Tag Archives: network television

The zen of Coop

Twin-Peaks-one

A damn fine cup of coffee.

“The idea of zen it so catch life as it flows.” D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

PRIMARILY IN THE FIRST SEASON of Twin Peaks, the show, through FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), introduces its viewers to Buddhism via Cooper’s obsession with Tibet. I can’t speak to Cooper’s actions with regards to the more traditional aspects of Buddhism (Dale Cooper and Buddhism is interesting if you are interested in that). However, I happened to recently re-watch the series while I was simultaneously reading D.T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, and the similarities between Suzuki’s words and Cooper’s actions were striking.

The main idea of Zen Buddhism is that all truth can be found in the moment. The past doesn’t exist, nor does the future. Only by focusing on what one is doing right now can enlightenment be found. There is no enlightenment in the external. It is found within.

Cooper often embodies this idea of being all in on the moment. The primary example would be Coop’s sincere adoration for a good cup of coffee. It isn’t a need for the caffeinated energy rush. It isn’t about satisfying a thirsty palate. It is about that moment when that hot, earthy liquid makes first contact with the lips, warming the tongue and throat before comfortably resting in the belly. When Coop takes the first sip, it isn’t unusual for him to, say, lift his hand to stop all action and commentary around him, so that he can focus on that one, lone, simple action, because at that moment that is where he both wants to be and should be. There is no fear, no hate, no violence, no cases, no pressure, no clock, just a damn fine cup of coffee and a clear mind.

Joshu once asked a new monk: “Have you ever been here before?” The monk answered, “Yes, sir, I have.” Thereupon the master said, “Have a cup of tea.” Later on another monk came and asked him the same question, “Have you ever been here? “This time the answer was quite opposite. “I have never been here, sir.” The old master, however, answered just as before, “Have a cup of tea.” Afterwards the Inju (the managing monk of the monastery) asked the master, “How is it that you make the same offering of a cupe of tea no matter what a monks’ reply is?” The old master called out, “O Inju!” who at once replied, “Yes master.” Whereupon Joshu said, “Have a cup of tea.” – An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

WHILE THAT’S THE MAIN EXAMPLE of the zen of Dale Cooper – in part because it is repeated frequently, particularly in season one – it’s not the only one. There’s a moment where Cooper and Twin Peaks sheriff Harry Truman are sitting in the police station, talking shop, when Coop reaches up and tweaks Truman jovially on the nose. It’s the kind of act that could seem demeaning or rude. But really, it’s an affectionate act between two men who have great respect for each other. For Coop, it’s also an affirmation of his living in that moment. While some reactions work in many situations – as the story of Joshu above shows – there are plenty of times when an act such as Cooper’s nose touch would be ludicrous or insulting, such as at the funeral of Laura Palmer or during the questioning of Mike and Bobby. And Coop, being a man of each moment, would have never considered tweaking Truman’s nose in those situations. But for that one second in that one place at that one time, it expressed his joy at being in a place he loved, doing the job he loved, and conversing with a friend and compatriot.

These may seem like minor actions, and maybe they are. But they are also indicators that Coop is a man who yearns to catch the flow of life. It is an interesting mindfulness that you don’t often see in characters from popular culture, one that helps make Coop – and Twin Peaks – unique.

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Nets wreck writing

I’m not a fan of the CSI series of shows. There’s a lot of reasons: Most of the cops don’t look like cops, the over-stylized visuals that make me wonder if I’m watching a drama or the new Kelly Clarkson video, bad guys that I have figured out before the opening credits are done, etc.

But I do love my guilty pleasures and am willing to put up with some of that … if the people who run the show don’t assume I’m a moron. And the folks who run CSI? They clearly think I’m stupid. Like “I’ve just spent three days on a bus sitting between Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent and now I can barely spell my own name” stupid.

Way back in one of the early seasons of the original CSI when I had a brief flirtation with the show, George and Warrick are in a lab together. The one is trying to lift prints off of an unusual surface or that in some way have been degraded, so he has to use a slightly altered technique. Interesting, right? Here’s the problem: The one lifting the prints explains what he’s doing to the other forensic expert like he’s giving a junior high biology lesson. It was that bad. I’m actually supposed to believe that two professional forensic experts, both of whom have at least bachelor’s (and maybe master’s) degrees and a few years of experience each, need a basic explanation of how to lift a fingerprint with a technique I, a guy with only an English degree and one semester of college bio under my belt, can easily understand even before said explanation is complete?

I suppose I can’t completely blame the writers and producers of CSI. They understand that a good portion of America, unlike me, didn’t pay attention in high school. Plus, CSI is looking for a global market, so not only are you trying to break it down for less-educated Americans, as a writer you are forced to break it down so simply that someone who didn’t get the greatest education in Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg or Saint Petersburg is going to be able to understand the translation.

I can live with bad shows being bad shows. When shows I like get stoopid, it bums me out. Take Fringe. A lot of complex, theoretical science is effectively broken down and modeled by Walter for the non-geniuses around him. It’s done in an entertaining, interesting way each time. It’s a writing coup: Simplification, not dumbing down, of some pretty complex theories and scientific laws. However, every once in a while, even in a show that trusts its viewers to the extent Fringe must, the program does get a little simple. But in odd ways. For example, say Broyles walks up to an unnamed FBI agent and asks, “Have we begun the testing for the sub-thermal radioactive quantum bugaboo?” The unnamed FBI agent will shake his/her head, because he/she can’t say anything because then he/she would collect a bigger check. Then Broyles responds, “Well, when you get the results from the sub-thermal radioactive quantum bugaboo, tell me immediately.” What was the point of that? It doesn’t really enlighten the viewer in any way, it doesn’t further the story. Any normal human being would have just said, “Let me know when you get the results.” And Broyles should’ve, too, in a perfect TV world.

What’s great is that it’s no longer 1982. Since the networks aren’t getting it right, there are plenty of other options for good screen drama. Once again, I reference The Walking Dead, specifically the latest episode “This Sorrowful Life.” Glenn decides to propose to Maggie. On a network show, this would’ve involved some great conceit, an over-the-top display of affection, or endless speechifying by one or both parties involved in the engagement. But The Walking Dead gets it right. Glenn takes the ring out of his pocket, never showing it to Maggie, just pressing it in the palm of her hand. She says yes, and they kiss. Simple, elegant, beautiful. Glenn and Maggie know they love each other. Neither has the time or energy for speeches or showiness. They nearly died for each other just weeks before, so they do not doubt each other’s commitment to this relationship. The moment is about relief and re-connection, true love, nothing to cheapen the moment. The brief encounter stays true to the characters and the show.

And there’s no explanations or dumbing down. None necessary, none offered. Thankfully.

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