Lost in the Movies: Phil Bisby (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #85)

Phil Bisby (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #85)

The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys one hundred ten characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91 on ABC and 2017 on Showtime as The Return), the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. A new character study will appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday although patrons will have immediate access to each entry a month before it goes public. There will be spoilers.

Phil may be low in the Lucky 7 pecking order, but he relishes his role as all-around assistant especially when it comes to guiding his perpetually dazed co-worker.

Monday, September 26, 2016
Swirling around the distinctively green-jacketed Dougie Jones, Lucky 7 Insurance employee Phil Bisby clasps eight coffee cups in two trays as he teases his co-worker and reminds him that the staff meeting starts in three minutes. On the elevator (after jabbing the button and antsily waiting or the door to open) he begins to notice something is off with Dougie, who desperately wants coffee even though Phil doesn't have one marked with his name. "Damn good cup of Joe!" he chortles when Dougie chugs his; once they are dispatched to the seventh floor, Phil has to coax and eventually physically lead Dougie toward the conference room. There Phil will dispatch the rest of the beverages, guide Dougie to his seat, and deal with surly colleague Frank who's upset that Dougie was given his coffee (despite the fact that he never drinks his own). Phil chuckles when Frank turns out to enjoy the green tea he's offered instead, and then gasps when Dougie gets into a clash with the supposedly "lying" Anthony Sinclair. Later, Phil and another co-worker gently push Dougie into the boss' office before comically struggling with the door when manager Bushnell Mullins asks them to leave. At the end of this long day, Phil accompanies Dougie on the elevator down, eventually turning him around and shoving him out after he blocks all the other angry passengers from leaving.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Once again Dougie's elevator partner, Phil has to coax him toward his destination for a second time - in this moment, out of the elevator itself. On their way in, Bushnell angrily calls to Dougie and Phil must maneuver the near-comatose man into the big office for a meeting.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
When Bushnell calls Dougie into his office, Phil is nearby to answer the phone - he then holds a tray of coffee aloft as bait to lead Dougie where he needs to go. By this point a pro at dealing with the addled middle-aged man, Phil places his palm on Dougie's shoulder and encourages him to sit down before exiting himself.

Sunday, October 2, 2016
Calling Bushnell's cell phone while his boss is in the hospital (he's at Dougie's bedside after the employee electrocuted himself over the weekend), Phil informs him that the FBI showed up Lucky 7 looking for Dougie, but he has no further information beyond that.

Characters Phil interacts with onscreen…

Agent Cooper

Bushnell Mullins

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Phil
When I composed the first version of this character series in early 2017, prior to The Return, there were almost no characters who lacked connections to Twin Peaks (or at least, via Deer Meadow and whatever place Evelyn Marsh lives in, small town life in Washington state). Yet here's Phil, the first official character in the revised series who not only doesn't live in Twin Peaks but probably has no idea a place called Twin Peaks even exists. Nonetheless, as the bearer of coffee he alludes to at least one of its major motifs. Phil is a far more urban character than we're used to in the Twin Peaks of old, a busy bee with apparently little on his mind aside from the task onhand - not that this makes him an unlively presence. Indeed, Fadem's delightfully cartoonish portrayal of Phil's physicality (leaning into his stack of refreshments and leading his walk with his chest) is one of the ways Lynch tips us off to how Twin Peaks' energy will extend beyond Twin Peaks itself. An eye for exaggerated detail and an ear for bemusing small talk can manifest in a slick Las Vegas office building just as well as a rustic rural resort hotel. Perhaps Twin Peaks is not so much a place as a state of mind.

Phil’s journey
Unlike many characters in this story, Phil fades into the background rather than emerging more strongly with time. His biggest scene is his first (which lasts, depending how you calculate it, anywhere from a minute and a half to five and a half minutes), and by far his most prominent episode is that initial introduction, which constitutes well over half his screentime. All of that is to say that Phil is an amusing background character whom we remember more than others because he's set up right away with a distinctive personality and role to play. From that point on, he is largely a bemusing reminder of how Dougie passively enlists an army of supporters without whom he couldn't function. But Phil does have an arc. We watch him learn in real time how to efficiently navigate Dougie with simple gestures and deployment of his love for coffee. Phil emerges as an intuitive problem-solver, and as such a man after Lynch's own heart.

Actor: Josh Fadem
A bit older than he looks playing the intern-like Phil (he was actually about thirty-five at the time), Fadem is nonetheless one of the younger Twin Peaks actors especially when placed alongside the many veterans of the nineties series. It's therefore astonishing to consider the incredible volume of his filmography, a whopping one hundred fifty separate film and TV shows in barely twenty years of credits! (As always, that's not even counting individual episodes within said shows - and sometimes multiple characters on the same show, with portrayals of real individuals including Harrison Ford and Adolf Hitler.) By comparison, Grace Zabriskie - who has worked pretty steadily for more than twice as long - has just fifteen more projects to her name than Fadem. Of course, he can afford to be that prolific given the number of short films and TV episodes on his resume (only twenty-two feature films appear on the list). He's appeared in one-offs on popular series including Dollhouse, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Weeds, Reno 911!, The Eric Andre Show, and Loki, and had a more prominent recurring role as Pat Stanley on On Becoming a God in Central Florida in 2019. His biggest roles appear to be, early on, Liz Lemon's agent in 30 Rock and "Camera Guy" in fourteen episodes of the wildly acclaimed Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul over seven years. That part eventually morphed into its own season of the webseries Better Call Saul Employee Training in 2022. In Filmmaker Training, his film student character, now dubbed Marshall, instructs the audience in best on-set practices. Fadem is also has multiple credits as writer, director, and producer, in addition to a notable career as a stand-up comedian (for the flavor of that endeavor, check out Eve Peyser's 2015 interview with him, which also doubles as a portrait of the time). (series pictured: Better Call Saul, 2020)

*Part 5 (Showtime title: "Case files." - best episode)

Part 6 (Showtime title: "Don't die.")

Part 11 (Showtime title: "There's fire where you are going.")

Part 16 (Showtime title: "No knock, no doorbell") - voice is heard offscreen

Phil is onscreen for roughly ten minutes. He is in six scenes in four episodes, taking place over a single week. He's featured the most in Part 5, when he first encounters the Cooper version of Dougie. His only location is the Lucky 7 office building. He shares the most screentime with Cooper. He is one of the top ten characters in Part 5.

Best Scene
Part 5: Phil introduces Dougie and us to Lucky 7 with his energetic striding, finger tapping and co-worker banter.

Best Line
“Off in dreamland again, huh, Dougie?”

Additional Observations

• I'm not sure in what order music was composed for The Return, but notably Phil's frantic tapping on the cups echoes the drum brushes on the soundtrack. Fadem is always, always moving. His gestures, motions, and expressions ensure that he can never fade into the wallpaper (or rather the solidly-painted walls). He's always goosing the energy of whatever scene he's in.

• When Phil tells Dougie (actually Cooper of course) "I didn't know you'd be here today," it is a subtle hint toward the type of person that Cooper has replaced: an irresponsible, unreliable individual who somehow perpetually got away with his behavior.

• Phil usually states his full name when speaking to Bushnell, an amusing detail suggesting either insecurity, diligence, or both.

Next (active on Friday, January 27 at 8am): Sylvia Horne
Previous: Steven Burnett

To immediately read a month of upcoming entries, updated weekly to stay a month ahead...

(at the time of publication, this includes revised full entries on bonus characters, plus full entries on new or revised characters among #84 - 52)

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