One of the great comedic scene cappers in the beginning of Twin Peaks occurs in the conference room of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department.
Fresh faced Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) are sat at the table going through evidence, and have been noting items of intrigue surrounding Laura Palmer’s diary, including a small bag with cocaine residue. The discovery casts a serious pall over the deceased young woman’s former lifestyle, presenting us the idea of a world of worry. This sense of concern is then wonderfully undercut by Cooper, picking up the next piece of evidence and speaking into his Dictaphone, announcing, “Diane, I am holding in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies.”
It became a beloved moment. Small, insignificant, but in its own way special.
Now, over twenty-five years later, Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) hangs a ‘Donut (sic) Disturb’ sign on the conference room door and joins Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) and Lucy Brennan (Kimmy Robertson) at the table where the case files from the Laura Palmer investigation are strewn everywhere.
With a number of shows receiving belated revivals, either on the small screen or reconstituted as bro-humour comedy features, the art of nostalgia has become haphazard. The ‘call back’ can provide viewers with a neat sense of satisfaction, but too often these trinkets of ‘fan-service’ become crutches in place of genuine new thought.
The approach to nostalgia in The Return is better realised than most, chiefly because the revival is far more interested in telling new stories. The moments when it does catch its breath and glance to its past are often folded into this process (see Dougie’s foggy connection to words and phrases from his life as Cooper).
But occasionally it goes for a more direct approach, as now.
The scene is largely played for comic effect, as Lucy confesses to having eaten one of the chocolate bunnies taken in evidence all those years ago. Still, the scene goes to show that the staff at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department are going their legwork on Margaret Lanterman’s cryptic clue, even if they haven’t found anything yet.
The pacing of the scene – and the comedy wrought from the pacing – is exceedingly deliberate. Some find it exasperating. I can understand that. But it comes from the fringes of experimental comedy as evidenced over the last ten years, particularly on stoners’ favourite network Adult Swim.
The home of a variety of cult shows, Adult Swim embraces non-conventional, often arch material, and might also be argued as elemental in the ‘memeification’ of humour on social media. Two of their most iconoclastic comedians, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, have become YouTube favourites for their stilted brand of comedy, which often employs long awkward pauses and repetition to illicit a kind of “WTF” reaction.
It is this sense of absurd comic timing being evidenced here in The Return, as Andy, Lucy and Hawk exchange a ludicrous and at times punishingly slow back and forth over whether the chocolate bunnies are the solution to the Log Lady’s mystery.
“Is it about the bunny?” Hawk questions, questioning his own heritage and sense of it.
There’s also a knowing acknowledgement of audience bewilderment about this scene, as though Mark Frost and David Lynch realise that a large percentage of their new viewers (and old ones!) are probably quite perplexed by the unfolding events of The Return, particularly on first approach.
This scene feels like the two of them saying, “It’s okay, we know, its pretty out-there! It’s all right if you’re questioning yourselves right now!” Ultimately we can all gain comfort from knowing it’s not about the bunny.
As with the moment those chocolate bunnies initially appeared all those years ago, it’s inessential, you could lose it, but with it some of the show’s overall specialness might also disappear.
Next time: Shovels revisited