I’ve been spending a lot of time watching British television programming over the last little while, so in the interest of broadening horizons, here’s a rundown of what has been occupying small screens across the pond.
While it is true this was actually a co-production between BBC Two, Australia, New Zealand and the United States (it actually premiered as a four-hour screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival), I say close enough because I want to include it here. Top of the Lake excels beyond the usual restraints of the television medium in a number of ways. Being shot in New Zealand, the filmmakers smartly used the locale to its full potential, often simultaneously displaying both the beauty and danger of the surroundings.
However, as striking as all that was, nature took a back seat to some wonderfully skillful performances. It was great to see Elizabeth Moss outside of Mad Men as Det. Robin Griffin. Her character was one we’ve seen before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it played with such tragic depth as it was here. Peter Mullan was perfectly cast as townie Matt Mitcham, whose wild and unpredictable temperament threatened to leap through the screen. There were some threads that I didn’t feel clicked with the rest of the narrative, namely Holly Hunter’s character, GJ. She never seemed more than a quirky diversion, but fortunately never detracted from the power of the whole. The story continued to darken as it moved forward, leading to an almost inevitable conclusion.
Top of the Lake was a fearless, self-contained story from an under-seen corner of the world.
As solid as Top of the Lake was, I found Broadchurch to be even more affecting and well rounded. This show beared more than a few resemblances to AMC’s The Killing, with a similar partner dynamic between Detectives Miller and Hardy (Olivia Colman & David Tennant), but felt more efficient as it didn’t need almost thirty episodes to wrap up its mystery.
By focusing on more than just the mourning family and the inspectors, I really felt got a sense of Broadchurch’s tight knit community. The tragedy that befalls the town permeates the people and environment within. And also like The Killing, it was rife with several emotionally gruelling moments.
This eight-part arc was fairly flawless and captivated me as much as it did British audiences earlier this year.
It’s been a great year for Gillian Anderson! Not only is she appearing in the new cult hit Hannibal, but also fronting the new Irish police drama The Fall. I love her in this show, as it is quite a departure from her role as Agent Scully on The X-Files. Her new demeanor as an icy man-eater chasing a serial killer loose in Belfast was very compelling.
Also, after several whodunnits, I found the format of The Fall’s two parallel storylines of cop & killer refreshing. Speaking of which, Jamie Dornan was equal parts creepy and calculated as serial killer Paul Spector. This show was a brisk five episodes and its conclusion on a psuedo-cliffhanger was bittersweet.
As I was absorbing those three shows, I discovered that the third season of Luther happened right under my nose. This series is the cream of the crop and basically the reason that British television is now on my radar – well, save for Jekyll maybe.
The production value of this show has become incredible and now that it is unfolding in two-hour arcs, I’d say it now rivals – even surpasses – most genre features. Idris Elba as DCI John Luther continues to play the best “grey” character on TV and the show still somehow succeeds in conceiving the most evil, vile & insane characters to butt up against him. The prowler storyline had some legitimately terrifying sequences, and the following vigilante arc evoked real high-stakes escalation.
I was also very happy with the new additions this season. Sienna Guillory was terrific as Luther’s new love interest Mary and David O’Hara was inspired casting as George Stark, a man out to expose Luther’s more nefarious deeds. Most importantly, this season saw the return of the devilish Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) to the show. I wouldn’t call that a spoiler, as I reckon Luther fans would’ve rioted if she hadn’t shown up in some capacity. She was as vibrant as ever and was the icing on the cake of this fantastic season.
So, if you’re looking for something to do before the big domestics like The Walking Dead & American Horror Story start up again, I highly recommend you check out these gooduns’. You won’t regret it.