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Top of the Lake Season 1 - Review: "Elisabeth Moss is superb. Unmissable."

Top of the Lake Season 1 Review:

Ahead of the second Season of Top of the Lake, which is set to debut on UK television at 9pm tonight on BBC Two (in other words, under ten minutes after this review is scheduled to go live), I thought I'd revisit Top of the Lake's first season which came out in 2013 to near-universal critical acclaim, as it has all the ingredients for an awesome crime series that quickly established it as one of the best shows of the year that it was released n. And of course, I missed the hype when it first aired, like I did with most things up until recently, but catching up on the series in time for the new season has quickly established one thing, that is perhaps even more clear to audiences of both The Handmaid's Tale and Mad Men. Elisabeth Moss is quite possibly one of the best TV actors around right now, constantly delivering, putting her heart and soul into every episode that she's in. This review may as well be titled "Elisabeth Moss is awesome," because this first season certainly left that impression on me, and indeed, this series was one of the main reasons why I was so excited to get stuck into The Handmaid's Tale.

Taking place over the span of seven episodes, this show, set against the gorgeous backdrop of a small, remote area in New Zealand, follows the hunt for a missing twelve year old pregnant girl. The quest to find the girl sees Moss' Detective Robin Griffin hunt down every lead as she attempts to find the girl, pushing the character to the centre as she runs into the worst the lake and its residents have to offer. Helmed by Oscar-winning writer and director Jane Campion, the director has a track record of bringing powerful female characters to the screen and Robin Griffin is no exception, a fantastic character created here that is really fleshed out over the episode, thanks in part due to Moss' epic performance. Here Robin is a strong, well-developed female character with a fantastic arc, and due to the focus on characters over plot this show really shines the most when Robin is around. You'll want her to succeed and get behind her, and she's easily one of the best television Detectives we've seen in years, right up there with the likes of John Luther in terms of memorability and star power.

The supporting cast is fantastic too and Jane Campion's direction and script really gets the best out of them, with a varying bunch of great talent. David Wenham plays Al Parker, the old school Detective who gives young offenders a second chance at a cafe but by doing things by the books he serves as a foil to Robin despite his well meaning intentions, and then there's Peter Mullan's Matt Mitcham, the show's de facto leader of the town is a presence feared by all. An intimidating, complex character, Mitchum adds agency to the show in the hunt for the missing twelve year old girl, who goes by the name of Tui, and is far more complex and developed than the villain who a lesser show would write him as. The screentime given to Matt really helps flesh him out and make him more interesting. Matt's biggest rival interestingly is not Robin but instead Holly Hunter's GJ, a Swiss spiritual leader who shelters women whilst helping them to find themselves. Here, the three characters get the attention and development that they deserve and really thrive, making just as an impression on the audience as Robin does. There are shows that struggle to do more than one character well, yet this series is most certainly not one of them. Even the side characters get more development in their storylines than they would on other series, as everything is handled with incredible care.

The cinematography, direction and structure of the show is jaw-dropping. Along with Sense8 it's one of the best looking television shows I've ever seen, and the way Top of the Lake is filmed makes it better looking than most movies. It really captures the landscapes in the best possible way as the mystery unravels, and more than once you'll find yourself wondering just how the show has managed to look this good. Every shot is something to be savoured. It may not be the most original of shows in story material, but its attention to the female characters and cast really helps it stand out, leaving a distinctive and clear impression on the audience.

The dialogue itself is also refreshingly different from most straightforward American shows, exposition is sparse and it is used only when it needs to be. This added touch makes it something that fans of shows like The Wire will appreciate, the way the dialogue is handled shows a confident and experienced way of going about things. It's blunt when it needs to be blunt, and subtle when it needs to be. Top of the Lake does also deal with rape, which may be an off-putting subject matter to some, especially if you're worried as to how it will be handled, but don't worry. The show treats it with respect and care, looking at and exploring its consequences with excellent results, something that much like the dialogue, it does better than most other series out there.

For those used to the longer episode count that American network shows provide, don't worry. Top of the Lake's seven episode screentime allows for a more streamlined touch, much like Peaky Blinders, as this allows to cut out filler episodes entirely. Not an episode is wasted, and the series is all the better for it. It's easy to binge too, even if it can be hard viewing at times with its edgy subject matter, and can be devoured in a single sitting if you have nothing to do on a lazy weekend. And trust me, it's worth every second TV is Elisabeth Moss' world right now, and we're just living in it.

What did you think of the first season of Top of the Lake? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out the season 2 premiere on BBC 2 and BBC IPlayer in the UK. Episodes will be streamed on Hulu the day after they air for US viewers.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, Black Sails, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Preacher, The Mist, Star Wars Rebels, Silicon Valley and Veep for Spoiler TV and will be covering Castle Rock, Counterpart, Krypton, Marvel's New Warriors, Rise, Marvel's Runaways, Snowfall, Succession, Star Trek Discovery, and Trust. He also contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic. He also regularly watches and reviews films on Letterboxd, and you can find his ever-changing list of 300 favourite movies here.
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