If you need more evidence that cream of the crop dramatic narrative lives in series TV these days and not movies, look no further than the miniseries Top of the Lake. The latest project from New Zealand auteur Jane Campion (if you’re not a film nerd you still remember The Piano right?), Top of the Lake features Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) trying find Tui (Jacqueline Joe) a tween age girl that goes missing after discovering she is pregnant. Tui claims to have no idea who the father is before she goes disappearing into the woods. All the clues point towards Matt (Peter Mullan), Tui’s own father and local big man with as many criminal connections as illegitimate children. Matt’s sway over the rural community is challenged by the appearance of G.J. (Holly Hunter – oh yeah I remember The Piano now), a perplexing guru who has set up all female commune on an idyllic lakeside plain, the traditional stomping ground of Matt and his family. Detective Griffin is stuck in the middle. She has affinities for G.J. and her followers but she has tasked herself with solving the case by the book – not only to rescue Tui and her baby, but to spite a patriarchal police force whose good old boys ties with Matt and his gang reek of corruption.
There’s evil in the woods. The lake and the wilderness are as much a part of the story as any of the human characters. It is nothing short of Twin Peaks New Zealand, but where Twin Peaks’ palette is warm, Top of the Lake’s palette is cool. Where Twin Peaks is ironic, Top of the Lake is realistic. Since Mad Men devolved into Dallas, I know I’ve been dying to see Elizabeth Moss go toe to toe with sexist meatheads again. Peter Mullan’s turn as Matt, a conflicted ball of neuroses about to burst at the seams, is the tightest, most engrossing performance of a royal baddest dad since Tony Soprano. (Anyone who thought I was going to write “Walter White” can go watch Sons of Anarchy while drinking beer out of a can.) With astonishing cinematography usually reserved for feature films and powerhouse performances, Top of the Lake deserves to be at the top of your holds queue.