It was 20 years ago this fall that "Twin Peaks" revealed who killed Laura Palmer, the central question that kicked off the short-lived show that paved the way for every serialized, myth-arc-driven TV program that followed.
This week, USA Network's "Psych" (10 p.m. Wednesday) pays humorous homage to "Twin Peaks" with an episode titled "Dual Spires" that finds sleuths Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dule Hill) investigating a murder in a strange town. It's an entertaining, often clever episode that only a "Twin Peaks" fan could write given all the in-jokes. (Mr. Roday shares script credit with "Psych" co-executive producer Bill Callahan.)
Starring: James Roday, Dule Hill.
Shawn and Gus travel to Dual Spires for the promise of a cinnamon festival but discover the town is inhabited by oddballs, including a blind photographer and a woman who carries a log, played by the original Log Lady, Catherine Coulson.
"Everyone looks so happy," Shawn says, "and yet so perplexed."
"Perplexed" probably describes "Peaks" viewers in 1990. Some who tuned in loved the ABC series even if they didn't quite know what to make of the backwards-talking, dancing dwarf, close-ups of a Myna bird and characters who burst into tears, all of which get referenced in this week's "Psych."
"Dual Spires" kicks off with a re-worked "Psych" opening credits sequence with music performed by Julee Cruise, whose songs were featured in "Peaks." Aural cues help set the tone for this love letter to a prominent series in prime-time TV history.
As they wander the town, Shawn and Gus meet a diner proprietor (Dana Ashbrook, who played Bobby Briggs on "Twin Peaks") and his wife (Robyn Lively, who played Lana), as well as Sheriff Andrew Jackson (Lenny Von Dohlen, who played Harold Smith), whose name is a nod to the "Twin Peaks" character Sheriff Harry Truman.
The diner owners' niece goes missing and, naturally, turns up dead, wrapped in plastic. It's Dr. Donna Gooden (Sheryl Lee, who played the wrapped-in-plastic Laura Palmer), who unwraps the body of teen Paula Merral (an anagram of "Laura Palmer").
"Twin Peaks" star Sherilyn Fenn, who tied cherry stems as Audrey Horne, shows up as the Dual Spires librarian, cherry-loving Maudette Hornsby. Ray Wise, who played Leland Palmer, previously appeared on "Psych" as Father Westley and reprises that role with a nod to his "Peaks" character.
"Psych" is a light-hearted show to begin with and this week's episode offers up several funny gags that have nothing to do with "Twin Peaks" but are certainly in the show's spirit. Cell phone reception works only in one tiny spot in Dual Spires and the townsfolk have no knowledge of popular culture, except for weekly reruns in the town square of a beloved but under-the-radar WB series.
In a recent teleconference, Mr. Roday said making this particular "Psych" episode was a fanboy's dream.
"'Twin Peaks' is my favorite show of all time, hands down," he said, noting that he first pitched the idea of a "Peaks" episode to "Psych" executive producer Steve Franks at the end of season one. "It just took three more years for us to gain enough steam and get enough fans and have enough sea legs to actually be able to pull something like that off. It was worth the wait because I think it came out way better than it would have if we tried to do it too soon."
Mr. Roday encouraged fans to watch the initial airing of the episode on Wednesday because it will run more than seven minutes longer than usual and subsequent airings will not include the additional material.
When it came time to invite "Twin Peak" actors to "Psych," Mr. Roday said he opted not to pursue Kyle MacLachlan, who starred in "Peaks" as FBI Agent Dale Cooper.
"He was such an iconic part of such an iconic series that we decided not to go for Kyle, not because we don't love him but just because we thought it might be more interesting to feature some of the other actors from the cast," he said. They also chose not to approach Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Donna Hayward in the TV series but was replaced by Moira Kelly in the movie "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me." "There was a lot of speculation back in the day that maybe she wasn't as connected to the series as some of the actors were."
Mr. Roday said producers did approach two other "Twin Peaks" actors -- Michael Ontkean, who played Sheriff Truman, and Madchen Amick, who played diner waitress Shelly Johnson -- but for various reasons weren't able to get them in the episode.
Still, working with seven "Twin Peaks" stars proved to be a joyful experience for a fan like Mr. Roday and for some of his "Psych" guests.
"We discovered that several of the original cast members hadn't seen each other in 15 or even 20 years, so we were basically doing a 'Twin Peaks' reunion within our 'Twin Peaks' show," he said. "Watching them reconnect and reminisce was pretty special as well. It was sort of like two unbelievable experiences for the price of one."
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published November 28, 2010 5:00 AM