Inside Showtime’s Twin Peaks-Themed Pop Up

Christopher Gregory
Christopher Gregory

A renovated Polish banquet hall in Brooklyn was temporarily transformed into the Double R Diner on Tuesday evening for a pop-up celebration of the new season of Twin Peaks, premiering this Sunday, May 21, 2017—26 years after we last saw the denizens of the sleepy but very strange Pacific Northwest town.

Showtime teamed up with Flavorpill and immersive event experts BBQ Films for an evening both wonderful and strange. The first clue things were not what they seem was the “Have you seen this man?” posters featuring a police sketch of Killer BOB plastered near the subway exit. Inside the Brooklyn Bazaar, Twin Peaks obsessives (some in inspired plastic-wrapped costumes) were treated to damn fine coffee and cherry pie from the Double R, recreations of the Black Lodge and the Palmers’ living room, suggestive shimmying from the Pink Room Burlesque, karaoke booths, and a costume contest. Despite fierce competition from a devoted Log Lady and an uncanny Shelley-and-Leo combo, among others, a Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill (who in real life goes by Ralph Bishop) took home the costume contest's main prize. See photos from the event below, and keep an eye out for one-armed men about town. It is happening again.

Poster outside a Twin Peaks event in Brooklyn, 2017.

A welcome to Twin Peaks sign.
Bess Lovejoy

A poster for a Twin Peaks event in Brooklyn May 2017.
Bess Lovejoy

Characters sitting at a recreation of the Twin Peaks Double R diner at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017

A participant dressed like the Log Lady at a Twin Peaks event.

Cherry pie and forks at a recreation of the Twin Peaks Double R diner at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017

A recreation of the Palmer living room at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017.

A recreation of the Palmer living room at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017.

Twin Peaks burlesque at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017.

Twin Peaks burlesque at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017.

Twin Peaks burlesque at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017.

A Twin Peaks costume contest at a Showtime event in Brooklyn, 2017.

A costume contest at a Twin Peaks event in Brooklyn, 2017.

All photos by Christopher Gregory except where noted.

Hasbro Is Releasing a Stranger Things-Themed Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit

The Demogorgon is coming, and only you can stop it. You can now join Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will in the Upside Down when you play the new Stranger Things-themed Dungeons & Dragons game, spotted by Geek Tyrant. Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast have taken a classic board game and revamped it for fans of the original, as well as younger Stranger Things viewers who might not have played the game before.

The starter set comes with an adventure book, character sheets, dice, two Demogorgon figurines (including one that can be painted and customized), and a detailed guide outlining how to play the game. Players will have the chance to choose between characters like Will the Wise and Dustin the Dwarf as they embark on a quest to find the Thessalhydra monster. Both the Thessalhydra and Demogorgon are creatures that actually appeared in the Dungeons & Dragons games of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but the new Hasbro game’s theme—titled "Hunt for the Thessalhydra"—is based on the adventure invented by Mike’s character in season 1 of Stranger Things.

“Get your fireballs ready as you investigate the mysterious castle and battle the ferocious Demogorgon,” Hasbro writes in its description of the game, which is suitable for people aged 14 and up. Packaged in a retro, worn-looking box, the game is now available on Amazon for $25.

In the meantime, fans are still anxiously awaiting the Netflix release of Stranger Things season 3 this Fourth of July. The new eight-episode season promises to be the "grossest" one yet, with plenty of ‘80s-inspired scares to go around (including the return of the Mind Flayer, or Shadow Monster).

[h/t Geek Tyrant]

Good Fortune: The Story of Miss Cleo's $1 Billion Psychic Empire

The woman sat behind a table, tarot cards in front of her, a turban wrapped tightly around her head. In Jamaican-accented patois, she invited viewers to benefit from her gift of second sight. “Call me now,” Miss Cleo said, and she would reveal all.

Mostly, respondents wanted to know if a lover was cheating on them, though there was no limit to Miss Cleo's divinity. No question was too profound. She could speak with as much wisdom about concerns over financial choices as she could sibling rivalries. Her only challenge was time: Miss Cleo could connect with only a fraction of the people looking for her spiritual guidance, leaving callers in the hands of other (potentially psychically-unqualified) operators.

Still, Miss Cleo became synonymous with psychic phenomena, a way to consult with a medium without getting off your living room couch. From 1997 to 2002, she was a virtually inescapable presence on television—the embodiment of a carnival stereotype that annoyed native Jamaicans, who bristled at her exaggerated accent. It was nonetheless effective: Roughly 6 million calls came in to Miss Cleo over a three-year period, with $1 billion in telephone charges assessed.

