When this series opens, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Scandi noir, the first minute packing in the genre’s tropes, with a misty, moody setting, artistic shots of barren landscapes, and a lone girl mysteriously making her way to a lake, only to wade in fully clothed and disappear. But we’re not in the far reaches of Norway here, in fact, we’re in another hemisphere entirely – the home of the Kiwis.
The series takes place in New Zealand in a small town called Laketop, where the young girl, Tui Mitcham, is discovered standing in the lake. After being rescued, its discovered that 12-year-old Tui is five months pregnant, but when asked who had raped her, she writes the name on a piece of paper, however when they read it, it says “no one.” So, we’re going to need a flashy, Dale Cooper-esque figure to come and solve this mystery. However, going with that sombre, moody vibe that we were on about earlier, we couldn’t possibly have someone as eccentric and kooky as the Twin Peaks lead, so instead they’ve wrangled in Elisabeth Moss, to play the cold but badass female detective, Robin Griffin.
And she’s brilliant. Fans of Mad Men will be pleased to see Moss once again bossing a role in which she plays a woman working in a male-dominated field, and once again she delivers a class performance, subtle and refined. We learn that Robin has returned home from her new life in Australia, to look after her poorly mum, but she soon becomes entangled in this mystery case, whilst also seemingly battling an apparent trauma that occurred during her Laketop childhood.
That’s unsurprising, when you meet some of these local characters, the worst among them appearing to be Tui’s dad Matt, a gun-loving lout. Then there’s also the commune of women who have appeared on a hill at the top of the lake, and the sleazy local copper, Al Parker. All of these figures get wrapped up in the mystery of Tui’s pregnancy, as Robin attempts to crack the case.
This gripping series is perfect for anyone who loves a good crime thriller, and season two is just as good, moving the drama to Sydney and following the case of a suitcase full of human remains that washes up on Bondi beach. But with both seasons written and directed by the brilliant – and Oscar-winning – Jane Campion, we’d be wrong to expect anything but excellence.
And that’s exactly what we get – the series is stunning, with gorgeous landscapes lacing through the entire thing. The characters too, are well-developed and thoughtfully complex, really homing in on the small-town vibe of the first season. But above all, the mystery is utterly gripping, so much so that we’d be amazed if you manage to restrain yourself, and not binge watch the whole thing in a weekend. But then again, why hold yourself back when you can devour such a great bit of telly? We won’t judge, promise.
Neither will The Guardian’s David Renshaw, it seems, with him calling this an “intriguing and boundary-pushing story… This is a programme as much about these subjects as it is a crime drama.” In The Telegraph, Serena Davies says “There’s a lot going on in this drama. It’s funny, poignant, sinister and consistently gripping,” adding that it is also “flawlessly beautiful.” And The Independent’s Gerard Gilbert calls Moss “captivating,” whilst The Times’s Andrew Billen praises the addition of Nicole Kidman, calling her “combative, articulate, dangerous.”
First shown July 2013. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.