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Sundance Channel Series Preview: Top of the Lake [VIDEO] 

Parisa Taghizadeh/Sundance Channel
Photo Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh/Sundance Channel

Warning: This is a pre-review so there will be some spoilers.

Long before Kathryn Bigelow won her Oscar, Jane Campion was the gold standard for women directors in film. She’s turned her attention to a longer form, with Top of the Lake, a seven-episode dramatic television series launching tonight on Sundance Channel (following a big-screen premiere at this winter’s Sundance Film Festival). Set in Campion’s home country of New Zealand, her pedigree plus the international cast make this a significant mid-season entry.

A symbolic and thematic cousin to The Killing, which y’all know was my summer addiction for two years, Top of the Lake is mysterious, unsettling, and off-kilter with a smattering of dark humor–and worth setting the DVR for. The central plot device is the disappearance of Tui Mitcham, a pregnant 12-year old who also happens to be the daughter of a dangerous and unhinged local drug lord. What’s different here is that we meet Tui first, when she’s still accounted for and her pregnancy is revealed. We wouldn’t necessarily know this was going to be a missing person story if the previews hadn’t told us.

Parisa Taghizadeh/Sundance Channel
Photo Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh/Sundance Channel

Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss, burying her American accent, is Robin Griffin, the detective home on leave to help her ailing mom who’s pulled into working the case. Peter Mullan is Matt Mitcham, Tui’s father, who has children by various women and a temper that aligns with his illicit business interests. David Wenham is the local detective, Al Parker, who is congenial with Matt and has Robin foisted on his investigation. Holly Hunter is the enigmatic GJ, who has established a women’s commune on land that’s long been in Mitcham’s family and which he’s reluctant to relinquish. Also popping up is Beauty and the Beast‘s Jay Ryan as Matt’s son and Tui’s half-brother, Mark. Sidebar: Despite rocking some serious tats and a partially shaved head, Ryan wasn’t as ripped here as he is now as Vincent, and it gives him a surprisingly softer edge–so far.

Parisa Taghizadeh/Sundance Channel
Photo Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh/Sundance Channel

The show is stunning to look at, and Campion is unflinching at juxtaposing the beautiful landscapes against their rough inhabitants. The pilot episode works in a bit of a wandering fashion as it sets up the rhythms and cadences of the characters and flits back and forth between Paradise, the home of the commune at the water’s edge, Tui’s introduction to Robin and her unwillingness to ID who got her pregnant, Robin’s uneasy return home, and the simmering razor’s edge existence that is the Mitcham compound. In other words, this isn’t your standard procedural, which is a good thing. (Note: Sundance can get away with language and whatnot, so this is more HBO than AMC). Everybody is very good, and I’m intrigued to find out what’s next.

Top of the Lake will run seven episodes this spring. You can catch the first two episodes tonight on Sundance Channel beginning at 9/8c and then repeating throughout the week. Here’s a sneak peek. There are also several clips online at Sundance Channel’s website.

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  1. Kathy

    Will Sundance repeat season one of Top of the Lake prior to season two?

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