Not long after, the companies behind Miss Cleo would be forced to give half of that back amidst charges that they had misled consumers. Despite being a cog in the machine, Miss Cleo herself was vilified. Of the $24 million her hotline raked in monthly, she claimed to have earned just 24 cents a minute, or approximately $15 an hour.

Most people didn’t know she was born in Los Angeles, not in Jamaica; that her real name was Youree Dell Harris; and that her late-night infomercial promising psychic assistance was little more than performance art.

 

Harris may have been raised in California, but Miss Cleo was born in Seattle. While living in Washington in the 1990s, Harris tried her hand at playwrighting, authoring a play titled For Women Only under the name Ree Perris, which she performed at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. In it, Harris wrote and portrayed a Jamaican woman named Cleo, a clear predecessor to the character that would later pop up in television ads.

After producing three plays, Harris left Seattle amid allegations that she had taken grant money from the Langston Hughes Advisory Council, leaving some of the cast and crew unpaid. (Harris later said she left Seattle due to wanting to distance herself from a bad relationship. She told colleagues she had bone cancer and was leaving the area but that they would be paid at a later date.) She ended up in Florida, where she responded to an ad seeking telephone operators. Harris taped a commercial in character as Cleo—the hotline added the “Miss”—for $1750 and then agreed to monitor a phone line for a set wage. Operators made between 14 and 24 cents a minute, she later said, and she was on the higher end.

Psychic premonitions can be difficult to validate, though Harris never claimed to be a medium. In her own words, she was from a “family of spooky people” and was well-versed in voodoo thanks to study under a Haitian teacher. The Psychic Readers Network and Access Resource Services, a set of sister companies that used workers sourced by a third party for their hotlines, recoiled at the word voodoo and declared her a psychic instead.

If Harris was the genuine article, many of her peers were not. As subcontractors who were not employed by the Psychic Readers Network or Access directly, some responded to ads for “phone actors” and claimed they were given a script from which to work. (Access later denied that operators used a script.) The objective, former "psychics" alleged, was to keep callers on the line for at least 15 minutes. Some customers, who were paying $4.99 a minute for their psychic readings, received phone bills of $300 or more.

When the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began responding to complaints in 2002, it was not because Harris was portraying a character or because she may have not been demonstrably psychic. It was because the Psychic Readers Network and Access were accused of deceptive advertising. Miss Cleo would urge viewers to call a toll-free 800 number, where operators would then refer them to a paid 900 line to reach a psychic. Miss Cleo also pledged that the first three minutes were free. That was true, though those first three minutes were largely spent on hold.

When people began to dispute their phone charges, Psychic Readers Network and Access were alleged to have referred accounts to collection agencies. Even if a telephone carrier like AT&T canceled the charges, customers would still find themselves subject to harassment over unpaid debt.

Individual states like Missouri and Florida sued or fined the companies, but it was the FTC that created the largest storm cloud. Of the $1 billion earned through the hotline, $500 million remained uncollected from stubborn or delinquent consumers. In a complaint and subsequent settlement, the FTC ordered those debts canceled and imposed a $5 million fine on the companies. Psychic Readers Network and Access did not admit to any wrongdoing.

As for Miss Cleo: Harris was only briefly named in the Florida lawsuit before she was dropped from it; the FTC acknowledged that spokespersons couldn’t be held liable for violations. But the association was enough, and newspaper reporters couldn’t resist the low-hanging fruit. Most headlines were a variation of, “Bet Miss Cleo didn’t see this one coming.”

 

Outed as a faux-Jamaican and with her Seattle past further damaging her reputation, Harris faded from the airwaves. Her fame, however, was persistent. She recorded a voice for a Grand Theft Auto: Vice City game for a character that strongly resembled her onscreen psychic. Private psychic sessions were also in demand, with Harris charging anywhere from $75 to $250 per person. Her Haitian-inspired powers of deduction, she said, were genuine.

Eventually, enough time passed for Miss Cleo to become a source of nostalgia. In 2014, General Mills hired her to endorse French Toast Crunch, a popular cereal from the 1990s that was returning to shelves. Following both the Grand Theft Auto and General Mills deals, Psychic Readers Network cried foul, initiating litigation claiming that the Miss Cleo character was their intellectual property and that Harris's use was a trademark and copyright violation. General Mills immediately pulled the ads. (The argument against Rockstar Games, which produced Grand Theft Auto, was late in coming: Psychic Readers Network brought the case in 2017, 15 years after the game’s original release. The lawsuit is ongoing.)

Unfortunately, Harris’s continued use of the image would shortly become irrelevant. She died in 2016 at age 53 following a bout with cancer. Obituaries identified her as “Miss Cleo” and related her longtime frustration at being associated with the FTC lawsuit. “According to some articles, I’m still in jail,” she told Vice in 2014. Instead, she was where she had always been: Behind a table, listening, and revealing all.

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