Back to the Future of Cult in the Streaming Age6 October 2016
I feel the need to begin this, my last dalliance with you, readers, on an apologetic note. There are many David Lynch films that belong in this column, and at least five that might be counted among some of the best and most dissectible in the cult canon – and so I have to be at least a little sorry for choosing to write instead about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Twin Peaks, created by Lynch and Mark Frost, was one of the most-watched and talked-about television series of the ’90s. It seemed the logical small-screen progression for Lynch, whose films were constantly teetering on the edge of melodrama and psychological thriller, rebuffing linear narratives and thoroughly steeped in surrealism. Taking campy aesthetic cues from some of Lynch’s previous directorial work, the series was all polished pink and serene natural wonders on the surface; deeply unsettling beneath. In the wake of the murder of Twin Peaks’ high school not-so-sweetheart Laura Palmer, the show follows offbeat FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in his bid to unearth the disturbing secrets hoarded by its residents.
While Twin Peaks’ first season boasted consistently high ratings, pressure from the network to prematurely solve the murder mystery and reluctant changes in plot direction (due to the demands of certain cast members) saw the second season take a sharp downturn in audience and critical reception. The show was axed after the season finale, leaving viewers on a cliffhanger.
From this lack of resolution was born Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a 1992 part-prequel, part-sequel to the series based on the events leading up to Laura’s murder and resolving unanswered questions from the second season. Booed at Cannes and derided by even the most devoted fans of the series, the near-unanimously poor reception of Fire Walk With Me likely had more to do with audience expectations of the film than its merit as a standalone piece of media (more recent, retrospective criticism has been significantly kinder to Lynch’s efforts). Fire Walk With Me featured few of Twin Peaks’ best-loved characters. Cooper, its protagonist, played only a minimal role to placate MacLachlan’s fears of typecasting. The film doubled down on the series’ bleak tone, proving too dark and disturbing for its target audience, and Laura Palmer – barely a character in the original series – didn’t sufficiently pique the interest nor the nostalgia of fans of characters like Audrey Horne.
Now, Lynch is being given yet another shot at reviving Laura Palmer’s corpse in an upcoming continuation of the series to air with many original cast members (excluding Lara Flynn-Boyle because we all know how that went down, and The Man From Another Place, who has some pretty hectic and fairly racist conspiracy theories to share on his website). The limited-run series, which will be set in the present day and take account of the 25 years that have passed, has already excited considerable anticipation from critics and fans who are ready to forget that Fire Walk With Me ever happened. That Showtime picked up the mini-series revival shouldn’t shock anyone – Twin Peaks’ newest chapter falls in with a large number of cult hits being given a new lease on life. Check the stats on some of the most anticipated cult returns below.
This cult sci-fi-horror classic of classics has been through several cycles of renewal. Its original series concluded (on a fairly low note) in 2002. In 2009, fans finally got their brooding FBI agents back in the form of I Want To Believe, the second film in the series (The X Files: Fight The Future aired between the fifth and sixth seasons of the show and was extremely well-received) and a somewhat bizarre departure from the overarching mythology of the original series that left many disappointed. Not to be Mulder-and-Scullyless for long, though, legions of fans who had grown up watching The X-Files and writing about it on green and black screens covered in 0s and 1s (isn’t that what the internet looked like in the ’90s?) banded together with new generations of ‘philes’ to voice their support for the show’s renewal. Despite some truly unfathomable delays in signing both stars onto what would be the show’s tenth season (namely Gillian Anderson being offered half David Duchovny’s salary, a bizarre move not only because her recent successes so eclipse his), Fox went ahead with six episodes early this year. Now, it’s looking very likely that another season or feature film is on the horizon.
Reboot, revival or re-imagining? Revival.
Original cast and crew? Creator Chris Carter, stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny and various other original cast and crew members appeared in the recent revival series, joining a newer cast in what appeared to be a terribly misguided attempt to usher in a new generation of X-Files agents. Sadly missing was writer Vince Gilligan, who created some of the best and most classic episodes of the original series but was too busy cranking out Better Call Saul.
Will it be good? Season Ten was decidedly hit-and-miss, emphasis on ‘hit’ for monster-of-the-week episodes like the second of the season, ‘Founder’s Mutation’, and on ‘miss’ for the Chris Carter-penned stereotype-laden cringe-fest ‘Babylon’. Regardless, the chemistry between Anderson and Duchovny manages to (mostly) overpower any shoddy writing and will no doubt be enough to secure the love of the fans, if not the critics, in any upcoming production. If Fox can get Gilligan on board and do something about keeping Chris Carter to the producing side of things, a new X-Files film has the potential to be almost as good as its source material.
Xena, Warrior Princess
In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out (in poorly disguised New Zealand accents) for Lucy Lawless knocking men unconscious in a leather kilt. In a time of internet sexism and Pokémon Go, more Xena can’t hurt, I guess.
Reboot, revival or re-imagining? Reboot.
Original cast and crew? Very unlikely.
Will it be good? It’s early days, so it’s hard to tell. Pulling off the campy action sequences feels like more of a stretch in 2016 but sources say the very gay undertones between the original series’ Xena and Gabrielle will be blatant overtones in the reboot, which can really only be a step forward.
It hardly feels fair calling the planned continuation of this series, which paused for breath in 2006 and resumed with a straight-to-Netflix fourth season in 2013, a ‘revival’ but re-revived it will be. Both a fifth season of the cult comedy and a film are in the works. Say “Hey, brother,” to the Bluths.
Reboot, revival or re-imagining? Revival.
Original cast and crew? Heck ya.
Will it be good? Surely.1
In an era where the classic cult situation is less and less likely (cult underdogs are rare due to streaming accessibility and internet word-of-mouth) is the future of cult cinema its own past? Was that the same black cat? Are we at the tail of the cult Ouroboros?
One thing is certain: the streaming era of media consumption ushered in by Netflix et al. has changed the landscape of cult media materially. Subgenre fans need no longer peek out from subculture fringes to raise hell about premature cancelling or undeserved ratings bombs: tweet about it, hashtag it, Kickstarter about it and someone in Netflix/Hulu/Stan HQ is going to get dollar sign eyes. If your favourite piece of media has been left out in the cold, fret not: in the final words of The X-Files original series’ finale (but far from its true swan song): “Maybe there’s hope.”2
1Honorable mentions: Ghostbusters, Gilmore Girls, MacGyver, Ocean’s Eleven, literally anything that might make as much or more money than its predecessor, Point Break, The Neverending Story, and Christ, is nothing sacred anymore?
2Probably not for Firefly