Lost in the Movies: Detectives T., D., and "Smiley" Fusco (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #76)

Detectives T., D., and "Smiley" Fusco (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #76)

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.

Not exactly bumbling but not exactly perspicacious, the Fuscos are more interested in damaged tail lights and Sunday dinners than the vast criminal, cosmic enterprise whose edges they're sniffing around.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Three Las Vegas detectives, the Fusco brothers, saunter into the office of one Douglas Jones, a mostly mute, seemingly vacant insurance salesman. They are cagey about their purpose but as the subject of questioning is joined by his boss and his wife, they're forced to open up a bit more. The aggressive spouse answers - or "answers" - most of their inquiries about a missing car but she isn't able to illuminate what might have happened to it. As the boss presses them, D. acknowledges that in fact they know where the car is and how it ended up (but not how it got there): the vehicle recently exploded, killing several carjackers. The cops would like to discuss the matter further but T., sensing that they may have reached their limit for the day, offers a card and invites them to the station in the morning. As they leave, T. cracks to the boss that Dougie won't have trouble collecting insurance on this case, and "Smiley" - who mostly stood silently behind and between his two brothers this entire time (he doesn't even carry a notepad) - cracks up, guffawing on his way out the door.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
At the police station, the Fuscos now have an even more bewildering situation to deal with: following their visit to Lucky 7 Insurance there was an armed attempt on Dougie's life. Dougie's boss appears in their office and, as before, ends up asking them questions when they're done with their own. This time, the brothers are decidedly mum when he wonders why someone - the same people? - would blow up Dougie's car and then try to shoot him. They're not merely stonewalling though; the three have no idea what's going on with this oddball ("It's like talking to a dog..." "And his wife does most of the barking.") Hell, there aren't even any records of his existence before 1997; could he be in witness protection? After distracting themselves with a chuckle over an expensive tail light and (cryptically) "an Australian with pliers," D. comes up with a clever ploy to lift Dougie's fingerprints, offering him a new cup of coffee and throwing the old mug in an evidence bag which they'll send off to a contact in the Justice Department. They're then informed by the desk sergeant that Dougie's assailant has been identified as Ike the Spike and the detectives eagerly set off to capture the hitman in a motel. Cornering him in the hallway, guns drawn as he raises his bandaged arm, they mock him for losing a bit of flesh at the crime scene which helped them track him down. That night the Fuscos are featured on the news, dragging the diminutive suspect to the cruiser.

Friday, September 30, 2016
Nonchalantly eating breakfast and laughing about their mother's weekend plans, T. and Smiley seem undisturbed by a screaming woman in the other room. D. shows up with the results of his Justice inquiry and the three instantly dismiss what was discovered: Dougie's fingerprints were traced to a missing FBI agent who escaped from federal prison in South Dakota a few days ago. "That's a huge fucking mistake!" T. declares, so their attention quickly turns to a bet on whether or not D. can shoot the crumpled up file into the waste basket from across the room. He succeeds and is collecting $2 when a man comes in asking for Detective Clarke; they send him out back.

Characters the Fuscos interact with onscreen…

Agent Cooper

Janey-E Jones

Bushnell Mullins

Anthony Sinclair

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through the Fuscos
As with many characters in The Return, the Fuscos can only comment upon the town of Twin Peaks by implicit comparison. Las Vegas cops so accustomed to a high death count that they merely chuckle at the prospect of a weekend with murder, they're certainly a far cry from the innocence of at least the original Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department. In a certain sense their delight in mundane, everyday activities and anecdotes do echo the small town's quirks and especially Cooper's own "give yourself a present" mentality; however, they are also far less curious or open-minded. Consider Frank Truman, who humors tales of Lodges and doubles, encouraging his older deputies to poke at a decades-old unsolved mystery (even while the high-tech half of the department focuses on all-too-ubiquitous local DUIs and ODs) and volunteers clues, no matter how obscure or esoteric, to the FBI. True, D. Fusco in particular is baffled by Dougie, and less willing to move on from a line of questioning than his brother T. ("Smiley" just giggles with reactive and anticipatory glee at their ping-ponging conversations). But even he stops short after collecting and submitting evidence, unwilling to let go of the admittedly logical conclusion that there's been a bureaucratic slip-up. No way could this mild-mannered, apparently mentally challenged insurance salesman be a fugitive FBI agent! In this sense too - stepping outside the main narrative to underscore its absurdity - the big-city detectives provide a new perspective on the familiar world of Twin Peaks the town and Twin Peaks the show. The writers delight in combining their conventional (if comedic) environment with a dark surrealist thriller and spooky mystery of the woods. Twin Peaks has always contained multitudes and by sticking to their much simpler script, the Fuscos paradoxically remind us of that very fact.

