possibly. A flesh-and-blood person? Who knows. You'll have to watch the show to find out. That is, unless you died of fright upon seeing that picture, in which case you won't be watching anything.
[One final note: after you reach the episode where Laura's murder is resolved, stop watching. Trust me. Nothing post-2x09 is worth compromising your memory of what came before. They had nowhere to go but down after solving the murder, and then went down like a rhino full of tranquilizers. Seriously. Save yourselves.]