4:15 pm EDT, October 6, 2014

Social-izing with ‘Twin Peaks’ 25 years on

By Heidi8

“Television, the talking furniture we look to as a cure for loneliness, is not expected to surprise,” wrote John Leonard in his May, 1990 New York Magazine cover story on Twin Peaks, which had then been airing on ABC for about six weeks.

Its first season was eight episodes brief – and the return of Twin Peaks, 25 years after the final episode aired, will also be eight episodes long, a perfect mirror for a show where mirrors were so often part of the story.

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Nobody knows exactly what the future of Twin Peaks has in store in terms of story, characters or even time-frame (returning cast isn’t the same as returning characters) – but I know that I’ll be watching, sharing the experience on social media in a way that didn’t exist when I sat with friends in a grungy off-campus semi-frat-house in Philadelphia in November, 1990 to watch the reveal of Who Killed Laura Palmer.

It was terrifying. If you haven’t watched Twin Peaks yet but want to do so well in advance of the series return, and you don’t want to be sleepless for a few nights afterwards, watch episode 8 of the second season in the middle of the day with a lot of lights on and a lot of people around (IRL or virtually) so you can share the terror together.

If you want to watch it like we saw it, start it on a Saturday night at 9 p.m. in the fall or winter, when the branches are slapping on the windows and there’s a terrible chill in the air. Even if your friends are all around you (IRL or virtually), you’ll experience the thrilling fear for yourself.

Then you’ll want to share it. I shared my Twin Peaks-watching experience with about a dozen friends, but I knew there had to be more people at my Uni who were watching it – I wasn’t the only person who’d purchased the very-NSFW (or school) Secret Diary of Laura Palmer at our school bookstore – but I had no idea how to find them.

So I took to the press in the only way I could. I had a TV show on our closed-circuit university television station, and invited a few friends on to discuss the series in a round table chat. We all dressed as TP characters. I was Audrey, a friend who’s gone on to very big things in the legal world wore a tux as Dale Cooper, another friend was Donna and I don’t remember if our friend Dave was moderating as Doogie Howser or whether he was Bobby for the night. Baby’s First Cosplay, complete with saddle shoes and cherry-flavoured candies.

I’d never heard of people doing a show where they discussed a TV series – although the concept is all over YouTube these days. Plus, it worked – I found other fans! A week after our chat-show aired, a half-dozen people came over to me to talk about TP as we theorized what would happen next, who [a certain character] really was (we were all wrong) and what stories they’d tell next (we were all wrong).

That was Social Media of the 1990s – if you were lucky enough to have friends at school or around the watercooler at work to share your love of a show with, you’d talk about it and maybe dress as a favorite character for Halloween, but unless you were somewhere that was lucky enough to have fan conventions, or you were able to go to Snoqualmie, your options were limited.

By the time the show went off the air, Usenet’s alt-tv.twin-peaks already hosted resources for information about and discussion of Twin Peaks. We didn’t have GPS yet, so specific driving directions helped tourists find the filming locations. Timelines and chronologies mashed up the filmed stories with those from Laura’s Diary and Agent Cooper’s Tapes. The message boards on AOL and Prodigy had thriving Twin Peaks sections, and as soon as America OnLine added access to Usenet in 1993, I became a devotee of alt.tv.twinpeaks, reading all the scripts because I didn’t have all the show’s episodes on VHS, so it wasn’t easy to revisit the stories.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 12.15.05 PM
An example of a map created on Usenet in 1990 so fans could find the show’s setting

To me, it’s almost as interesting to wonder what Twin Peaks would have been like if it had aired two years later, when millions of people were online, rather than just a few thousand. How fannish would I have been? Would I have found fanfic 10 years earlier than I did? Would the debates have impacted the show’s run, or its prequel-film Fire Walk With Me? Would spoilers have impacted the massive reveals in many of the episodes? We heard that David Lynch monitored Usenet discussions, but a comparatively small number of people were chatting. What will the story be like in an age of Twitter and Snapchat?

I’m sure that, no matter what, season 2, episode 8 would have terrified me – and that’s why I’m looking forward to seeing episode 8 of the upcoming series – and all the ones that come before that, while sharing the experience on Twitter and Tumblr and LJ and Facebook, diving back into the mythology via the websites that have archived decades of FAQs and discussions and scripts and epistolary material.

First, I’ll hunt down my old saddle shoes….

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