Are you ready to feel old? I mean, really really ready?
Are you ready to cry for your lost youth and contemplate how your life hasn’t turned out quite like you thought it would? To recognize that the years have flown by, and they’re not coming back?
You sure? OK.
Ladies and gentlemen, Bobby Briggs:
That’s Dana Ashbrook today. This was Ashbrook as Bobby Briggs on Twin Peaks, which seemed like ten seconds ago:
Aye, carumba. I know that was 20 years ago, but still. Jesus.
It’s hard to imagine now, but Twin Peaks was a phenomenon for a short while when it aired (it was kind of like the Deal or No Deal of 1990), and many in the cast became instant celebrities. Kyle MacLachlan was rightly celebrated for his portrayal of Dale Cooper, and earned an SNL hosting gig out of it. Madchen Amick, Lara Flynn Boyle and Sherilyn Fenn appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, when that actually meant something.
But the show was off the year little more than a year past its debut, and most of the cast faded into obscurity. From the beginning, most of the actors on the show were either considered washed up or new discoveries. Which ones were able to build careers for themselves in the wake of Twin Peaks? Which ones peaked on Peaks? Let’s take a look.
No better place to start than with the inspiration for this post, Mr. Ashbrook himself.
Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs)
As Bobby Briggs, Ashbrook was quietly great on Twin Peaks — playing the teen rebel with just the right amount of Lynchian ’50s camp and just the right amount of legitimate emotion. But as with many, many other TP cast members, the rest of Ashbrook’s career has been a non-starter. He appeared in TV movies, garnered bit roles in films and series, and basically fell off the map.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Most Prototypical
Cast Ranking in Terms of Acting Talent: 6 out of 18
Post-Peaks Highlight: Ummm…he played Clyde Barrow in an obscure TV remake of Bonnie and Clyde that also starred Melrose Place’s Doug Savant?
Further Reading: This interview with Ashbrook, in which he reveals himself to be a head-screwed-on-right, reasonably cool guy.
Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna Hayward)
Boyle is one of the few cast members to break out with considerable mainstream success, famous in equal parts for her role as Helen Gamble on David E. Kelley’s The Practice and her ever-decreasing body frame. She also snubbed David Lynch & co. by refusing to appear in the Twin Peaks prequel Fire Walk With Me (her role was recast), so she could focus on making important fare like Threesome with Stephen Baldwin.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Biggest Bitch
Cast Ranking in Terms of Acting Talent: 11
Post-Peaks Highlight: The Practice
Further Viewing: Boyle’s first season on The Practice
Joan Chen (Josie Packard)
It’s difficult to understand this two decades down the road, but Chen was considered a fairly hot commodity when she was cast on Twin Peaks. Born and raised in China, she started in Chinese films before moving to the United States and appearing in series like Knight Rider and Miami Vice. Her role in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor won her considerable acclaim and paved the way for future stardom. Unfortunately, Peaks revealed her acting liabilities and it was all downhill after that.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Most Inexplicable Plotline (Cooper’s shooting)
Cast Ranking: 17
Post-Peaks Highlight: Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth
Further Viewing: Thanks to YouTube, we can watch her getting her toes sucked in Emperor:
Michael Ontkean (Harry S. Truman)
Oh, Michael Ontkean. I love you more than words can say. Did you know that the erstwhile Sheriff Truman is now 65 years old?? And Canadian. After appearing in Slap Shot and as the head of the Twin Peaks PD, there was probably nowhere for Ontkean to go but down. And down he went, down a spiral staircase of laughable TV movies.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Stabilizing Force
Cast Ranking: 8
Post-Peaks Highlight: Uh…let’s just say What Child Is This? The War for Baby Jessica
Further Viewing: His Facebook page!
Peggy Lipton (Norma Jennings)
Twin Peaks was supposed to be Lipton’s Tarantino-style resurrection after years of post-Mod Squad obscurity. Instead, she went right back into the wilderness from whence she came, landing nothing more than bit recurring parts on subpar TV series.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Class Mom
Cast Ranking: 13
Post-Peaks Highlight: Watching daughter Rashida Jones blossom into a woman
Further Viewing: Hey, she sings!
James Marshall (James Hurley)
Oh, good Lord was Marshall ever the weakest link in the cast. Everything good that Ashbrook did with his teen rebel character, Marshall did the opposite. This combination of actor and character was responsible for some of the show’s lowest points: James singing a ballad to Donna and Maddie, James having a multi-episode arc with a femme fatale, James romancing Donna. Amazingly, Marshall got some play after the show’s run ended, starring in a terrible boxing movie called Gladiator and landing a small but important role in A Few Good Men. After that, everyone figured out what Twin Peaks fans already knew: dude can’t act.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Class Dunce
Cast Ranking: 18
Post-Peaks Highlight: Either Soccer Dog: The Movie or A Few Good Men. Call it a draw.
Further Viewing: Sing it with me now: “Just you and I…”
Madchen Amick (Shelly Johnson)
As one of the trio of Rolling Stone cover girls, Amick was justly celebrated for her hotness, and she’s parlayed said hotness into a long career as a TV vixen. She was never able to break into film, but she’s had sizable parts in popcorn television fare like Gossip Girl, Californication and CSI: NY. Amick seems tailor-made to star in a long-running and little-loved USA Network series.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Biggest Sexpot
Cast Ranking: 10
Post-Peaks Highlight: A stint on ER
Further Reading: This interview, because it’s by a guy named Ian Spelling, which is weird.
Jack Nance (Pete Martell)
Nance built his career being weird in David Lynch projects in a typical Lynchian way, starring in Eraserhead and appearing in Dune, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Lost Highway in addition to Twin Peaks. He died in 1996, preventing him from cameos in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. He’ll probably always be best known for delivering one of Twin Peaks’ signature lines in the pilot: “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic.”
