Rank the Series Directors

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Mr. Reindeer
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Rank the Series Directors

Postby Mr. Reindeer » Tue May 05, 2020 1:34 pm

Having just finished up my rewatch of the original series, I thought it might be fun to compare rankings of the series directors. Here are mine:

1) David Lynch (Pilot, E2, E8-9, E14, E29, FWWM, P1-18)

2) Lesli Linka Glatter (E5, E10, E13, E23) (Episode 5 is a classic, Episode 13 has some really fun performances and great energy, and even the weaker Episode 23 feels elevated by Glatter’s flair for pacing and character; I think she’s the best director of actors outside of Lynch)

3) Stephen Gyllenhaal (E27) (the only director besides Lynch to make Earle really interesting, he also added several truly beautiful/creepy flourishes, some of which became part of the overarching mythology going into E29, FWWM and TR)

4) Todd Holland (E11, E20) (a self-professed fanboy of the show before he got the gig, Holland brought a passion and innovation to both episodes which elevated otherwise uneven scripts, with the Holland-devised E11 Leland conference room opening sequence as a series highlight)

5) Caleb Deschanel (E6, E15, E19) (Deschanel, one of the great living cinematographers and a solid director, always delivered attractively-lit interestingly-framed shots, and got a career highlight performance from Ray Wise in E15)

6) Tim Hunter (E4, E16, E28) (maybe the most uneven recurring director in the show’s history; clearly a talented director, the producers trusted him with pivotal episodes, but after the exceptional Episode 4, he turned in the distractingly over-stylized E16, followed by E28 which was doomed by a lame script, but Hunter’s direction doesn’t help—he notably directs the one scene in the entire series where Kyle seems to completely lose his bearings inhabiting Cooper)

7) Graeme Clifford (E12) (the Donna/Harold material is beautifully executed, in terms of lighting, framing and performance)

8 ) Mark Frost (E7) (he got some truly memorable performances from Olkewicz, MacLachlan, and Nance)

9) Duwayne Dunham (E1, E18, E25) (a first-time director with Episode 1, his style is generally straightforward/workmanlike, with the diner sequence in Episode 25—wherein he directed his boss Lynch to a hilarious performance—as the highlight of his TP directorial career)

10) Tina Rathborne (E3, E17) (Rathborne is the first to critique her own work on the show, admitting that she sometimes failed to get enough coverage on a tight schedule, resulting in some strange editorial choices...but Episode 3 is a solid episode with much to recommend it, even as her direction of Episode 17 feels like a frantic attempt to try to inject life into a lame script, with bizarre cutaways and choices)

11) Uli Edel (E21) (arguably a victim of poor writing, Edel does a decent job using dry leaves to his advantage to create a mood in the Johnson house and Earle cabin scenes, but otherwise doesn’t do much to help the admittedly weak material)

12) James Foley (E24) (while some cast members have praised Foley as the last director to come on board and truly “get” the show, I find his direction of the episode fairly generic and forgettable, and he directs Ontkean to a pretty embarrassing performance in the Bookhouse scenes)

13) Diane Keaton (E22) (like Edel, she was saddled with a bad script, but her direction—by turns pedestrian and unnecessarily bombastic—doesn’t help matters)

14) Jonathan Sanger (E26) (again, Sanger was unfairly saddled with a middling script that certainly hurts his position here, but he doesn’t do anything to elevate it. That wine-tasting sequence has to be one of the most forgettably lame in the entire series)
Last edited by Mr. Reindeer on Wed May 06, 2020 12:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.
LateReg
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Re: Rank the Series Directors

Postby LateReg » Tue May 05, 2020 3:51 pm

Great post! I generally agree and would love to dig into it more. I just wanted to chime in quickly and say that I too have just finished an original series rewatch after a couple years away, and I reached a pretty concrete conclusion that nearly gels with your findings. Which is that I unquestionably felt that episodes 20 thru 22 are the only ones I would give an actual thumbs down to. I'm not approaching that from a strictly direction-based perspective, but rather the overall quality of the episode. I do see that you have Holland ranked high for episode 20, so I'd like to see how you feel about this. (I also wanted to know what season 2 supporters like Earle felt about my pinpointing of 20 thru 22 being the low point, but don't want to derail this direction-centric thread.)

Other quick points: E16 seems to be a divisive episode, with many ranking it among the best non-Lynch directed episodes and others ranking it low. I wonder how much that divisiveness extends to the direction. I think its a great episode, myself, and find the scene where Cooper holds Leland to be beautiful (and not misguided at all). Also curious which Cooper scene you're talking about in E28 where Kyle loses his bearings.

And E13 has the best non-Lynch directed scene in the series, perhaps, though Lynch is in the scene. I'm talking of course about that episode's cliffhanger with Mike losing his shit.
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Re: Rank the Series Directors

Postby AXX°N N. » Wed May 06, 2020 8:12 am

Great thread idea!

