One of the best shows on Hulu that no one’s talking about (yet) might be Top of the Lake. Coming off the buzzworthy success of Handmaid’s Tale, Elisabeth Moss stars in this crime drama that becomes every bit a personal journey as a crime that brings Moss’s character back to her hometown somewhere in New Zealand to find a missing pregnant 12 year old.
If you can stomach through the first few episodes which offer some awkward pacing and rather vague, confusing character interactions, there’s a darkness about the show that keeps you wondering who to trust. In the first season, many of the characters and side plots are a bit underdeveloped but it comes together with some really beautiful scenery (The Bush) and compelling main story.
What I love about Top of the Lake is its unapologetic approach to difficult subject matter - it’s raw and intense but not gratuitous with what it chooses to show or portray unlike a lot of shows lately. It has some restraint and leaves a lot of tension in what’s implied.
Both seasons 1 and 2 of the show center around themes of sexual assault - and season 2 specifically dives into the world of sex work and trafficking. Not going to lie, it’s heavy stuff.
What is weirdly appealing about this show is how it deals with mood and tone. The whole thing seems to happen in a haze. Underneath a cloud. Guilt. Shame. Secrets. Whatever it is feels like it puts a gray filter over everything. Even the sea and even happy moments seem to be shrouded in night or undermined by something foreboding. We worry about their happiness and for some reason know it's short lived. The music can sometimes be distracting to the point where my husband thought it seemed like The X Files with no aliens. I don’t mind it. The cut scenes are often abrupt which add to the uneasy, moody feel of the show. The landscapes juxtaposed against murder and secrecy remind me a lot of Broadchurch which I loved as a series. We build and wait for things to go from bad to worse and then slightly less bad. It might be my love for the morbid and gothic but I'm kind of obsessed with the show.
Season 2 is turning out to be much better than the first--largely due to the addition of Gwendoline Christie (the actress who plays Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones) as a rookie cop and Nicole Kidman as an out of touch mom at odds with her teenage daughter. Both show some great range that differs from some of their normal roles and I love it. The rest of the ensemble cast and character development has improved, alleviating some of the issues I had with the early episodes.
The show overall seems to be haunted. Not by ghosts but each character is haunted by their past or their secrets that there’s so much said between dialogue in the awkward pauses and cold stares. It’s all pretty beautifully complex and I’d recommend it as your next binge.