Writer-director Jane Campion's seven-part miniseries “Top of the Lake” is easily one of the best television dramas of the past few years, a return to form for the New Zealand-born director of “The Piano” and “Sweetie.” It is also a remarkable showcase for Elizabeth Moss, an indication that there are deep dramatic reserves behind the actress' stellar work as Peggy Olson on “Mad Men.” Top of the Lake,” set in a gorgeous mountainous corner of New Zealand, digs into the moral rot beneath the pretty surface. Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) plays a detective who returns to her hometown at the seeming end of the earth when a 12-year-old girl turns up pregnant and then goes missing.
Just looking at the bones of “Top of the Lake,” it seems at first-blush like a variation on AMC's version of “The Killing”: a female detective investigates the disappearance of an adolescent girl. But as Grantland's Andy Greenwald wrote last week, “Saying ‘Top of the Lake' is a smarter version of ‘The Killing' would be like calling a Harley-Davidson a smarter version of a Big Wheel.”
Moss (Peggy Olson on “Mad Men”) plays Robin Griffin, a Sydney, Australia police detective on leave in her native New Zealand to take care of her ill mother, and is pressed into service when 12-year-old Tui Mitcham is brought into the local police station, traumatized and pregnant. The unfolding story takes many unexpected turns and explores them all with equally unexpected originality as Tui goes missing and Robin uncovers the underbelly of the New Zealand interior. In this beautiful untamed world, an ad hoc shelter for traumatized women, built from discarded shipping containers, is operated like a cult by GJ (Hunter), and Tui's father, a murderous Scot named Matt Mitcham (the utterly amazing Peter Mullen), lives free and wild with the assistance of corrupt police.
Considering the middling-to-toxic reviews conferred on Netflix's most recent original series, Eli Roth's supernatural melodrama “Hemlock Grove,” “Top of the Lake” will be a much better choice for discriminating viewers. And given the Sundance Channel's relatively small viewership compared to its sister channel, AMC, hopes are high that “Top of the Lake” will receive the post-cable following it richly deserves.