If you seek cerebral and unsettling mystery, travel to provincial New Zealand to binge-watch Top of the Lake. After its sublime 2013 season, Top of the Lake returned for a second season in 2017.
Title: Top of the Lake
Year it began: 2013
Where it can be seen: BBC; Sundance; Amazon
Who’s in it: Elisabeth Moss; Peter Mullan; Holly Hunter; Jacqueline Joe; David Wenham; Thomas M. Wright; Gwendoline Christie; Alice Englert; Nicole Kidman; David Dencik
Typical episode length: 60 minutes
Number of episodes to date: 13
Brief plot description: Returning to her New Zealand hometown to investigate the traumatic pregnancy of a twelve-year old girl, Detective Robin Griffin must navigate a world featuring both criminal enterprises and a women’s commune.
Why it’s worth watching: This is a heartbreaking, but deeply rewarding miniseries now in its second set of investigations. Co-created and co-directed by Jane Campion, this beautifully filmed show sublimely contrasts Edenic landscapes with a gritty, menacing backwoods town. Moss’s magisterial performance drives the show: exhibiting an inner toughness that helps her negotiate both painful memories and threatening adversaries, Moss conveys a profound empathy towards innocent victims that keeps women’s well-being central to the show’s vision of law enforcement. Mullan is particularly chilling as Matt Mitcham, a thuggish patriarch whose toxic masculinity has corroded his two sons. Other excellent performances include Hunter’s GJ, the commune’s intense guru; Wright’s Johnno Mitcham, who is more vulnerable and haunted than Griffin; and Joe’s Tui, who transcends mere victimhood through fierce independence and quiet dignity. Setting such challenging issues as rape culture, institutional corruption and racial inequality in a seemingly idyllic New Zealand town, Top of the Lake shows that, like the demon heart that Maori legend places in the local lake, Laketop’s surface beauty hides dark and ongoing violence.