For years — through his forays into painting and interview digressions into Transcendental Meditation and odd self-reflexive documentary projects and pop-up appearances on “Louie” — fans and freaks have asked: When will David Lynch return? After a quarter century making nearly a dozen of the most interesting/original/weird movies in Christendom (beginning with “Eraserhead” in 1977 and ending with “Mulholland Drive” in 2001), he had made only one movie, and that was the Polish puzzler “Inland Empire” in 2006.
On Monday we had our answer. Lynch was not only returning — he was returning to one of his most famous creations. Showtime came out with a surprise announcement that it would back and air a reprisal of “Twin Peaks.” Lynch and Mark Frost, collaborators on the original, would write and produce a nine-episode limited series, and Lynch would direct every one of the episodes, shooting next year and airing in 2016. After such a long hiatus, one might have imagined Lynch dipping his toe back in slowly. This was a full plunge.
How the new show picks up the story of small-town machinations and the death of Laura Palmer nearly a quarter century since the last check-in, the 1992 film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” and the series’ 1991 cliffhanger will be one of the big narrative questions. So will the returning cast. A statement from Showtime said that the new go-round will be “set in the present day” and “continue the lore of the original series, providing long-awaited answers for the series’ passionate fan base.”
But equally interesting from a Hollywood perspective is what the return means for, and says about, Lynch. The film director, after all, was a pioneer in ways that went beyond the twisted cool of the show itself. Long before dark shows on television, long before cable originals, long before “The Killing” (whose creator admits she borrowed from “Twin Peaks”), and long before most movie directors thought of long-form storytelling or any of the other current TV vogues, there was Lynch. He was just a few years removed from “Blue Velvet” and an Oscar directing nomination, but he was doing the unheard-of — making a show for broadcast prime time.
It didn’t exactly go smoothly, of course. Then-ABC executive Bob Iger famously had to battle executives to get it on the air, and Lynch skirmished heavily with the network over the killer’s reveal in the second season (Lynch wanted to delay it, among other things.) But in the show being there, on TV, for millions of people to watch every week, Lynch set the stage for so much great television to follow.
Many creators of dark cable dramas directly pay homage to Lynch. And those who don’t probably owe him a muffin basket anyway, because he was showing decades ago that mainstream Americans would invite dark and weird characters into their homes if you just made those characters compelling enough. (It’s telling that he also will direct every episode of the new “Twin Peaks” himself, a tactic used to great effect earlier this year by the feature director Cary Fukunaga on “True Detective" — yet another series that owes a creative debt to Lynch.)
Showtime’s willingness to give Lynch an apparently large amount of freedom is a sign of how far things have come since Lynch began all of this. Though tension is always possible when art and corporations collide, don’t expect anything close to the battles or constraints he fought then. “What more can I say — TWIN PEAKS with David Lynch and Mark Frost on SHOWTIME in 2016!” network topper David Nevins said in the statement, giddy. “To quote Agent Cooper, ‘I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.’”
That all leaves the question of how Lynch will approach the return to the thing he started. The director has long been shattering barriers and conventions, but those are a lot more elastic since he first began hammering away at them on TV more than two decades ago. If you put the original “Twin Peaks” on TV now, it would feel less iconoclastic than it would part of the mainstream zeitgeist. How far Lynch tries to push beyond that will be part of the fun of the new “Twin Peaks.”
Lynch has said he hadn’t decided to actively take a directing hiatus. He just wasn’t feeling motivated to do anything that would end it. “I haven’t gotten the big idea,” he said when I interviewed him two years ago. “I’ve got some fragments that are coming, but not the big idea. If I got an idea that I fell in love with, I’d go to work tomorrow. I just haven’t.”
That’s another bit of iconoclasm since in Hollywood the mantra is to keep working and take any opportunity one can. But Lynch has long shattered the mold. One hopes he’s returning to pick up the pieces, so he can break them all over again.