I really wanted to like this show, but alas, it was not to be! I read a BIT about it’s ardently feminist viewpoint (it was co-written by Jane Campion, the New Zealand-based director who gained much acclaim in Hollywood with The Piano). I was interested in seeing David Wenham (also a New Zealander), who many of you know as Faramir in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Here, he plays a detective who somehow manages to dress well, live in fancy house, and sail on a boat.
The premise is interesting- Tui Mitchell, a 12 y.o. pregnant girl, leaves home w/o a word or note for her family. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss from The West Wing and Mad Men), who is visiting her ailing mother from Australia, gets on board this case, having special training w/ youth. Moss is simply miscast here- she’s the opposite of what I’d expect a cop to be, but she has a few nice scenes with Tui and her mother.
Top of the Lake has been compared with The Fall and Happy Valley, but it falls short for several reasons. Though the remote New Zealand setting can be beautiful, mysterious, and captivating, it doesn’t make up for the one-dimensional supporting characters and dialogue that often seems removed from everyday life. The presence of the guru-type figure, GJ (Holly Hunter), and her group of rag-tag followers doesn’t add much to the story.
As for those looking for romance, you’ll be disappointed, since Robin and her main love interest, Johnno (Thomas M. Wright, who is Australian), have very little chemistry together. We learn that they dated in high school; he’s also one of Tui’s older half-brothers. About 15 years ago, Robin and Johnno went to a dance together, shared a kiss, but then the night took on a horrible turn (especially for her). Robin’s personal history w/ a few of the (not so straight-laced) inhabitants of this insular community cause complications during the investigation.
Tui’s father, Matt Mitchell (Peter Mullan), is probably the most troubled/complicated characters of the series. You JUST don’t know what he’ll do next! Is he a villain or simply a hothead? Mullan (who is Scottish) is a talented actor, but I got the sinking feeling that he was TOO good for this show. As a few critics have written, men are NOT heroes in this story, or even tolerable. Almost every teen boy or man is a coward, violent domestic abuser, rapist, or potential rapist! There is a sense of foreboding throughout the episodes that just gets boring after a while. Worst of all, I just didn’t care about ANY of the characters! I guess this is what happens when a writer’s/director’s “vision” gets in the way of the story.