Two key Spinoff writers Alex Casey and Joseph Moore share a dirty little secret: they’ve never seen any of the defining ‘important’ TV shows of our time. They launched Catch Up Club to save them (and possibly you). This week’s show is Jane Campion’s chilling NZ miniseries Top of the Lake. //
Alex: Top of the mornin’ to ye! Top of the Lake to ye!
Joseph: Top of the Lake to you too!
Alex: I gotta say, this is the most uneasy watch yet. Had you heard about the show before you watched it?
Joseph: I knew OF Top of the Lake. I knew my mum liked it, maybe. And that Kip who lives around the corner from me was in it
Alex: I knew that is was popular with a nameless faceless mass on twitter at some vague time
and I knew that Jane Campion was involved. Therefore I assumed the lake was mostly going to be used for drownings. Spoiler alert: I was dead right.
Joseph: There was at least one drowning in that first episode.
Alex: And one attempted.
Joseph: So, what’s that, 1.5 drownings all up? Is this the fanciest of the fancy shows we’ve watched so far? It’s all so beautiful.
Alex: I definitely agree. Almost like every single shot is taken from an amazingly well-put-together New Zealand tourism brochure. Bar the drownings. And the dead dog.
Joseph: People should shut up about Lord of the Rings imo, and get chatting about Top of the Lake. Wellington Airport should have a giant Elizabeth Moss in it
Alex: How good is she? And also, who would have thought we’d have such C.U.C (catch up club) crossover so early on?
Joseph: We had crossover before we had time to get used to the acronym! She is excellent, convincing enough accent too.
Alex: Is it the best non New Zealander doing a Kiwi-who-has-spent-some-time-in-Australia accent ever?
Joseph: Top five at least. I felt very uneasy watching a lot of this, it’s not ideal 6am viewing (everyone else watches shows at 6am because they have to do a blog about them later on, right?)
Alex: I don’t really think there’s a good time to watch it – if I’m honest. I know this because I watched it in increments over several days at various times. I felt vaguely sick all of the times. It definitely hammers home that horrible dark tone reserved strictly for stories about troubled New Zealand children. Aka almost the entire NZ back catalogue. Actually, not troubled children. Just troubled everyone. Everyone has so many troubles.
Joseph: Everybody’s harbouring stuff in this show right? Like, there is a subplot of a commune for women “who have felt pain”… and they have probably felt the least pain in the whole show. Absolutely no-one is okay.
Alex: Yeah, it’s a very grim portrait. I find the commune subplot incredibly weird. And not just because it’s a weird concept, I found it a little hard to grasp the sincerity of it. If that makes sense. It didn’t feel real.
Joseph: It did seem the least engaging plot.
Alex: You go from this very gritty situation involving the sexual assault of a child and all this terrible terrible stuff, and nek minnit Robyn Malcolm’s bombing along in a trucker cap handing out biscuits.
Joseph: It’s like sexual assault of child / gang members drowning a guy / domestic violence / some ladies live in shipping containers cos they sad.
Alex: And some lady whinging about eating too many licorice allsorts.
Joseph: And Robyn Malcolm doing a kind of jarring American accent.
Alex: Is it intentionally trying to be jarring I wonder? Like, you have this pristine landscape and then suddenly there’s the shipping container commune plonked right in the middle there. I wonder if they are supposed to come across as jarring and alien to the audience as they are to the people at “the lake” and the landscape itself?
Joseph: This show certainly gets off on being unsettling, and I guess there is nothing more unsettling than following a discussion of statutory rape with Robyn Malcolm chatting about a monkey.
Alex: As an audience member, you are never comfortable. Ahh whats this? A friendly realtor enjoying a lovely fishing trip? BAM kill him. Aww, an orphan dog to lighten the mood? BAM kill it. Is he even a realtor?
Joseph: I think so – one who lives a caravan. No one lives in a bloody house in this show! In the town of “Toplake”. Great name for a town they spent ages coming up with after naming the show.
Alex: Maybe no one wants to settle in a place where you are 80% likely to be dead or near a dead thing every single day?
Joseph: I guess not. I really liked watching a show where i could play the classic “recognise the New Zealand actor” game, but to not have the show be generally terrible.
Alex: Yeah, that’s always quite rewarding. So Robin (Elizabeth Moss) is the main character right, leading the search for the missing girl? But dang, that chick has got some MAJOR unidentified baggage. Did you get any hint of what it was? All I got was something involving someone called Sarge? Serj? Raj?
Joseph: I heard Sarge, like from the army. Maybe there’s a plot about an army coming? Maybe the whole army is dead?
Alex: Maybe the army are all…Mad Men
Joseph: All I know is that we have five more episodes of endlessly bleak happenings to go.
Alex: And I am looking forward to them, will you keep watching? I definitely think it’s the kind of affecting show that needs to be rinsed out immediately after with a light hearted episode of, say, Agent Anna.
Joseph: This is the show i’ve most immediately wanted to continue with. Apart from slight reservations about the Holly Hunter commune subplot which I’m sure will make sense eventually. It seems pretty incredible. Maybe I’m not hanging in the right circles, but it genuinely surprises me that NZ isn’t going on about this show as much as it could be. We normally don’t shut up this sort of thing!
Alex: Yeah, I believe it went largely unnoticed. Not overseas, but here in the mainstream at least. Apparently it played on UK TV for some reason?
Joseph: “This isn’t a re-run of The Two Ronnies!” – people watching UKTV
Alex: I think if this had been on TV1 on a Sunday night, the nation would be screaming about this show. Considering our largest newspaper ran a top ten list of times NZ has been mentioned in films, it’s underexposure very bizarre.
Joseph: New Zealand gets mentioned SO MANY times in this show.
Alex: It should be on the front page of The Herald EVERY DAY
Joseph: rename it: The Toplake Herald
Alex: Weather: cold. Obituaries: many. PS How are your other shows going?
Joseph: Bad. I think I keep preferring the new show we watch, and put the other one on the backburner
May this cycle continue forever.
Alex: Well I am proud to report that I am actually up to episode five of House of Cards!
Joseph: Wow! Congrats, how is it?
Alex: Kevin Spacey started using a weird steampunk wooden rowing machine.
Joseph: Man I gotta get cracking.
Alex: But honestly I think I’ve been swayed to row on over to the Top of the Lake for a little bit.
Joseph: Don’t drown!
Alex: If I do there’s always that trusty local rescue dog – oh wait – he’s dead!
Next week will be watching S01E01 of Justified, also available here on Lightbox
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.