Why isn’t everyone watching Top of the Lake?



For fans of: Broadchurch, The Killing, The Returned

We are now on episode 4 of this fabulous 7 part mini-series in the UK, which is being broadcast on BBC 2 on Saturday nights. Viewing figures have apparently dropped to under 1 million, which is criminal for such an excellent piece of television.

The series was created, written and directed by Gerard Lee and Jane Campion, (director of The Piano and Portrait of a Lady) and stars Elizabeth Moss (the magnificent Peggy Olsen in Mad Men) and Holly Hunter.  Set in the fictional town of Laketop, New Zealand, it follows detective Robin Griffin in her investigation of the pregnancy, and subsequent disappearance, of a 12-year old girl, Tui Mitcham.  Robin grew up in Laketop, and as she delves deeper into the mystery of Tui’s disappearance she unearths some of the town’s skeletons as well as her own.

The tone of the show is somewhere between Silent Witness and Twin Peaks, with the detective drama being interspersed with some surreal side plots and oddball characters.

Every scene is shot with love, showcasing the desolate beauty of the New Zealand landscape, and adding to the sense of despair and isolation. However, if the stark beauty of the landscape makes you want to visit, the supporting characters will certainly make you change your mind. The locals to Laketop are a backward bunch of hill-billies and criminals, espousing wisdom such as “You’re a feminist? You might as well be a lesbian. No man would go near a feminist”. They are all ruled over by patriarch-to-the-max Matt Mitcham, played brilliantly by Peter Mullan (Trainspotting, Welcome to the Punch). Matt is Tui’s father, and one of the most terrifying characters to grace our screens in recent years, veering from eschewing charm and fatherly concern to bursts of violence and insanity. Mullan makes Matt Mitcham both magnetic and repellent, showing how he has the whole town in his grasp.

Elizabeth Moss has been nominated for an Emmy for her performance in the show, and it is a much deserved accolade. In fact, the series has received EIGHT Emmy nominations in total, including for best mini-series.

So we have an excellent cast, compelling storyline and some beautiful scenery to marvel at, so why the poor viewing figures?

Sadly, I feel it’s a combination of time slot and marketing. Many people who will have loved this are likely to be out on Saturday nights at 9pm, and may well not even have been aware of it’s existence. The promo trailers didn’t get across the otherworldliness of it all that mark it out so clearly from more run-of-the-mill police shows. This is far more Blue Velvet than Midsomer Murders. Finally, New Zealand just isn’t Scandinavian. If this had been set in Denmark the BBC4 Scandi-drama crowd would have been lapping it up.

So my suggestion is to get on iplayer and start watching it now. It’s truly compelling viewing.


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