I was putting off watching Jane Campion and Gerald Lee's Top Of The Lake, knowing that it was not going to be an action adventure with quips and a lightness of touch. It is a series best viewed in one sitting as you dive into a world and adjust to the ebb of flow of the rhythm of story and plot. You need a little bit of energy and commitment, a bit like you would approach a good book. You know you are going to enjoy it and think about it way after the end credits role.
This series is a study of gender roles, parents, sex, family, violence, rape, incest, death, life and all the big things masquerading as a crime story. Elisabeth Moss plays a Sydney police detective Robin Griffin, who goes home to a remote town at the top of the lake on the South Island of New Zealand to visit her dying mother (Robin Niven) and gets involved in the local police force under Detective Al Parker (David Wenham) when the 12 year old daughter (Josephine Joe) of the local chief hoodlum Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan), discovers she is pregnant and is too frightened to say who the father is, goes missing. On the other side of the lake a collective of broken women set up a community called Paradise under the guidance of GJ (Holly Hunter), a type of guru. Personal history seeps into present day for all characters as the story unfolds. Lives and relationships become messy as the tension builds and builds. This sounds hard going, but it isn't. There is a lot of humour in the show and it has you laughing at that everyday life stuff. No comic punch lines here.
At the centre of it is a searing performance by Elisabeth Moss. As any viewer of Mad Men knows, she is a great actress, but this series gives her room to breathe and expand. Hers is not the only one that is fantastic in this. The whole cast is great. Holly Hunter projects a stillness and depth to a character that could have fallen flat, she is in direct contrast to Peter Mullen's angry picking his teeth with the scenery performance. The rest of the cast falls somewhere in between and together they take you on a journey that leaves you thinking about what you have just seen. Mulling over a story well told.
The series reminds me of the slow and entangled Scandinavian crime shows such as Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Broen/Bron (The Bridge). For example, nudity and sex are shown in a natural light, both figuratively and literally. There is no shoehorned sex scene filmed to titivate, the intimacy or lack of intimacy of the characters is the point, not watching pretty actors simulate sex that is closer to pornography than realistic sex. The nudity is not from the perspective of the male gaze. It is what is happening at that point in the story and in some cases the nudity has nothing to do with sex. It is just what the character is wearing or not wearing at the time that we catch up with them in the story.
This is a series to watch if you want to give a little time and thought to your entertainment. Take a day and indulge yourself. Go to the top of the lake and see what is there. It is well worth it.