Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

After Twin Peaks: On The Air

Illustration for article titled After iTwin Peaks/i: iOn The Air/i
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Though by far the most famous, Twin Peaks wasn't the only David Lynch/Mark Frost co-production. They also teamed up for the documentary Hugh Hefner: Once Upon A Time and the Fox documentary series American Chronicles. I've never seen the Hefner doc and only vaguely recall American Chronicles. I just remember lots of slow-motion footage and ambient music, though the IMDB reminded me that it was narrated by Richard Dreyfuss and featured an episode on Mardi Gras. But I've always had a soft spot for the team's final TV collaboration, On The Air, a sitcom about the early days of television. In this I might be alone, or if there's anyone else out there who likes the show, we've never met. Set in 1957, the show rarely strays from the set of its show-within-a-show, The Lester Guy Show. Intended as a vehicle for down-on-his-luck film star Lester Guy (Ian Buchanan, a.k.a. Twin Peaks' Dick), it rarely provides a flattering showcase for its star. Behind-the-scenes chaos invariably spills over into the live broadcasts on the Zoblotnik Broadcasting Company, despite the best efforts of a director who speaks in an impenetrable Eastern European accent (David L. Lander of Laverne And Shirley fame) and a martinet of a producer played by Miguel Ferrer (a.k.a. Twin Peaks' Albert.) On The Air is filled with endearing characters and memorably odd touches. Both Buchanan and Ferrer play roles that take their Peaks personas to their logical extremes. The rarely-heard-from-again Nancye Ferguson is incredibly winning as the ever-cheerful Ruth, the only person on set who can understand Lander's accent and the only one with the patience to explain what's going on to Buchanan's co-star Betty (Marla Rubinoff), a woman so stupid that she spends one episode trying to remember her mother's name. Running gags fill the background in the form of The Hurry-Up Twins, a pair of conjoined twins who constantly say "Hurry up!" and Blinky Watts (Tracey Walter), a sound effects man afflicted with Bozeman's Simplex," a condition that causes him to see "25.62 times more" than everyone else. A narrator is quick to explain this before the show cuts to a shot from Blinky's perspective, which is usually filled with primitive computer animated images of Santas, hammers, and dolls. Each episode repeated this gag. In fact, each episode repeated all of the gags, which is the show's biggest problem. The pilot, co-written by Frost and Lynch and directed by Lynch is pretty brilliant. The other episodes aren't nearly as fun, relying on the same set-ups–Buchanan wants to sabotage Rubinoff's success; something goes horribly awry on the air–to lesser effect. Though I do really like the fifth episode, in which Rubinoff's sister, a famous movie actress, drops by the show and gets upstaged by a puppet named Mr. Peanut. Or is it the third episode? Seven were made but ABC only aired three of them in June and July of 1992, when virtually no one was watching. Other countries showed the full run, which was later collected on VHS. The show is little more than a footnote to Peaks and to Frost and Lynch's careers. But it did seem to unlock in Lynch a fixation on the act of filming, which would go on to play important parts in Lost Highway, Mullholland Dr., and Inland Empire. And, it should be noted, that in one episode two characters get shrunk down to the height of a few inches, an image that would return to chilling effect in a later movie. (I won't spoil it in case there's anyone out there who hasn't seen it yet.) But, hey, don't just listen to me. You can watch the pilot on YouTube. I'll go one better than giving you links. You can watch it just by scrolling down. Next week: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and (maybe) Industrial Symphony No. 1. Then we bid goodbye to Lynch and Peaks. (Also, sorry for missing last week. It got a little busy.)

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