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You should really be watching Top of the Lake right now

Seriously, why aren’t you watching Top of the Lake right now? It’s written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee and it has Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter and Faramir and that guy who plays the really pretty beast from the CW version of Beauty and the Beast, on in this he has a bunch of tattoos and a real script.

Top of the Lake is a Sundance Channel production, and it’s available in Canada via the Sony PlayStation Network, and probably some other outlets I don’t know about. I heard about it online and we gave it a shot, and were both instantly mesmerized. The story is about Robin Griffin a Sydney detective on leave to care for her mother back home, who has cancer. Doing so means returning to the small town where she grew up, and to the lake where her father drowned. While there, Robin finds out that a 12-year-old girl named Tui Mitcham is pregnant. Tui’s father Matt is the backbone of the town’s economy: he makes all the meth, does all the killing, and collects all the rent. He’s like the Al Swearengen of Laketop, but instead of a saloon he owns a beautiful spread of land aptly named Paradise that he defends just as viciously as his many dogs defend his A-frame home. But then Paradise, like his daughter, is lost to him — a group of women chopper in some shipping containers, and a cult leader named GJ takes over. All of these parties converge at Laketop, where the secrets run as deep and cold as the water that gives the place its name.

Campion shoots each episode like a Western, taking advantage of the jaw-dropping New Zealand landscape to tell a story about how humanity can never be as beautiful as the environment it inhabits. In lesser hands, this story of a woman returning to her childhood home to settle scores and reclaim her identity while solving a child rape case would be the stuff of James Patterson, or Mary Higgins Clark. But Campion and Lee don’t write easy characters, or easy scenarios. Each one is as rough and hard and brutal as the bushland they come from. Robin, the heroine, is complicated and real. Tui, the victim, never treats herself like one. Even the story’s villains remain remarkably human and vulnerable, just as frail emotionally as they are morally.

It’s powerful stuff. If you miss Twin Peaks but wish it made more sense, or you wished The Killing left you more satisfied, this is the title for you.

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. I wanted to like it but gave up after two episodes – found it a bit tedious. Too much good TV out there to bother with something that doesn’t grab me. You mention The Killing – are you referring to the so-so US remake or the brilliant Danish original (Forbrydelsen)? Forbrydelsen should be at the top of everyone’s must see list – along with the original Swedish-Danish The Bridge. I thought ITV’s Broadchurch was much more gripping than Top of the Lake.

  2. I watched the whole series on Sundance. It was ass kicking and that scenery. I may be an old phart but I really appreciated this one.

  • Madeline Ashby… a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity,, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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