Virtual sex. What a concept! It's one of several key ideas you'll need to understand to take part in the water-cooler buzz over Oliver Stone's "Wild Palms," which premiered last night and continues nightly through Wednesday on WJZ (Channel 13).
Love it or hate it, ABC's "Wild Palms" is the most daring made-for-TV movie or miniseries since 1990's "Twin Peaks," another ABC project. It's also easily the weirdest programming since David Lynch started everyone wondering "Who killed Laura Palmer?"
ABC executives said they learned something from the "Twin Peaks" experience: that short-run event programming -- the kind done on British television -- can be highly effective if you don't overstay your welcome and stumble around in search of an ending the way "Twin Peaks" did. Consequently "Wild Palms" has an ending.
"I suppose comparisons between the two are inevitable," says Bob Iger, president of ABC Entertainment.
Here's the inevitable.
A mythic town of stately Douglas firs somewhere in the great Northwest.
Los Angeles, the mythic City of Angels and stately palms circa 2007.
Who killed Laura Palmer?
From the get GO
What they've done since:
Madchen Amick (Shelly): "I'm Dangerous Tonight," but Leo and Bobby already knew that.
Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna): A star is born in "Wayne's World" -- NOT! Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey): Stars in current cross-gender love story, "Three of Hearts."
Kyle MacLachlan (Agent Dale Cooper): Wigged out in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."
James Marshall (James Hurley on a Harley): Minor roll in Cruise missile, "A Few Good Men."
Michael Ontkean (Sheriff Harry S. Truman): "Bye Bye Blues" -- could this be a hint?
What they've done before:
James Belushi (Harry Wyckoff): In Oliver Stone's "Salvador" and dog-cop buddy film, "K-9."
I= Dana Delany (Grace Wyckoff): Head nurse at "China Beach."
Angie Dickinson (Josie Ito): Sexy sergeant (Pepper) in NBC's "Police Woman" (1974-1978), friend of the real JFK.
Robert Loggia (Tony Kreutzer): A good-guy FBI agent in the '80s miniseries "Favorite Son" and the spinoff series "Mancuso, FBI."
Bebe Neuwirth (Tabba Schartzkopf): What's that place "where everybody knows your name"?
Robert Morse (Chip): "Tru"
Parallel universe of good and evil "Twin"
When a drug called Mimezine interacts with 3-D holograms, they create a new reality that's better than great sex.
"Twin Peaks": David Lynch explores the darker regions of sensuality and mysticism. How else do you explain big-screen oddities like "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart"? In them and his epic, long-form television series, "Twin Peaks," he's like the boy who enjoys lifting the flagstones in the backyard to see the maggots and grub worms concealed beneath.
"Wild Palms": What do you mean conspiracy theory? From "Wall Street" to "JFK," Oliver Stone revels in the ugly truth as only he can see it -- or imagine it. Is "Palms" his conspiracy of the future or just a great opportunity for a cameo? Either way, he gets the last word in on "Who shot JFK?"
"Twin Peaks": Dream babble by the midget and Laura; slo-mo by the giant.
"Wild Palms": Cyberphilosophy of sythiotics and New Realism by Kreutzer; bits of Japanese from Josie Ito.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
"Twin Peaks": The midget lurch-dancing at the Black Lodge; Nadine and her curtain rods; the log lady doing anything.
"Wild Palms": The rhinoceros pawing in an empty swimming pool; the virus that eats Tara; the villain who quotes lyrics from the Beach Boys' "In My Room"; the beauty-queen hologram who teaches Harry about virtual sex.
"Twin Peaks": Michael Ontkean as Sheriff Harry S. Truman made the Douglas firs look expressive.
"Wild Palms": James Belushi as Harry Wyckoff in a perpetual sort of hey-what's-going-on-here? mode that makes you want to slap some sense into him.
THE BAD GUISE
"Twin Peaks": Demonic Bob, your everyday satanic killer with a bad habit of hiding in other people's bodies. Hey, has anyone seen Daddy?
"Wild Palms": Senator Kreutzer, the high priest of Sythiotics and owner of the Wild Palms TV network (Channel 3). What's a religious visionary-mystic without his own TV network anyway?
"Twin Peaks": "The owls are not what they seem," according to the Major.
"Wild Palms": The rhino is the unicorn gone bad, according to Confucius.
"Twin Peaks": Eerie score by Angelo Badalamenti that featured slow, somber, single-note guitar stylings.
"Wild Palms": Haunting score by Ryuichi Sakamoto that features Stravinsky and Wagner meeting the synthesizer; key moments underscored by retro '60s songs -- "She's Not There," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "House of the Rising Sun" (during a machine gun battle).
"Twin Peaks": Where it went: A plethora of "Peaks" knock-offs including "The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer" and a David Lynch movie, "Fire Walk with Me"
"Wild Palms": Where it came from: Based on Bruce Wagner's comic strip for Details magazine.
"Twin Peaks": A cup of joe, a dozen donuts and a slice of cherry pie all from the Double R Diner.
"Wild Palms": Wait, watchers -- in six hours, no one ever eats anything. Someone almost orders monkfish, though, for lunch. And there is a bagel that gets burned by Grace in her one attempt at cooking.
WHAT'S IN A NAME, JOSIE?
"Twin Peaks": Never the helpless victim she played for Sheriff Truman and Pete, the real Josie had that double-crossing streak her sister-in-law Catherine always knew was there. The ultimate revenge? The rich widow made to maid.
"Wild Palms": This Josie is Kreutzer's evil sister and the even more evil mother of Grace. It's Oedipus time when she blinds an enemy by sticking her thumbs into his eyeballs and ripping them out. It's "Mommie Dearest" squared when she savagely punches Grace in the stomach and face because Grace forgot her manners.
"Twin Peaks": Outdoorsy look for adults with lots of plaids and tweeds. For the teens, it was the '50s right down to Audrey Horne's hot-to-trot saddle shoes.
"Wild Palms": Low-rent futuristic -- Edwardian collars for the men and Japan-meets-the-Jetsons for the women.
FOR A GOOD TIME . . .
"Twin Peaks": One-Eyed Jacks.
L "Wild Palms": The Wild-a-Bar in the Wild-a-Zone. Where else?
THE LOOSE ENDS
"Twin Peaks": Does Demonic Bob overtake white knight Agent Cooper?
"Wild Palms": Will little Coty Wyckoff become the new high priest of Sythiotics? What about the latest ratings for his sitcom, "Church Windows"? And what happened to Grace's new boutique, which is never mentioned -- let alone seen again -- after the first night?
IF YOU DON'T GET IT
"Twin Peaks": Nobody else did either so they took it off the air.
"Wild Palms": Peek at "The Wild Palms Reader" (St. Martin's Press) or call ABC's answer line at (900) 733-WILD -- price 75 cents a minute.