Why Twin Peaks: The Return Was One of the Funniest Shows of 2017
Twin Peaks: The Return, the third season David Lynch and Mark Frost’s landmark series, was shut out of Sunday’s Golden Globes nominations, save for Kyle MacLachlan’s nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Limited Series or Television Movie. It’s an injustice, for sure, not just because the latest season of the cult classic was a masterful thriller, but also because it was secretly one of the most hilarious shows of 2017.
The long-awaited third season served up some truly horrifying imagery, including, but not limited to rotting corpses, a bug crawling into a sleeping girl’s mouth, and Sarah Palmer physically removing her own face to reveal an internal hellscape to a guy sexually harassing her in a bar. It feels perverse to call a series that deals with cycles of abuse, violence against women, and the ways trauma can fracture one’s identity funny, but the humorous moments do more than just provide comic relief from the suspense, extreme violence, and body horror peppered throughout Mark Frost and David Lynch’s revamped cult series. While Lynchian horror has fascinated critics and audiences for decades, Lynchian humor is just as captivating. If nothing else, that Billy Ray Cyrus cameo in Mulholland Drive cemented Lynch’s status as one funny motherfucker. Given that Showtime afforded Lynch and Frost a creative blank check to produce 18 hours of television, the duo took advantage of every opportunity to indulge their oddball comic sensibilities while producing Twin Peaks: The Return.
Just as sections of the original ABC series spoofed evening soap operas, the third season found ways to send up the prestige cable dramas that have come to dominate awards show season. With the desert setting, shrew wife, and mediocre middle-aged man clearly in over his head in the Las Vegas criminal underworld, the Dougie Jones storyline felt like an effective satire of Breaking Bad and similar gritty dramas led by a morally dubious male anti-hero. Lynch and Frost took a scenario that should have been tragic–beloved hero Agent Dale Cooper wandering around as a catatonic husk of his former self after escaping the Black Lodge–and made comedy cold. Naomi Watts’ high strung Janey-E is a perfect foil to Kyle MacLachlan’s Zombie Coop. In a brilliant bit of casting, Jim Belushi plays a mobbed up casino owner who, along with his brother and business partner, is perpetually exasperated by Candie, one third of a faithful showgirl entourage.
There are plenty of things for Dougie/Coop to fear while sleepwalking through Vegas, such as the fact that he’s the target for constant assassination via stabbing or car bomb. But the dread is undercut by sight gags like the shellshocked Coop draping a tie over his head because he has no idea what it is for, or having trouble getting reacquainted with his true love: coffee.
One of the most effective visual gags stems from Dougie/Coop passively participating in a game of catch with Sonny Jim.
The most GIF-able moments probably came from the instances where Zombie Coop had be led around Dougie’s insurance office with the lure of coffee.
Crooked casino owner Rodney Mitchum comes through with this brilliant understatement after witnessing a bloody shootout between rival hitmen in a suburban cut-de-sac:
While Coop was sleepwalking around Vegas, Frost and Lynch played around with the conventions of prestige police procedurals a la True Detective with Agents Gordon Cole (David Lynch), Albert Rosenfield (the late, great Miguel Ferrer), and the South Dakota storyline. Lynch and Ferrer brilliantly send up the buddy cop conventions of the drama, with the quirky Cole constantly opining about his dreams and forgoing his indoor voice on account of his hearing impairment. The prickly Rosenfield, meanwhile, silently telegraphs to Cole that his threshold for bullshit is diminishing in his older age.
The real MVP of the South Dakota storyline was Diane, Coop’s fabled secretary and gloriously platinum-bobbed firebrand, played by Laura Dern. Much of Diane’s presence is tragic given the fact that she is actively self-medicating trauma from Mr. C’s abuse. But it was hard not to laugh at the unmitigated fury the alcoholic femme fatale injected into every scene, like when she used “fuck you” as a formal greeting or unleashed her inner rage after being denied a crucial cigarette in a morgue.
A show about the lasting legacy of a murdered teenage girl, the fabric of the universe being torn asunder by the invention of the atomic bomb, a morally upright FBI agent who is functionally broken after spending years locked away in a dreamscape, and his evil doppleganger who spent 25 years wreaking havoc on Earth was the last thing I expected to make me laugh so hard and so often. The show didn’t come without Lynch’s trademark visceral violence and supernatural dread, but when the opportunities for laughter presented themselves, they felt profoundly uplifting and necessary, especially considering what was going on in the world outside of TV.