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July 13, 2014 | by  | in Arts TV |
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Top of the Lake

At the risk of sounding like a person who actually knows what they’re talking about, I’ll say this is the best television show I’ve seen so far. Aired last year, written by Jane Campion (absolute Big Dog) and Gerard Lee – you might’ve seen Sweetie, which they worked on together back in 1989. I guess they’re sort of mates.

I’d like to preemptively apologise as well. Given this is a non-professional role, the calibre of this review may in fact be a record low, loose as a goose, etc, because I’m currently holidaying in a distant land – also, a bee stung me today and it’s all itchy and club-foot-lookin’. Also, looks like Djokovic is about to win, which pisses me off. LOL, just saw Bear Grylls in a suit at Wimbledon. Right, to business.

This show fits into the ‘new aesthetic’ we see in other shows such as True Detective and the like. ‘New aesthetic’ being a non-industry term I’m trying out which describes the movement away from traditional, periodic television, to something more rounded in a narrative sense. Again, we’re ostensibly served up something familiar enough – the cop show – and instead, what we end up seeing is the familiar format being totally reshaped. Really, this thing is about real people and relationships. It’s sort of like Broadchurch for smart people, though that makes me sound like a massive tosser. And it’s not a true analogy either. See below.

Campion herself says she wanted to tell this story through the television medium as though it were a novel. And this is sort of what I’m talking about – lots of these new wide-screen high-def setups are actually the products of novellas. I haven’t done the classic ‘close rewatch’ thing properly yet, but the episode structure works as a gentle parabola and, dare I say it, is almost liquidly languid. Perhaps we’re getting a little carried away with prose here.

Filmed in Glenorchy (near Queenstown, to the layman), the visual aspect of the show is pretty stunning. And if you’ve been doing any reading or watching of New Zealand texts ever, then you know all about the Dark But Beautiful Landscape thing. Like many such texts, there’s a focus on the connection between the people and the land, and isolation within that. This is particularly emphasised by the small community the characters live in. The setting also contributes to the rich atmosphere throughout – that’s the thing about the hue, too.

Part of it’s the acting: Elisabeth Moss does a pretty reasonable Kiwi-but-workin’-in-Sydney accent. She does some weird stuff with ‘o’ sounds when she’s stressed, but for the most part it’s solid. Her character, Robin, is a pretty awesome example of a woman fighting within a system of male hegemony – I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s a cop in a small town. A few of the actors are Australian. You probably can’t tell about the actors if you’re giving out Emmys (eight nominations), and I don’t reckon it’s much of a thing given that there’s no pretence as to absolute realism with television (or any televisual experience, if we’re completely honest). Bunch of other quasi-famous people you’ll prob recognise.

But really, I think the key issue raised by the text revolves around women, particularly single women, and the way their ‘roles’ play out against the abusive patriarchy. Really, the only positive male characters are Turangi and Jamie, perhaps Johnno – all outsiders in their own ways. By the finish, it’s not so much a solution the texts offers as the forceful reminder that things like rape culture can’t be solved on a case-by-case basis. And while Tui’s case is solved in the end, the implication is that things are not, and can never under the current structures be, resolved. And at this stage, retrospective to a viewing of the show, you can see some methods for resistance are proffered. That’s what someone like John Key needs to think about when he does his ‘not all men’ interview. Also, I like to think about the lake as a metaphor in the context of this discussion, though we can’t really get into any of this properly without spoilers, and I think everyone should watch this show fresh, so no spoilers.

To refer back to Campion slightly randomly: she says one of the focusses was on women and their identity, and about how GJ’s women’s camp (named Paradise) is a place for female veterans of love and romance – they’re old and unfuckable (her word), and once you’re that, you’re outside ‘normal femininity’. This is pretty huge stuff, probably not within the realm of a review of this kind, but I just thought I’d raise that to illustrate a bit more of the discourse this text has generated.

The ending got some mixed reviews. Some people thought it was a bit over the top (of the Lake?). Nah.

Anyway: watch this. It’s an important text. Ciao.


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