Before I tell you why you should watch the BBC 7-part miniseries “Top of the Lake” — available in full on Netflix streaming right now — I’ll tell you why you might not want to. It’s a tad depressing––okay, maybe really depressing, and there’s a whole child rape/pregnancy plotline in it, so it’s not for everyone.
But if you like compelling, well-written drama with incredible acting (and magical scenery), you’ve gotta give it a try. The story, produced by BBC and originally airing on the Sundance Channel, centers on the attempted suicide, rape and disappearance of 12-year-old Tui Mitcham, who lives in secluded Laketop, New Zealand. Tui’s family is embroiled in the local drug industry, and everyone’s got a past, including Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss), the tireless detective who’s working to solve Tui’s case. As Robin contends with Tui’s mystery, her father Matt butts heads with enigmatic guru G.J. (played by Holly Hunter in a striking grey wig) and her band of female followers, who’ve taken over a plot of land named, ironically, Paradise.
After the jump, 7 reasons to check out “Top of the Lake.”
1. Holly Hunter Holly Hunter Holly Hunter: The “Raising Arizona” actress plays the enigmatic guru-like character G.J., who leads a band of damaged women on a retreat. G.J.’s followers look to her for direction, but she doesn’t seem particularly invested in them or interested in giving them guidance. “G.J. is a psychological, metaphysical genius,” said Hunter of her character. “She reside[s] somewhere between animation and death.”
2. Elisabeth Moss is a phenomenal actress: We all know this. We’ve seen her on “Mad Men” killing it as Peggy Olsen, but as detective Robin Griffin, she offers up a deeply resonant and moving performance, of a woman still reckoning with her own painful past, trying to balance her desire to solve Tui’s case with her need to take care of her dying mother. As the plot unfolds we see Robin transform from quiet and contained to explosive and unhinged to focused and determined.
3. New Zealand is totally gorgeous: I was lucky enough to take a trip to NZ back in 2009, and was blown away by the landscape. It’s otherworldly in its beauty, and “Top of the Lake” deftly highlights the country’s mysterious mountains and lakes. Shot in and around Queenstown’s lake district, the show definitely captures the spooky, mystical vibe of the region. The setting is an evocative, moody, essential part of the story.
4. Actually? It’s funny, too: Hidden among the central mystery of Tui’s pregnancy and disappearance, there are moments of wry humor. Like when one of G.J.’s followers, Anita, explains to Tui’s gruff father Matt, that she’s mourning the death of her pet monkey/companion Brad. Or when Anita and Matt later find themselves alone in the woods on Ecstasy.
5. There’s a hot love interest: Australian actor Thomas M. Wright plays Johnno Mitcham, Robin’s love interest with a sticky, confusing past. He is really, really good-looking and reminds me of boyfriends I had in the ’90s. There’s some steamy sex scenes, too, and Elizabeth Moss’s boob, if you’re into that sort of thing.
6. Jane Campion wrote and directed the series: Jane Campion directed “The Piano”! And “Bright Star”! She’s incredible. “Occasionally someone is open and trusting and gives you a chance to show that you can do something different. It’s hard to find that sometimes as an actor when you want to try different things,” said Elizabeth Moss of working with Campion. “I’m forever grateful to her.”
7. It’s a surprisingly female-centric story: Between Robin’s struggle to face the past, to Tui’s break from her family, to the women attending G.J.’s Paradise camp, “Top of the Lake” puts women at the center of the story.