WHAT IT WAS
David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. began life as a television series pilot commissioned by ABC for the 1999-2000 season. Like Lynch's legendary 1990-1991 foray into network television, Twin Peaks (which later spawned the criminally underrated 1992 prequel feature, Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me), the engine driving the Mulholland pilot is a mystery centering on a young woman.
The pilot begins on a dark stretch of the titular, windy road in the Hollywood Hills, where said woman (Laura Elena Harring, a long way from doing the lambada in the 1990 camp classic The Forbidden Dance) narrowly escapes an attempted hit, thanks to a freak traffic accident. While she stumbles away from the scene with her life, she doesn't come away with her memory, and she ultimately holes up in a nearby apartment that happens to be empty--at least when she first gets there; she is soon greeted by perky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts), the fresh-from-Deep Water, Ontario niece of the apartment's regular tenant. Betty and the amnesiac woman, who takes on the name "Rita" after looking at a poster for the Hayworth-starrer Gilda, become quick friends, and Betty vows to help Rita recover her lost past.
Also like Peaks, Mulholland is an ensemble piece, and while the Betty/Rita storyline is the main concern, there are other subplots that play out in the background. One that directly relates to the main story is that of a clumsy hitman (Mark Pellegrino) out to finish the job on Rita. Another major thread has less direct relation: one involving Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), a hot Hollywood director who's being forced to surrender casting control--and perhaps more--to some mob types.
While the characters, setting, and situations, not to mention the more noir-based flavor, are quite distinct from Peaks, the pilot-based portion of Mulholland Dr. (which is rather easy to recognize as roughly the first 100 minutes of the film's total 146-minute run time) more than recalls that earlier series. Some characters are even direct analogues to those in Peaks: Betty's golly-gee enthusiasm at cracking a case is a more extreme take on FBI Agent Dale Cooper's similar work attitude; the creepy mob figure who sits in a curtained room is played by none other than Peaks' diminutive curtained room resident Michael J. Anderson, wearing an oversize body; and the information-imparting ways of the Peaks character of the Giant continue in the form of the Cowboy (Monty Montgomery). That character--and, in one standout sequence, the hitman--offers some scene-stealing doses of typically absurdist Lynchian humor. Most Peaks-ish of all is the unsettling, unpredictable atmosphere. Once again Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti (who has a memorable cameo) composes a haunting, dread-filled score that highlights the underlying danger and evil that threatens to surface at any given moment.
WHAT IT COULD HAVE BEEN
ABC passed on Mulholland Dr. as a series, reportedly because higher-ups found it--shock of shocks--too weird. (The network instead went with Wasteland, the Kevin Williamson-created twentysomething drama that ended up flaming out after a scant two months on the air.) But based on the intoxicating narrative groundwork he establishes, there's little doubt that Lynch could have had another watercooler sensation along the lines of first-season Peaks. If that series, with its focal families living in a small town filled with dirty secrets, can be seen as Lynch's take on the old school TV soap, then all indications suggest that a regular Mulholland Dr. series would have been his uniquely off-kilter spin on the slick '90s breed of sudser, with its young, Aaron Spelling-ready cast members (interestingly enough, Harring toiled for a year on that producer's short-lived daytime drama
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