Twin Peaks is back in the news after twenty five years, because David Lynch is partnering to bring the show back for a limited run of nine episodes. The news has largely divided the show’s fanbase, with some dying to see more of the show while others are decrying that nothing is sacred any more. Generally though, reaction has been positive, and most are looking forward to the show’s return.
Now, naturally, many are going back to take a second, third, fourth or sometimes first look at Twin Peaks as a series. The show is streaming on Netflix, so it’s a prime time to be able to see what all the fuss is about for yourself, or rewatch it if the last time you saw it you were dressed like an extra in a Vanilla Ice video.
Many may forget that despite being killed after only two seasons, Twin Peaks was a solid ratings performer in its day. It’s kind of hilarious to go back and look at the ratings now, as it ranges from “monster hit” to “still pretty good” by today’s standards. The problem is that back in the late ’80s, there was far less competition on the airwaves. What seems like high ratings now could be taken as rather low back then. Twin Peaks was cancelled based on ratings that would have likely kept it on the air now.
I thought it might be interesting to go back and take a look at what the five highest rated episodes of the show actually were. Naturally, both the pilot and the season two premiere are here, but what about the others? Given that the show did suffer from declining ratings, most of the top episodes are in the first season. Here they are with the official descriptions:
5. Episode Seven – “The Last Evening” – 18.7M viewers
“Under the orders of Ben Horne, Leo embarks on a plan not only to burn the Packard Saw Mill but to eliminate Shelly, Catherine Martell and Bobby Briggs in one fell swoop. Things take a rather violent turn when Agent Cooper successfully lures Jacques Renault across the Canadian border and his involvement in the death of Laura is revealed. Nadine decides to end her life; and Laura’s father Leland takes the law into his own hands. Later Cooper gets a nasty surprise on his return to his hotel room at the Great Northern Hotel.”
4. Episode Eight – “May the Giant Be With You” – 19.1M viewers
“As Cooper lies bleeding from a serious gunshot wound, he has a vision of a mysterious giant who helps him with the investigation. Albert Rosenfield arrives in Twin Peaks the next morning to assist Cooper and to investigate his attack. Meanwhile, Leland Palmer’s hair has suddenly turned white and he continues to act unusually.”
3. Episode Two – “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” – 19.2M viewers
“Cooper tells Sheriff Truman and his deputies about a unique method of narrowing down the Laura Palmer murder suspects. Ben welcomes his returning brother Jerry with some bad news, and the two decide that a trip to One Eyed Jacks is needed. Cynical FBI agent Albert Rosenfield arrives in town. Josie discovers that Catherine is double-crossing her. That night, Cooper has a strange dream that elevates the murder investigation to a whole new level.”
2. Episode One – “Traces to Nowhere” – 23.2M viewers
“Cooper’s investigation into the murder of Laura Palmer continues, as her secret boyfriend James Hurley is interrogated, and it appears that both trucker Leo Johnson and Laura’s psychiatrist Dr. Jacoby may have some connection to the crime. Laura’s best friend Donna and Audrey Horne vow to solve the murder.”
1. Pilot – “Northwest Passage”- 34.6M viewers
“In the feature-length pilot episode, the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington, is shaken up when the body of high school student Laura Palmer is discovered near a riverbank, wrapped in plastic. FBI Agent Dale Cooper is called by local sheriff Harry Truman when Ronnette Pulaski, a schoolmate of Laura’s, is found wandering on a bridge and then slips into a coma.”
As you can see, they are indeed stacked heavily in favor of season one, with the 22 episode season two waning a bit, dipping as low as about 7M viewers which is why the network called for its cancellation.
I think this might actually be a cautionary tale against the 22 episode format of network shows, years before that became an issue in the present day. The first season managed to be a tight eight episodes, and was beloved. The second might have been okay, but it was stretched out into 22 mammoth episodes, when it really wasn’t that type of show. This was not a “murder of the week” type of thing, but viewers got fed up with not knowing who the killer was after so long.
It’s easy to see how Twin Peaks inspired shows like True Detective today, with a shorter format allowing for more tightly-written episodes. These ratings seem to prove that concept rather well, I think.
[Photo via ABC]
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