Netflix Viewing Guide: Top of the Lake




If your summer is anything like mine, you’ve probably spent a good amount of time watching Netflix, distracting yourself from your poor life decisions.

What better way to avoid your post-college responsibilities than thousands of hours of streaming for only eight bucks a month? Phenomenal.

If you’re an experienced Netflix viewer, there’s a good chance you got all of the big shows out of the way by now (seriously watch Breaking Bad). You may very well be spending hours just looking at all of the different TV shows just wondering what to watch next.

Never fear, I got your back, sorta. I can at least tell you whether or not to watch 2013 Sundance Channel Miniseries “Top of the Lake” which I recently just finished up.

In the interest of getting through as many shows as possible before I start up school again in the Fall, I’ve opted for the shorter shows this summer rather than “The Wire” which I swear I’ll eventually finish (I won’t).

What better way to start, I figure, then Top of the Lake, the highly acclaimed miniseries which, at only seven episodes I would be able to breeze through?

Well now that I’ve finished it, I can confidently say that there was probably plenty of much better ways to spend seven hours…but let’s start from the top.

Top of the Lake ran on Sundance TV here in the US of A, and BBC2 in the U.K. It was created, written, and directed by Jane Campion, probably best known for being Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director on the 1993 film, “The Piano.”

The show starts “Mad Men” star Elizabeth Moss as Det. Robin Griffin, an Australian detective who returns to her hometown in New Zealand to visit her ailing mother and eventually gets wrapped up in the mysterious case of a missing 12 year old girl, who also happens to be pregnant.

If that sounds intriguing, then we agree. The problem is the show never quite lives up to its premise.

Shot in New Zealand, the best part of Top of the Lake for sure is the beautiful scenery and setting. The show follows Robin as she searches for the missing girl, Tui throughout her hometown of Top Lake.

The main suspect is the girls father Matt Mitcham, played by Peter Mullan. Mullan is a highlight of the show, doing a great job with the character of Matt, who is equal parts disturbing, powerful, and threatening, but also vulnerable.

Matt and his crew of sons have been laying waste to Top Lake for decades, and had a hand in the rape of Griffin’s character when she was a teen. Robin starts an affair and eventually a relationship with one of Matt’s sons Johnno which further intensifies Matt and Robin’s connection.

Without diving too much into the plot, as expected, things aren’t exactly what they seem and the show takes many twists and turns along the way in the search for Tui, as well as the investigation into who the father of the unborn child is.

The problem is, quite frankly, that the show is a drag to watch. A great comparison is “The Killing” which ran on AMC for three seasons. The show was never bad per say, the plot was interesting, the characters were well written and acted, and there were unexpected twists along the way, but holy hell was it boring.

It’s not surprising that critics loved “Top of the Lake” as it fills many of the criteria that a critic would love. For the average viewer however, the show is just flat out tedious. It’s never a good sign when I’m pausing Netflix halfway through an episode to see how much time I have left that I have to watch.

The dialogue is often clunky, but even if it was well written, you would never know it as the characters never speak loud enough to hear it. The show was much more enjoyable halfway through for me when I figured out I had to turn on the subtitles to catch half the things that were going on.

The supporting characters also make this show difficult to handle. Robin’s boss Det. Al Parker is a sex obsessed creep who also happens to be really shitty as his job. Holly Hunter is on this show for some reason, as the laughable GJ, a cult leader (I guess?) who’s group of followers, all middle aged women have moved into Matt’s land in a spot they call “Paradise.”



I wouldn’t hesitate to say that GJ is my least favorite character of this show, and might rank in my top 25 worst of all time. First off she is totally irrelevant to the overall plot. Her only purpose is to sitr up Matt’s crew and give “advise” to the character seeking her spiritual leadership.  Those advise scenes are horrendous. It’s as if someone stole a college freshman’s philosophy paper and turned it into a screenplay.

You can tell it’s Campion’s way of trying to address issues she holds dear like feminism, gender, religion, power, death etc, but the way they go about them is ridiculous. Hunter acts like she’s not even trying to put any sort of depth into the character at all. In the season finale, (no spoilers) GJ tells Robin  “Are you on your knees? Now die to yourself, to your idea of yourself. What’s left? Find out.” Don’t worry, it makes even less sense in context.

Moss meanwhile does what she can. As someone who hasn’t watched “Mad Men” yet, (I’m sorry, okay?) this was my first real exposure to Moss as an actress, and I came away thinking she was capable of carrying a show. Robin is the only character on the show worth identifying with (which is good since she’s the protagonist) and Moss uses her screen time well to show Robin’s personal demons as they begin to reveal themselves.

But ultimately, she can’t save this show from drowning in its own listlessness. For a show that’s only seven episodes, you almost have to try to move the plot along as slowly as Campion does. Like I mentioned, the dialogue is highly questionable, and many of the characters are write offs. Plus, even as the twists do reveal themselves, they’re often headscracthers, instead of OMG’s, if you get what I’m saying. The final twist is the worst of all, but I’ll avoid any more spoilers.

You could do worse on Netflix I’m sure, but whether you’re looking to find a new time killer on Netflix, or  find a challenging show you can really bite into, Top of Lake is neither.

Watch if you like: New Zealand, Jane Campion, Elizabeth Moss, watching shows with the subtitles on, slow burners, a female lead, accents. 

Avoid if you like: Crisp dialogue, plot lines that make sense, excitement, shows without a lot of twists, american accents 

Final Grade: C




2 thoughts on “Netflix Viewing Guide: Top of the Lake

  1. I watched the first season of “The Killing” and really had a hard time getting into it. I’ve heard a lot of comparisons between that and this and that’s really what’s been holding me back from watching it. Maybe one day.

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