BBC's 'Top of the Lake' proof that there's good television out there

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comAugust 2, 2013 

TOP OF THE LAKE

"Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss plays Detective Robin Griffin in BBC drama "Top of the Lake."

The popular television landscape is littered with missed opportunities; shows that were promising in concept or in their initial execution but later failed to deliver on the potential that initially won the hearts and minds of critics and fans alike.

FX's "Rescue Me" had a chance to go down as one of the best dramatic series of the last 25 years -- and then they aired four more seasons of the show in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that anything could, in fact, happen to any character, no matter how absurd.

I evangelized to anyone who would listen about NBC's comic book-inspired "Heroes," its first season so wildly entertaining and fun that subsequent seasons could only get better, right? Not quite. The writers' strike of 2007 halted the show's progress and once rebooted, "Heroes" never regained its footing and groaned under the weight of clunky, convoluted storylines that eventually made the show unwatchable.

And don't get me started on AMC's "The Killing," a crime drama based loosely on a popular Danish show whose first few episodes drew critical praise and which I told friends were like episodes of "Law and Order" directed by David Fincher. For the first time since "The Wire" went off the air, American television had a smart procedural crime drama that didn't have a song by The Who as its theme song.

But season one came and went without a resolution to the show's central mystery, causing critics to turn on the show, some with great vitriol, and its once loyal audience lost its mind. Season two premiered to subpar ratings and by the time we found out who killed Rosie Larsen, few were still watching and fewer still cared.

But from the ashes of "The Killing" rose "Top of the Lake," a miniseries co-produced by BBC Two in the UK, UKTV in Australia and New Zealand and Sundance Channel in the United States.

Shot and set against the gorgeous mountainscape of New Zealand, the show follows Detective Robin Griffin (played brilliantly by Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men") as she navigates a small New Zealand town to sort out who has impregnated 12-year-old Tui Mitcham, daughter to notorious local thug Matt Mitcham, who is portrayed with an effective yet restrained menace by Scottish actor Peter Mullan.

Tui later goes missing and we're off to the races.

Put simply, "Top of the Lake" is everything "The Killing" should have been -- smart, concise, compelling, well-acted, well-written and, most of all, well-conceived, a testament to writers/creators Gerard Lee and Jane Campion, who famously directed the Academy Award nominated film, "The Piano."

Beautifully shot, it'd be all too easy to say that New Zealand, as was the case in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, steals the show and distracts from the action on the screen, but the real star is Moss, whose deft portrayal of the determined Griffin appropriately earned her an Emmy nomination.

The series itself also is nominated.

Lovers of crime thrillers or just plain good television will find "Top of the Lake" to be well worth their time.

The series is available for download on iTunes and is streaming on Netflix.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.

The trailer for "Top of the Lake"

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