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Sunday, April 8, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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John Voorhees

`Twin Peaks' Pilot Isn't Encouraging

``Twin Peaks,'' ``ABC Sunday Night Movie,'' 9 p.m., KOMO-TV.

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Well, it's here at last - the pilot film David Lynch shot a year ago in the Pacific Northwest, originally scheduled to be broadcast last May, then last fall, then in March, then next fall - and finally now.

It's the pilot for a series - seven episodes already shot - that begins at 9 p.m. Thursday on KOMO-TV. Its future as a series will rise or fall on the Nielsen ratings in the next few weeks.

Lynch is the filmmaker best known for ``Blue Velvet,'' the sexy, perverse film that starred Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan and Dennis Hopper, and ``Twin Peaks'' is definitely the work of the same man.

``Blue Velvet'' was set in a Northwest logging town - Lumberton - and was intent upon proving that just behind its pretty flower beds and smiling townspeople was a swamp of sexual perversity, murder and mutilation. Twin Peaks is a lumber town near the Canadian border - the lodge at Snoqualmie Falls is prominent in the pilot - and while we're initially shown cheery shots of Twin Peaks, the story soon gets under way with the discovery of the plastic-wrapped body of Laura, the high-school homecoming queen who has been murdered. The local sheriff, played by Michael Ontkean, notifies the FBI, which quickly sends Dale Cooper, played by MacLachlan, a fussy grown-up Boy Scout who spends most of his time talking to his secretary via tape-recorder. Cooper responds to everything with great enthusiasm and gusto, whether it be trees or cherry pie or a new murder clue.

Do not, however, expect the mystery to get solved in the pilot - it's to be an ongoing investigation. One report is that ``Twin Peaks'' will, like CBS' ``Wiseguy,'' use story ``arcs'' of several episodes. Thus, the solving of Laura's death will take several weeks, even though there are abundant clues - and several possible suspects - in Sunday night's show.

What Lynch and co-author Mark Frost seem much more interested in is parading the more colorful members of Twin Peaks' citizenry before us - and without a scorecard, it's easy to become confused. ``Blue Velvet'' was a model of precision - and underpopulated - by comparison. Unfortunately, however, in trying to introduce so many individuals, each of whom has a special quirk and is generally in love with someone other than the person the community believes he or she is attached to, there's very little time to make any distinction. You're likely to come away with memories of The Lady With the Drapes, the Lady With the Log, the Wife-Abusing Truck Driver, the Tycoon who is the father of the Sulky Teen-ager who behaves like Lolita.

The story sometimes may seem confused, overly melodramatic and not terribly believable, but Lynch is a master at the creation of mood - and the absorption of various influences to fuse into his own style.

Like Hitchcock, Lynch obviously believes the formula for real terror consists of placing terrible deeds in familiar and cheerful surroundings. The mood of ``Twin Peaks'' is sometimes reminiscent of Hitchcock's ``Shadow of a Doubt.'' In no time at all, the cozy settings of ``Twin Peaks'' take on a ominous, depressing character because we're shown they're not what they seem: It's pretty to see a row of tulips in front of a white picket fence - but before ``Twin Peaks'' is over you're afraid to look over the fence because of what you might find. - just as MacLachlan discovered a severed ear in a pretty meadow in ``Blue Velvet.''

The format of ``Twin Peaks'' is a familiar one - ``Peyton Place,'' (and any day-time soap) with its endless bed-hopping and constantly changing affections, combined with the power struggles of ``Dynasty'' and ``Dallas'' (Joan Chen and Piper Laurie feuding over the Packard Lumber Mill, Twin Peaks' biggest industry), filtered through wacky, skewed characterizations reminiscent of ``Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.''

But while all of those are worthy precedents, what of Lynch's amalgamation? Frankly, I didn't much like it or find the characters terribly believable - Sherilyn Fenn as the sexy Audrey was ridiculously bad. Having given up long ago on the nighttime soaps, it's difficult to care much about what's going on in ``Twin Peaks.'' ``Twin Peaks'' is no ``A Taste for Death'' and Lynch and Mark Frost are not P.D. James.

``Twin Peaks'' is a gamble for ABC because it's a lot quirkier than most TV. It isn't that the characters are behaving much differently from those on any nighttime soaper - it's that Lynch has put his own spin on them and their story.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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