Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Damn fine cider!

A popular teenager is found murdered. Her body has been wrapped in plastic and deposited in a lake at the bottom of a misty mountain. An eccentric detective is called in to investigate.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re probably a fan of Twin Peaks, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s one-of-a-kind TV series that ran for two delightfully offbeat seasons back in the early ‘90s. But I’m not talking about Twin Peaks. I’m talking about a recent episode of Psych, which paid tribute to the cult series. I’d never seen an episode of Psych before, and while I’m not exactly tempted to rush out and buy all five seasons on DVD – the show’s sensibility is a little too “vanilla” for my taste – I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It’s a must-see for Lynch lovers.

Psychic detective Shawn (James Roday) and his buddy Gus (DulĂ© Hill) are lured to the small California town of Dual Spires by a mysterious email sent from “Mia” at underthenail.com. (The website is a reference to the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, in which a tiny letter “R” is discovered underneath the fingernail of slain teenage queen Laura Palmer.) Ostensibly in town for the 90th Annual Cinnamon Festival, the buddies quickly become embroiled in a murder investigation involving one Paula Merral, a troubled girl with a dangerous side. “Nothing scared her, not even dying,” one of the locals says – which pretty much sums up Laura Palmer’s outlook on life.

The episode is jam-packed with references to Twin Peaks, and includes guest appearances by several cast members of the original series. The owner of The Sawmill Diner who serves Shawn a cup of pipin’ hot cider is played by Dana Ashbrook, who played teenage lothario Bobby Briggs on Twin Peaks. Dr. Donna Gooden is played by Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee, while Dual Spires’ sultry librarian is embodied by Sherilyn Fenn, looking not much older than when she played sex kitten Audrey Horne 20 years ago. You know the producers of Psych (the episode was co-written by series star Roday, a Twin Peaks fanatic) are getting into the spirit of things when Fenn purrs, “Isn’t cherry the best?” The ‘sode also includes a hilarious cameo by Catherine E. Coulson as the “Woman with Wood,” while Michael Ontkean (Sherriff Harry S. Truman on Twin Peaks) shows up as Sherriff Andrew Jackson. Ray Wise (Leland Palmer, Laura’s father) plays a priest who helps decipher Paula’s diary. Wise gets the best line in the show: “The Village was a ridiculous film. ‘Those we do not speak of.’ Remember all that nonsense?”

Catherine E. Coulson as the Woman with Wood, aka The Log Lady

Other references I noticed: the Psych theme song (“I Know You Know” by the Friendly Indians) is sung by Lynch regular Julee Cruise, who also sang the Twin Peaks theme song, “Falling.” A shot of a slowly rotating fan at the top of a flight of stairs is lifted directly from the original series. Paula and Laura each kept a diary, and both girls were photographed in an identical pose after being crowned homecoming queen. The song playing when Shawn and Gus chase a kid on a bike is “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” by Chris Isaak, who delivered a memorably deadpan performance as Special Agent Chester Desmond in the Twin Peaks prequel, Fire Walk with Me. Many scenes in the episode have jazz music playing in the background – reminiscent of the beautiful score Angelo Badalamenti wrote for Twin Peaks.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Imitation is easy, but it’s much harder – if not impossible – to capture the essence of a unique show like Twin Peaks, which merged comedy, tragedy and otherworldly strangeness in a way that only Lynch seems capable of. To their credit, the creators of Psych don’t even attempt to recapture that essence; they seem content with making an affectionate homage. If you ever loved Twin Peaks, then the episode’s final scene – with the patrons of The Sawmill Diner dancing for no good reason – is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

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