Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: 'TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and Modern Television Drama'

It has often been said that we are living through a second golden age of television, and when this century has seen the likes of The Sopranos and Deadwood set the stage for defunct series such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and ongoing ones such as Game of Thrones, Fargo, and Bojack Horseman – among quite a number of other pieces of small-screen art—this age does, indeed, look pretty golden. In 2012, pop-culture writer Alan Sepinwall laid out the theory well by focusing on a number of series in his book The Revolution was Televised, not only analyzing shows such as Mad Men, Lost, Sopranos, and Breaking Bad but also supporting his ideas and making-of accounts with original interviews with these series’ major players. It was an interesting format and a convincing argument, but he didn’t go in-depth on any series earlier than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fair enough, considering that the beginning of the golden age is usually cited as the debut of The Sopranos in 1999, but there is a more regularly cited predecessor for the golden age than Buffy.

Sepinwall does reference Twin Peaks a few times in The Revolution was Televised, but he hardly gives the show that brought big-screen editing, pacing, cinematography, sound design, genre, and subject matter—as well as one big big-screen name—to the small screen its due attention. Three years later, Andreas Halskov is correcting Sepinwall’s oversight with an entire book devoted to Peaks that mimics the format and approach of The Revolution Was Televised close enough that it feels like an essential companion piece to Sepinwall’s book.

While TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and Modern Television Drama stops short of announcing, “Yep, Twin Peaks is solely responsible for the current state of TV,” and gives voice to several dissenting voices (one of which belongs to Mark Frost), Halskov also makes an incredibly strong case for the pioneering status of Peaks by discussing its sundry cinematic elements and explaining how new they were to television nearly ten years before Twin Peaks-devotee David Chase gave life to Tony Soprano and his clan. Halskov supports his conclusions with insights and anecdotes from about fifty Peaks veterans, such as directors Lesli Linka Glatter and Duwayne Dunham; writer Robert Engels; DPs Frank Byers and Ron Garcia; musicians Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise; actors Catherine Coulson, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, and Kimmy Robertson; and briefly, David Lynch, himself. Because Halskov is Danish, he also provides an international eye, taking into account the influence of Peaks on such non-US items as Riget, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Bron/Broen and others.

The author also trumps Sepinwall in terms of presentation with a beautifully designed book featuring full-color and black-and-white images of rare production photos, memorabilia, and delightful fan-made artworks. Thoughtfully packaged, historically important, insightful, entertaining, and meticulously researched without reaching glib conclusions, TV Peaks is a study worthy of a TV show that, yep, helped lay the groundwork for the current state of TV.

(Note: Because I received my review copy late, TV Peaks missed the chance to land on my 10 Best Retro Pop Culture Books of 2015 list, but it would have deserved a spot on it.)
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