My ranking is about the same with a few quibbles:

I'd put Tim Hunter higher, maybe even after Glatter, because at the end of the day, his episodes are memorable and firm in my mind. They feel like 'key' episodes, and Twin Peaks to me is just less interesting when subdued. In a similar sense, I've always had a tough time appraising the Keaton episode, but I do think she should at least be above Uli Edel, maybe even Rathborne. At that point in the show things were quickly becoming not even maddening, but boring and disengaging. And although many of Keaton's choices are distracting and superficial, they're at least something. Even an uncertain, tending toward negative reaction is still a reaction at all, something desperately needed in that stretch.

James Foley goes at the very bottom. I agree, the wine tasting is perhaps the least engaging scripted and filmed material the show ever produced, ripped from or spliced into any TV show airing at the time without losing any of its context--but the Pine-Weasel-Cam in E24 is the absolute biggest visual betrayel of the show's aesthetic in its history. The only other time we get POV camera shots like that it's during such scenes as Becky's gun-toting meltdown in S3, a truly effective use of the camera that had people theorizing in brilliant and meta ways about Judy's identity being that of the camera's gaze. ...but at one point, it was a Pine Weasel. In that light, it's truly amazing to me that the cast was so hep to him, but I think I can chalk that up to an old Hollywood cliche; I've seen actors describe sometimes that no matter what they felt on set, the finished product is unpredictable and sometimes feels like russian roulette. Hated experiences on set can turn into classic movies, enjoyable experiences into duds. Foley was probably completely keyed in as a director on the level of vibing with everyone but the finger on the pulse of a finished product by a director is just a separable, additional skill. Uli Edel compared to everyone else was for instance loathed by some of the cast but I wouldn't call his episode the very worst.
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Re: Rank the Series Directors

Postby Mr. Reindeer » Wed May 06, 2020 8:15 am

LateReg wrote:Great post! I generally agree and would love to dig into it more. I just wanted to chime in quickly and say that I too have just finished an original series rewatch after a couple years away, and I reached a pretty concrete conclusion that nearly gels with your findings. Which is that I unquestionably felt that episodes 20 thru 22 are the only ones I would give an actual thumbs down to. I'm not approaching that from a strictly direction-based perspective, but rather the overall quality of the episode. I do see that you have Holland ranked high for episode 20, so I'd like to see how you feel about this. (I also wanted to know what season 2 supporters like Earle felt about my pinpointing of 20 thru 22 being the low point, but don't want to derail this direction-centric thread.)

Other quick points: E16 seems to be a divisive episode, with many ranking it among the best non-Lynch directed episodes and others ranking it low. I wonder how much that divisiveness extends to the direction. I think its a great episode, myself, and find the scene where Cooper holds Leland to be beautiful (and not misguided at all). Also curious which Cooper scene you're talking about in E28 where Kyle loses his bearings.

And E13 has the best non-Lynch directed scene in the series, perhaps, though Lynch is in the scene. I'm talking of course about that episode's cliffhanger with Mike losing his shit.


It was tough separating directors from the overall quality of the episode. Several of the one-timers undeniably suffered from inheriting mediocre scripts and just not doing anything with the material to stand out, as much as I tried to avoid punishing them for the writing. But I feel that both Gyllenhaal and Holland took some weaker material and elevated it, in a similar way to Lynch when he stepped into the directors’ chair, so I gave them bonus points for that. I agree that E21 and E22 might be the nadir of the show (although I’d also place E19 and E28 pretty low), but I disagree about E20. If nothing else, the Dead Dog climax is enjoyable and I think Holland did a wonderful job shooting it, other than my one gripe about how he filmed/edited Cooper killing Jean (which I’ve talked about in the episode thread).

My issues with E16 largely stem from the writing, but Hunter’s direction gets increasingly on my nerves each time I watch it. His overuse of canted angles in the opening scenes just screams “important episode” in all caps with seven exclamation points. He’s just trying way too hard. The Wellesian angles he uses in the Norma/Vivian scene are comical, given how fluffy and useless the actual scene is. I agree with you that the Leland stuff at the end is wonderfully executed by both Hunter and Wise, even if I have my issues with the content of the scene.

The scene in E28 I was referring to is the scene when Cooper yells “By heavens!” and then manically rambles about Jupiter and Saturn like a fever patient. It’s the only time in the series where Kyle’s characterization of Cooper feels completely off to me. It feels like a complete parody of the character we know, a flop-sweat performance like he’s trying desperately to sell the new-age gibberish he’s saying.
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Re: Rank the Series Directors

Postby Mr. Reindeer » Wed May 06, 2020 8:33 am

AXX°N N. wrote:Great thread idea!

My ranking is about the same with a few quibbles:

I'd put Tim Hunter higher, maybe even after Glatter, because at the end of the day, his episodes are memorable and firm in my mind. They feel like 'key' episodes, and Twin Peaks to me is just less interesting when subdued. In a similar sense, I've always had a tough time appraising the Keaton episode, but I do think she should at least be above Uli Edel, maybe even Rathborne. At that point in the show things were quickly becoming not even maddening, but boring and disengaging. And although many of Keaton's choices are distracting and superficial, they're at least something. Even an uncertain, tending toward negative reaction is still a reaction at all, something desperately needed in that stretch.