The Fuscos’ journey
Like so much else in Vegas, the Fuscos are a tease, a delight, and a shaggy dog. Watching the show for the first time, many viewers expected that their casual submission of Dougie's fingerprints would cascade into a climactic confrontation with the FBI, Mr. C, and others descending upon Sin City. Eventually at least a few characters will arrive (though most end up coalescing in Twin Peaks instead), but no thanks to these three. Our scenes with them follow a familiar procedural arc; indeed in their later scenes they are the protagonists themselves, guides whose perspective we follow rather than mere accessories to the other main characters. This is a technique Lynch employs frequently throughout the sprawling Return ensemble, fleshing out figures who might otherwise be incidental. There's a double twist to this maneuver, however, since ultimately the Fuscos don't prove to be narratively important. Even with Ike, they decide to tag along on a process already in motion. So why linger with them as much as we do? Besides enjoying the flirtation/frustration of breakthrough and resolution, Lynch and Frost also just find these types of characters amusing, simultaneously ordinary in their professional behavior and eccentric in their personal quirks, contentedly lost in their own little side world which the creators invite us to peek in at briefly, like Anthony on his way to his own subplot (which the Fuscos could afford to pay a little more attention to themselves). The Fuscos' thwarted investigation is also part of a larger thematic pattern in which characters - most notably Cooper himself - come up short in spite of, or even because of, following a plan. The original Twin Peaks taught us to give credence to mysterious, intuitive signposts rather than logical deduction, and the Fuscos' crash-and-burn arc (in which D.'s scoring basket counts as a defeat for them in the bigger picture) reminds us why.

Actor: Larry Clarke
A theater actor (first in Baltimore and then in New York), Clarke broke into film and TV by landing on a couple major projects right out of the gate in his mid-thirties. He had a small part as one of a gaggle of cousin wedding guests in the Kevin Kline coming-out comedy In & Out and a regular role as Detective Morris LaMotte on the ninth and tenth seasons of Law & Order. LaMotte was partnered with and then replaced Profaci (John Fiore), but when writer Rene Balcar left the show, Clarke's work in the ensemble dried up. From 2000 on, the actor made the rounds, racking up ninety credits with one-off appearances on The Sopranos, ER, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Malcolm in the Middle, Boston Legal, CSI: New York, Cold Case, House, Monk, NCIS, Grey's Anatomy, My Name is Earl, The Shield, Burn Notice, Bones, Criminal Minds, Shameless, BoJack Horseman, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. A 2019 interview describes him as "'That guy'. The detective, the cop. The lawyer, the morgue guy, the priest. Yep. 'That guy'." That interview, by the way, is for Clarke's directorial debut 3 Days with Dad, a film about a family brought together and pulled apart by the slow, painful death of the patriarch played by Brian Dennehy. The film acts as, among other things, a Fuscos reunion (more on that in a moment...).

As does one of Clarke's biggest success to date, Bitter Homes and Gardens, an acclaimed web series which won Best Comedy at the New York Film Festival. Written by his wife, stand-up comedian Fielding Edlow (who voices Roxie on BoJack Horseman), the project stars the real-life couple as "an up-and-coming podcaster with negative subscribers and...a balding, middle-aged, self-obsessed character actor whose last role was the traffic cop on Moesha." Their hilarious, furious fights are modeled after the actors' own, with the second season set against the backdrop of Covid quarantine. After Law & Order, most of Clarke's guest appearances had been in single episodes, occasionally two or three, the one major exception being as Dylan's dad in the 2011 fifth season of the Shailene Woodley show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Now, in addition to Bitter Homes, he has a recurring spot in the Starz wrestling drama Heels(series pictured: Law & Order, c. 1998)

Actor: David Koechner
Like Clarke, Koechner did not show up onscreen until his early thirties in the mid-ninties; since then he's helmed an even more prolific body of work. The most famous of the Fuscos, Koechner has played a part in dozens of legendary comedy productions of the past few decades, earning him honorary status as part of the zeroes Gen X "Frat pack" with stars like Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Paul Rudd, Owen and Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Steve Carell and arguably the rest of the younger overlapping "Apatow gang," even though he usually appears in supporting, rather than lead, roles (he's also slightly older than the others aside from Carell; a late boomer, if you want to get technical about it). Koechner's breakout character was Gerald "T-Bones" Tibbons, paired with Dave Allen's "the Naked Trucker." The duo appeared across multiple media platforms (including their own short-lived Comedy Central show in 2007).

Koechner's two most famous roles, by far, are as the cowboy hat-wearing, "Whammy!"-shouting sports broadcaster Champ Kind in Anchorman and as the obliviously obnoxious Todd Packer, Michael Scott's raunchy, bullying former sales partner, in thirteen episodes scattered across several seasons of The Office. As noted, Koechner's resume reads like an overview of several eras of both big screen and small screen comedy: The Jamie Foxx Show, Mad About You, Wag the Dog, Dharma & Greg, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, WWE Raw (and Smackdown), Man on the Moon, Freaks and Geeks, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Dukes of Hazzard, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Thanks for Smoking, Talladega Nights, Reno 911!, Snakes on a Plane, King of the Hill, Get Smart, Monk, Funny or Die, the Beavis and Butt-Head revival, Comedy Bang! Bang!, The Middle, Psych, Justified, Drunk History, and American Dad!, and The Goldbergs - just a few highlights from over two hundred film or TV credits.