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Creepy Uncle
Cast Ranking: 12
Post-Peaks Highlight: Meatballs 4?
Further Reading: This article/obit from Premiere.
Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer/Maddie Ferguson)
Lee played one of the most famous dead people in television history (Who gives a fuck about Rosie Larsen?), and Lynch loved her “look” as Laura Palmer so much, he created a new role for Lee as Laura’s identical cousin. After Twin Peaks, Lee bounced around like much of the rest of the cast, finding more success than most with some recurring and regular roles in various mediocre TV shows.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Homecoming Queen, of course
Cast Ranking: 14
Post-Peaks Highlight: A brief but effective appearance in Oscar nominee Winter’s Bone
Further Viewing: This early-’90s MTV interview, which is worth watching for so, so many reasons:
Ray Wise (Leland Palmer)
Ray Wise is too good and versatile an actor not to be working, and he’s been employed steadily both before and after Twin Peaks. He’s done a bit of everything, including supporting roles in films, guest spots on TV and regular cast roles. He should be more famous than he is, but he’s one of the great American character actors, and the length of his IMDB page shows that casting directors agree. Wise has been in everything from 24 and Beverly Hills, 90210 to Good Night, and Good Luck.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Most Likely to Not Be As Acclaimed As He Deserves
Cast Ranking: 1
Post-Peaks Highlight: A perfectly cast role as The Devil on Reaper
Further Viewing: This creepy 19-second YouTube montage:
Piper Laurie (Catherine Martell)
When Twin Peaks premiered, Laurie was celebrated as one of the cast’s heavyweights, having come up in film as opposed to TV, including a seminal role in The Hustler. Laurie lent credibility to the show through her mere presence. After the cancellation, she continued to work mostly in film, but never again found a role as iconic and meaty as Catherine Martell.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Class Diva
Cast Ranking: 4
Post-Peaks Highlight: The Crossing Guard
Further Viewing: This photo of Laurie as a ’50s Hollywood glamor girl:
Eric Da Re (Leo Johnson)
Da Re’s Leo Johnson played a massive part in the series’ entire run, but he essentially disappeared afterwards. Apparently, there’s not much use for long-haired murderous trucker-types in Hollyweird these days.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Class Dropout
Cast Ranking: 16
Post-Peaks Highlight: A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in Starship Troopers
Further Viewing: Not really for Da Re, but here’s Donohue with the cast!
Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne)
How has Sherilyn Fenn not had a better career? I mean, it’s been fine and all — she’s worked constantly and had recurring roles on some popular TV shows — but just look at her! Fenn not becoming an Angelina Jolie-type movie star has to be considered the biggest upset related to the cast of the show.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Should Have Been a Couple (w/ Kyle MacLachlan)
Cast Ranking: 7
Post-Peaks Highlight: Boxing Helena, the one buzzed-about film that could have made her a star. Instead, it was a disaster.
Further Reading: This Movieline article, from the days when we thought Fenn was the next big thing.
Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper)
The star of the show’s had a good career. A very good career. But he’s never again reached the heights of his Lynchian Years, turning too often to camp (Desperate Housewives) and poor material (Sex and the City). MacLachlan’s an interesting case study, because he’s proven he can be a leading man, he’s shown enough of a sinister/psychotic edge that he could easily play villains, and he may have found a niche in comedy (Portlandia; his perfect turn as “The Captain” on How I Met Your Mother).
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Big Man on Campus
Cast Ranking: 2
Post-Peaks Highlight: Showgirls! What else?
Further Reading: His pleasantly amusing Twitter feed.
Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer)
Like Nance, Zabriskie provided one of the pilot’s most memorable moments, which her prolonged, deafening shrieking upon hearing that her daughter was dead. She’s found some success in the two decades since, including a well-cast role in Big Love and an appearance (hilariously) in Gone in 60 Seconds.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Scariest Hair
Cast Ranking: 9
Post-Peaks Highlight: Her recurring role as Susan’s mother on Seinfeld
Further Viewing: …and she makes lamps!
Richard Beymer (Ben Horne)
One half of Twin Peaks’ oddly chosen West Side Story reunion, Beymer hasn’t done much after Peaks, which is surprising given how effective he proved at playing the heavy. Ben Horne was menacing and multi-dimensional — and hilarious when called for.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Most Esoteric
Cast Ranking: 3
Post-Peaks Highlight: Not much to choose from, but maybe playing Haldeman in Elvis Meets Nixon.
Further Reading:His 2007 autobiography, of course.
Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Jacoby)
The other half of the reunited former West Side Story rivals. Tamblyn’s role as Dr. Jacoby petered out over time, but he, like Laurie and Beymer, provided stability for the cast. As one of the elder statesmen, he didn’t participate in too many projects after Peaks.
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Best Dancer
Cast Ranking: 6
Post-Peaks Highlight: A cameo on General Hospital (as Dr. Jacoby); became future father-in-law to David Cross
Further Viewing: Dance, Tamblyn, dance!
Heather Graham (Annie Blackburn)
Here we have the reverse scenario of Sherilyn Fenn: a cast member who became a movie star and didn’t deserve it. Graham is beautiful, no doubt, but she can’t act a lick and it’s not like she’s as attractive as Fenn. Though I guess that’s the difference between choosing Rollergirl over Boxing Helena. Graham’s the only non-original cast member we’re featuring due to her unlikely success (yes, I know all about Duchovny — his role on TP was more of a cameo than a full cast member).
Twin Peaks Yearbook Superlative: Most Likely to Succeed, Inexplicably
Cast Ranking: 15
Post-Peaks Highlight: Rollergirl, no duh
Further Viewing: Making out with a girl, because why the hell not: