Twin Peaks, Episodes 15-19 (1990-91)

Watching anything by David Lynch is like coming down from acid. There's enough normalcy there -- regardless of whether Lynch sets his pieces in remote mountain towns or way-off-the-red-carpet Los Angeles -- so that you're not flat-out tripping. Yet Lynch's affinity for one-armed midgets, zombie-whore night owls and Spanish-speaking cabaret singers in empty, red-light-district theaters serves to remind you that you've yet to complete your descent.

How accessible Lynch is depends on how much he's willing to rein in the latter element. So it's a blessing in disguise that Lynch must conform, at least partially, to small-screen standards with Twin Peaks, arguably the best genre-bending series ever to air on network TV. The genius of Twin Peaks is its ability to make the audience care deeply about characters who might otherwise be regarded as throwaways. A lot of this has to do with Lynch's ability to read between the lines of small-town superficiality, but a lot more of it has to do with the (onetime) A-list talent he recruited: Kyle MacLachlan, Piper Laurie, Heather Graham, David Duchovny, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Caleb Deschanel, Diane Keaton and Jerry Stahl, among others.

But the series' surprise tour de force is delivered by Ray Wise as Leland Palmer. Wise, a seasoned but little-known character actor, steals this five-episode set as a ballroom-dancing, grieving, classic-car-weaving, psychopathically schizophrenic trial lawyer who happily totes bloody severed limbs alongside the fairway woods in his golf bag. This is the sort of career-defining performance Lynch has been coaxing out of marginal actors his entire career, and it's a big part of what makes Twin Peaks the pearl that it is. -- Mike Seely

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

 
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