He launched his career with a single season of Saturday Night Live in 1995. As a side observation, the musical guests on that season read like their own epochal microcosm: Lisa Loeb, Alanis Morisette, Foo Fighters, Bush, Tori Amos, Coolio, Tupac Shakur, Everclear, and Soundgarden among others. In terms of peak nineties, I'm most intrigued by the listings for Koechner's appearance as Oliver Stone in an episode hosted by Quentin Tarantino with musical guest Smashing Pumpkins, and especially Koechner's appearance as Pat Buchanan in an episode bizarrely pairing arch-conservative host Steve Forbes, a monotone '96 presidential candidate obsessed with the flat tax, with the radical leftist musical guests Rage Against the Machine. But I digress...to bring it back to the Fuscos, Koechner shows up as "the doctor you may not not want near your loved one at life's end" under Clarke's direction in 3 Days with Dad. He also has a regular role as an "overly peppy real estate lawyer" in Bitter Homes and Gardens (oddly enough, that credit is left off his IMDb perhaps because the first season, at least, was web-only). (film pictured: Anchorman 2, 2013)

Actor: Eric Edelstein
The youngest of the Fuscos by over a dozen years (it was Lynch, I believe, who called him "the baby" of the brothers), Edelstein completes the trio again in both 3 Days with Dad, where he plays one of the brothers, and Bitter Homes and Gardens as Sandy, a successful producer boasting immunity to the coronavirus. "He's one of the best people I've ever met," Clarke raves, "and not just in show business, but in life, period. He's just a unique soul, and has monstrous talent, and a huge heart. Just a huge heart." Clearly, the actors Lynch brought together for the first time to play Las Vegas cops have bonded over the years. Edelstein's path to Twin Peaks was full of surprises and ironies. He first met Lynch when a friend brought him to meditate at the director's house years before this series, and he was sure this chance encounter had helped him land the role. As it turned out, though, Lynch did not even remember the meeting. What intrigued him instead was Edelstein's laugh; he worked both that gesture and the character himself into the scenes since originally the Fuscos were just supposed to be a duo.

Edelstein shared this and other anecdotes in a podcast that has since been paywalled, where he also credits Lynch with shifting how he was perceived in the industry - used to playing heavies (however comedic), he's now considered for lighter roles as well. Prior to Peaks, Edelstein showed up in several episodes of Parks and Rec as the surly Lawrence who dubs Leslie Knope "park lady" (an insult in which she delights), Shameless as Bobby Mallison, Complications as Jed, and Fresh Off the Boat as Jerry. He's perhaps gotten the most work in animation, voicing Chad in fifty episodes of Clarence and Grizz in one hundred nine episodes of We Bare Bears. Parents may be most familiar with him as Daddy Shark in Baby Shark's Big Show! Of particular interest to Peaks fans is B.O.B. on Monsters vs. Aliens, this B.O.B. being a cheerful blue blob rather than a sinister blue-clad man. (series pictured: Parks and Recreation, 2009)

Part 7 (Showtime title: "There's a body all right.")

*Part 9 (Showtime title: "This is the chair." - best episode)

Part 10 (Showtime title: "Laura is the one.")

Part 13 (Showtime title: "What story is that, Charlie?")

The Fuscos are onscreen for roughly thirteen minutes. They are in six scenes in four episodes, taking place over four days. They're featured the most in part 9, when they collect Dougie's fingerprints and arrest Ike. Their primary location is the police station. They share the most screentime with Bushnell. They are among the top ten characters in parts 7 and 9.

Best Scene
Part 9: The three amigos (or stooges) banter and dabble in investigative work before being interrupted by the opportunity for a bust.

Best Line
D.: “We've got your palm print.”
T.: “As a matter of fact, Ike, we've got your whole palm.”
(Smiley laughs)

Additional Observations

• The Fusco dialogue was originally intended for just two actors and easily could have been handled by one. Lynch in particular is fond of the police partner dynamic, however - think similar scenes in Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive - and their interplay is handled quite deftly. D. usually takes the lead and is quite aggressive while T. steps in to clarify and reassure. Smiley, of course, only pops in to punctuate the patter with hysterical giggles and wheezing outbursts, tilting and turning his head between the two and waiting with an impresario's instincts for the right moment to let loose.

• D., T., and Smiley, in that order, evoke Moe, Larry, and Curly, but their energies are harmonious rather than chaotic - at least among each other (in Las Vegas itself, look no further than the local FBI agents for a marked contrast). Their comedy arises from casual camaraderie rather than conflict.

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(at the time of publication, this includes full entries on new or revised characters among #75 - 52)

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