Mark Frost calls it the winter of his discontent. In January and February, he lost one of his best friends, actor Miguel Ferrer; neighbor Bill Paxton, who directed Frost’s golf film “The Greatest Game Ever Played”; and his father, Warren Frost, a beloved mentor in the Twin Cities theater scene.
If the Minnesota-bred writer started the year in mourning, this summer is all about resurrection. “Twin Peaks,” the groundbreaking 1990-91 ABC TV series that Frost created with David Lynch, is back, starting Sunday on Showtime. But death is not off the table in the 18 new episodes they co-wrote.
“When 25 years happens between the conception of something and the resumption of it, loss is an inevitable part of the experience,” Frost said by phone from Ojai, Calif., where he was nursing a dislocated ankle, an injury suffered while renovating his home. “I always felt dealing with the ravages of time is one of the great themes that people shy away from, but it’s woven into the fabric of life. It’s best to make whatever peace you can with it.”
While Frost was a partner from the very beginning, “Peaks” is largely associated with Lynch — with good reason. The director’s morbid sense of humor, dreamlike asides and red herrings opened the way for more cinematic storytelling on TV, and such future classics as “The Sopranos,” “Lost” and “Fargo.”
“I think the greatest thing was watching it take over television in this incredibly unique and extraordinary way, and for everyone to discover the world that David could invent from his beautiful and brilliant brain,” said Laura Dern, who starred in Lynch’s films “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart” and has joined the “Peaks” cast for this bonus season.
“He transcends everyone else’s work. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing and working with beautiful directors, and almost the first thing they’ll say is, ‘Can I tell you how David Lynch has inspired my work?’ or ‘What was it like to work with David?’ because it has been the thing that has helped them find their way or their vision.”
But it was Frost who did the lion’s share of the writing during the show’s original run. He and Lynch were the sole writers on the new episodes, collaborating via Skype from their respective houses.
Just how the two divide the work remains almost as much of a mystery as figuring out who killed Laura Palmer. Lynch, who directed all of the new episodes, hasn’t been much help.
“Mark and I were lost in the wilderness, as it always is in the beginning, and then we seemed to find some mountain and we began to climb,” he said in January when pressed for clues. “When we rounded the mountain, we entered a deep forest, and going through the forest for a time, the trees began to thin. And when we came out of the woods, we discovered this small town called Twin Peaks.”
Alan Sepinwall, author of “The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever,” has a more illuminating answer. He speculates that Frost’s background as a dramatist — he had written six plays before graduating from Minneapolis’ now defunct Marshall High School and joined the writing staff of “Hill Street Blues” in its third season — grounds Lynch’s abstract imagination.
“I think Mark provides the structure and David provides the artistry,” said Sepinwall. “Whenever the story makes sense, it’s coming more from Mark, and when you go ‘What the hell was that?’ it’s probably Lynch.”
Frost doesn’t completely discount that theory.
“It’s too reductive to say one does one thing and the other does another,” he said. “I guess you could say I have more narrative instincts and that gives him the freedom to express more surreal, off-the-wall choices, but it all ends up being baked in the same cake.”
A halfhearted pitch
The two were introduced in 1986 by an agent who thought they’d hit it off. He was right.
They quickly agreed to work on a film about Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with the Kennedy brothers. Later, they made a deal to shoot an outrageous comedy, “One Saliva Bubble,” starring Steve Martin and Martin Short. Both projects died before fruition.
By 1988, ABC was languishing in last place and ready to gamble. Lynch and Frost halfheartedly pitched an offbeat take on a nighttime soap just before a 155-day writers’ strike brought Hollywood to a halt. When the strike ended, the network gave them a ring.
“For a brief moment, we had to remind ourselves what we had told them,” Frost said. “We didn’t even have a title. We got it back on track and wrote a pilot in less than a month. To our surprise they said, ‘Let’s make it.’ ”
The two-hour opening episode, in which an FBI agent with a hankering for cherry pie floats into a Washington town to investigate the murder of a homecoming queen, ended up being the most-watched movie of the 1989-90 season. Ratings rapidly declined, though, in large part because of the creators’ reluctance to pinpoint the killer and Lynch’s increasingly bizarre touches, climaxing with a dancing dwarf. It was canceled after just two seasons.
A 1992 feature film, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” was booed at the Cannes Film Festival and only made $4.2 million at the box office.
Frost and Lynch didn’t fare much better with their next ABC project, “On the Air,” a sitcom about 1950s TV yanked after just three episodes. Frost would give network TV one more try — the short-lived cop dramedy “Buddy Faro” — before abandoning the medium for novels (“The List of Seven”), golf biographies (“The Greatest Game”) and the occasional screenplay (“Fantastic Four”).
New life on home video
In the meantime, a new generation was introduced to the world of “Peaks” through videotapes and then DVDs.
“When the gold box set came out in 2008, the millennials really jumped on board,” said Frost, who started discussing a revival with Lynch in 2012. “Plus, I think we were both left with the nagging feeling that we still had more to do here. It certainly seemed like the right time to jump back in.”
It took three years to work out the scripts. At one point, Lynch threatened to walk unless Showtime approved a heftier budget. But the strong bond between Frost and Lynch was never in doubt.
“As far as I could tell, they worked together just like they did 25 years ago,” said cast member Mädchen Amick, who reunited with Kyle MacLachlan, Russ Tamblyn and Sheryl Lee for the shoot. “There’s a magic that happens between them. They both complement each other beautifully.”
Frost could not be on set every day, as he was working on novels exploring the back story of “Twin Peaks” (one came out last fall and the second is due later this year). But he made sure he was around for scenes featuring the returning character of Doc Hayward, played by Frost’s father.
“We kind of knew when we were writing it that it would be his swan song,” Frost said. “To be there for those scenes, that was special.”