Continuing to expand into scripted television, Sundance Channel premieres the series “Top of the Lake” on Monday, March 13th. The seven part series features a host of top notch talent, who collectively have a trunkload of awards.
The series is written and directed by Oscar winner Jane Campion ("The Piano," "Portrait of a Lady"), and stars Screen Actors Guild winner and three time Emmy nominated actress Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men") and Oscar winner Holly Hunter ("Broadcast News," "The Piano").
Set in New Zealand, “Top of the Lake” is a powerful and haunting mystery that centers on the disappearance of a 12-year-old named Tui. During the investigation, Detective Robin Griffin (Moss) collides with Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan), Tui’s father, a local drug lord, and GJ (Hunter), a guru at a local women’s camp. As the case unfolds, Robin will find that her limits are tested, sending her on a journey of self-discovery.
Opening with a image of the young Tui standing chess deep in a lake with clenched fists piercing the water, the eerie drama quickly sets a tone that’s carried throughout each successive episode beginning with the first revelation, which happens within the minutes after the credits have rolled, that’s disturbing to say the least. The twists just keep coming from there.
And the ups and downs are not relegated to the actually storyline but also bleed over into how the viewer relates to the characters and their subsequent actions. In the first two episodes the character development might seem to be moving at a snail’s pace, but it’s all a sly set up for what transpires in the third installment when an unexpected bomb drops.
The drama is stark and often startling with layers of plot points slowly unfolding. There certainly is no hurry-up-and-reveal nor is there any rhyme or reason to the way that each turn is taken, but that doesn’t mean that there is no rhythm to the way the story is told, which is exactly what makes the tale that much more compelling.
While Holly Hunter is listed in a starring role, her character GJ is rarely seen in the early episodes of the show and to say that she appears as fans have never seen her before is definitely not an understatement. But, as is always the case with Hunter, it’s clear that she’s all in with this role as she gives her character just the right mixture of aloofness, tension and quiet mystery that are necessary to portray the anointed spiritual leader of a female empowerment group.
As the central character, Moss proves that she’s an incredible chameleon as she shrugs off her most famous role, 60s ad exec Peggy Olson on “Mad Men,” to so believably inhabit the role of Detective Griffin that it’s chilling. In the first few episodes, Robin definitely seems driven, but yet a bit emotionless, but soon, although not too soon, it’s evident that that stalwart front is just a very fragile façade. When it’s revealed what exactly lies underneath that carefully constructed veneer, everything changes, both onscreen and within the relationship the viewer has built with Robin. And, it’s worth every minute.
Overall,”Top of the Lake” is a welcome departure from formulaic scripted television fare, offering viewers a unique style of visual storytelling that is, rightfully so, often associated with independent film. In light of this, the airing of the series on Sundance Channel seems more than appropriate.
“We’re elated to have the opportunity to work with Jane Campion and debut such a stunning series, with such high caliber actors, on Sundance Channel,” says Sarah Barnett, General Manager, and Sundance Channel. “‘Top of the Lake’ depicts a bold and unique story, which fits perfectly into the network’s slate of daring, original programming.”
The network’s first scripted project, “Carlos”, won the Golden Globe for Outstanding Mini-series in 2011. Come award season, “Top of the Lake” very well could earn the same honor, as well as many others.
“Top of the Lake” premieres with two episodes on Monday, March 18th beginning at 9e/p.