James Foley goes at the very bottom. I agree, the wine tasting is perhaps the least engaging scripted and filmed material the show ever produced, ripped from or spliced into any TV show airing at the time without losing any of its context--but the Pine-Weasel-Cam in E24 is the absolute biggest visual betrayel of the show's aesthetic in its history. The only other time we get POV camera shots like that it's during such scenes as Becky's gun-toting meltdown in S3, a truly effective use of the camera that had people theorizing in brilliant and meta ways about Judy's identity being that of the camera's gaze. ...but at one point, it was a Pine Weasel. In that light, it's truly amazing to me that the cast was so hep to him, but I think I can chalk that up to an old Hollywood cliche; I've seen actors describe sometimes that no matter what they felt on set, the finished product is unpredictable and sometimes feels like russian roulette. Hated experiences on set can turn into classic movies, enjoyable experiences into duds. Foley was probably completely keyed in as a director on the level of vibing with everyone but the finger on the pulse of a finished product by a director is just a separable, additional skill. Uli Edel compared to everyone else was for instance loathed by some of the cast but I wouldn't call his episode the very worst.


It’s funny how we all have our pet peeves when it comes to the goofier material that crept in. For me, the pine weasel cam doesn't bother me that much. Probably the biggest betrayal of the show’s aesthetic for me, just the first thing that comes to mind as a moment that absolutely disgusts me, is the cheerleading tryout where Nadine throws the guy in the air in E17. I didn’t really punish Rathborne too much for that in my ranking, but everything from the concept to the direction to the editing just feels like something from the crappiest low-budget children’s sitcom in history.

I figured my ranking of Hunter would be controversial. I think he’s a really solid director whose work I enjoy greatly, on TP and elsewhere. For me, he got saddled with two episodes I dislike conceptually (E16 and E28), which maybe gives him an unfair handicap. But it feels like the producers gave him a longer leash than most of the other directors, and particularly in E16, he overindulged in over-stylized angles to a distracting, undisciplined degree.
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Re: Rank the Series Directors

Postby AXX°N N. » Wed May 06, 2020 9:09 am

Mr. Reindeer wrote:It’s funny how we all have our pet peeves when it comes to the goofier material that crept in. For me, the pine weasel cam doesn't bother me that much. Probably the biggest betrayal of the show’s aesthetic for me, just the first thing that comes to mind as a moment that absolutely disgusts me, is the cheerleading tryout where Nadine throws the guy in the air in E17. I didn’t really punish Rathborne too much for that in my ranking, but everything from the concept to the direction to the editing just feels like something from the crappiest low-budget children’s sitcom in history.

I figured my ranking of Hunter would be controversial. I think he’s a really solid director whose work I enjoy greatly, on TP and elsewhere. For me, he got saddled with two episodes I dislike conceptually (E16 and E28), which maybe gives him an unfair handicap. But it feels like the producers gave him a longer leash than most of the other directors, and particularly in E16, he overindulged in over-stylized angles to a distracting, undisciplined degree.

That tryout scene really is a stinker, and it's telling that we describe these kinds of scenes much in the same way, that it's as if we're suddenly watching a lesser product of the time. Similarly I didn't ding Hunter too much for E28, one of my least favorite episodes, because I ding the script. It's that script, after all, that has some of the worst dialog that never made it to the screen outside of E29's original draft: the gruelingly long, cliche exposition from Earl to Coop at the end amid what is supposed to be chaos and tension. I wonder if that was ever filmed. Regardless, it's mercifully absent from the final cut, perhaps thanks to Hunter.

I do agree Hunter goes too far, you're spot on, but I like the latter half of E16 so much that it's almost entirely the basis of my ranking of him; it's an episode I've wrestled with, and who knows how I'll feel in the future, but disregarding everything else but the directing, I landed firmly on the side of finding the Leland scene very moving last time I rewatched. I'm also a big fan of the magic portraiture at the Roadhouse (the still shots to light flashes as everything is culminating), and the extremely odd way he lights/frames Briggs at the very end before the What-was-BOB powow, weird and stoic and which lends a kind of visual mythological element to Briggs.
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Re: Rank the Series Directors

Postby djerdap » Fri May 08, 2020 12:54 am

I fully agree with the OP on Hunter's direction in Episode 16. The first slow motion shot of the four musketeers (after a gruesome murder was committed and the body was found) pretty much kills the mood immediately, and the overuse of canted angles goes from distracting to laughable in a matter of seconds. Weird zoom close-ups and cross-cutting between inane subplots and crucial storylines abound (the latter a flaw of the script for sure). There are some memorable images in the second half, yet it is overshadowed by questionable writing choices we've discussed here numerous times, particularly when it comes to over-literate interpretations of Lynch's dream sequences.

Episode 16 is the one whose reputation declines with time for me the most... In general I am less interested in non-Lynch episodes as time goes by, and I distinctly remember even during my first viewing I wasn't as enamored with certain episodes in the 1st season as many others were. That being said, there is still a lot to respect in non-Lynch episodes and I feel Lesli Linka Glatter has left the best impression.

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