Over the last week of so I have finally watched the much criticized mini series which aired on television way back in 1993, almost twenty long years ago now. I personally remember it being unfairly judged alongside Twin Peaks, as trying to imitate the Peaks kooky, bizarre and surreal drama.
I remember that it did seem to do very badly, most people just not bothering with it, or simply just honestly exhausted by Lynch’s Twin Peaks before it. While Wild Palms is now, I see, a very different kind of show, it is again similar in being at times very challenging, arguably confusing and surreal.
Wild Palms is actually sci-fi based in concept, but set in the near future (which of course, has now passed technically) and seems to have been heavily influenced by the work and books of cyberpunk SF author William Gibson. The big draw with Palms, was that it was produced by Oliver Stone. While I think his touch can definitely be seen through the series, it is unusual as Stone has not exactly been really involved in science fiction films or projects, usually just political-which this show is.
In a very, very basic plot summary, the series focuses on an Attorney, Harry-played by James Belushi-who becomes involved in a new television channel project, but this project involved a highly experimental form of virtual reality, which could seriously revolutionize entertainment and living. Different groups begin to fight for the equipment, and Harry finds that a number of very dangerous secrets connect his family and the people who are tempting him into work with Channel 3.
The main question is of course, why did it do so badly? Why the terrible reaction from audiences?
Well, though I personally really did want to understand it and put the time in, for most audiences back in ’93, to begin with the show was very probably maybe even more obtuse, confusing and impenetrable than Twin Peaks. With Peaks also having just rambled on for months, then been cut short, and to some, just not answered many questions at all, to go through that again would be sadistic.
The producers were very probably just lazily riding on the quirky look and feel of Twin Peaks to help pick up that audience for this show, but this is a very different thing once you get further into it. While yes, it does very obviously share visual and others themes and film techniques of Twin Peaks and even Blue Velvet before that, it is a science fiction tale. It has detective mystery but no Agent Cooper, no evil Bob spirit or Log lady either.
I think it tries to go further with the post-modern pop-culture referencing, with costume, music, direction and more, beyond Peaks but that probably distracts too much from the already choppy sci-fi narrative. I really did like that it was taking William Gibson concepts into televisual series form, and yes only half succeeded with it, but at least it did try. It was possibly in some ways, ahead of its time.
It is certainly a show worth seeing, but be warned that it definitely is a challenge but dig in, and enjoy the unreal, new reality ride.