Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Top of the Lake tops of summer TV fare

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It's summertime, which means many locals' thoughts have turned to the lake.

That should suit the folks at the Canadian cable network Bravo quite nicely, as they've got a lake-themed series that deserves to be on every viewer's viewing schedule.

Top of the Lake, which premi®res tonight at 8 p.m., doesn't conjure up visions of sunshine, splashing and vacation silliness, however: Instead, this trip to the lake is cold, creepy and beautifully, terrifyingly captivating.

Top of the Lake, which was shot in the craggy, mountainous lake country of southern New Zealand, stars Mad Men regular Elisabeth Moss and Oscar winner Holly Hunter in a tale that weaves murder, menace and mysticism into a tightly packaged mystery that surely ranks as one of this TV year's best.

Moss leads the cast as Sydney-based detective Robin Griffin, who has taken a leave from her job in Australia and returned to her hometown to spend some quality time with her cancer-stricken mother. Because she's a specialist in such cases, she's asked to consult when a 12-year-old girl named Tui (Jacqueline Joe), the illegitimate daughter of local drug kingpin Matt Mitcham (Scottish actor Peter Mullan, in a brilliantly nasty performance), turns up pregnant.

She interviews and comforts the girl, who is then returned to her home in her father's gated compound. A day later, however, Tui goes missing, and the case quickly transforms into a missing-person search that all assume -- given the characters involved -- will likely become a murder investigation.

At the same time the search for Tui is being organized, a convoy of flatbed trucks delivers a cluster of empty shipping containers to a nearby lakefront property known as Paradise; it turns out the land, which Mitcham covets and to which states he has a righteous claim, has been purchased by a mysterious, guru-like figure named GJ (Hunter), who has set up a commune for women dealing with various levels of emotional trauma.

Their arrival outrages Mitcham and his thuggish sons, and their presence will play an important role in the outcome of the missing-girl case.

By allowing herself to be drawn into the investigation, Griffin is forced to confront many of the demons from an obviously troubled past; these are, it's clear, the reasons she decided to leave and was hoping to never return.

In addition to being a chilling, thrilling, seamlessly executed mystery, Top of the Lake also serves as a reunion project for Hunter and writer/director Jane Campion, who wrote the Oscar-winning script for 1993's The Piano (which earned Hunter a best-actress Academy Award).

It's terrific. Even if you're stuck in the city during these hot-weather weeks, you can take a trip to the Lake that will make this a summer to remember.

-- -- --

This just in: During its first season, the Aaron Sorkin-created HBO series The Newsroom quickly developed into a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Those who enjoy the staccato rhythms and layered left-leaning logic of Sorkin's (The West Wing, Sports Night) writing couldn't get enough of his behind-the-scenes exploration of a fictional TV newsroom; those who detest the preachy narrative and sometimes-clumsy interpersonal storylines of his TV and movie work held The Newsroom up as the worst example yet of Sorkin-esque excess.

Whatever you thought of The Newsroom's first run (confession time: I'm a fan), the arrival (Sunday on HBO Canada; check listings for times) of its second season will do absolutely nothing to change your mind. It is, upon return, exactly what it was.

Depending on your view, that's either a reason to celebrate and set the PVR or a perfect reason to keep tuning out.

When the sophomore set of episodes opens, The Newsroom's staffers -- led by high-minded anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) -- deal with the Mitt Romney campaign's decision to exclude ACN's reporters from his campaign bus during the Republican primaries, a reaction to McAvoy's having compared the U.S. Tea Party to the Taliban during an on-air commentary.

Meanwhile, tech-minded researcher Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) is trying to convince his bosses they should pay more attention to a fledgling protest movement called Occupy Wall Street, and the network is forced to defend a secret-source-driven report about the U.S. administration's anti-terrorism strategies.

As he did the first time around, Sorkin uses these time-warped glimpses at no-longer-current events as an opportunity for sharp but hindsight-enhanced commentary on U.S. politics and, more particularly, the media's coverage of events.

Fans will call it insightful and clever. Foes will call it lazy and convenient. Both will be satisfied that they're right. And there's nothing that this new season of The Newsroom will do that will change any of it.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2013 G10

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