Complex TV

p. 57-58: TWIN PEAKS

As one of the early landmarks of complex television, Twin Peaks’ pilot provides an important template for the role of opening moments: it begins with two and a half minutes of opening credits combining languidly paced shots of a lumber mill with dreamy theme music, demanding our viewing patience and immediately setting a meditative tone. To viewers today, these credits are a striking anomaly, both in their length and placement, as most contemporary programs either forgo opening credit sequences entirely or precede shorter sequences with a teaser sequence to immerse viewers in the narrative. Twin Peaks’ pilot follows the credit sequence with an opening scene that both pays off and disrupts what preceded it: we open on Josie preparing for her day in a continuation of the initial languid tone. We then follow Pete to the shore, where he finds Laura Palmer’s dead body, iconically “wrapped in plastic,” and calls the sheriff’s office with a comedically clueless reply from receptionist Lucy. Within the episode’s first five minutes, we are taught to expect jarring juxtapositions in style, ironic undercutting of serious moments, and a dreamy tone leaving viewers unsure how to emotion- ally respond to the action—is Pete’s discovery played for laughs, melodrama, or both? These ambiguous tendencies are reinforced through- out the pilot, which also establishes more than a dozen characters, key plot points and relationships, and the intrinsic norm that each episode takes place within one day of story time. The program’s open-ended mystery and intriguing tone inspires viewers to want to keep watching, while the narrative form and style teaches us how to engage with the ongoing series.

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