This week we start in New Zealand before returning for a week’s worth of gritty drama and finishing with a few facial fillers.
What with both The White Queen and Family Tree it seems that BBC co-productions are everywhere at the moment. Top of the Lake is no different as it is co-produced not only with an American cable channel but also with UKTV a station that airs both in Australia and New Zealand. It is in New Zealand that Top of the Lake is set and its stunning yet haunting locations set the backdrop for the mystery drama. The opening scene of the programme focuses on Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe) as she begins to step into a local lake in her town of Lake Top. Though she is stopped from drowning herself, it is later discovered that 12 year old Tui is pregnant. The police are later called and they recruit child protection specialist Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) to handle the case. Robin is a Lake Top native but has returned to the area briefly to care for her dying mother. From the outset it is clear that Robin wishes to protect Tui, but the youngster isn’t prepared to give up the name of the father of her baby. Meanwhile Tui’s brutish father Matt (Peter Mullan) has other things on his mind, namely the fact that estate agent Bob has sold part of his family’s land known as Paradise. Matt is angry to discover that Paradise has now been taken over by a commune of women living in container crates who are led by the spiritualist GJ (Holly Hunter). We witness Matt’s brutality first hand when he inadvertently causes Bob’s death before making it look like an accident. Matt also threatens Robin and shows her his cold side when he shoots and kills Bob’s dog. Meanwhile, after spending the night at GJ’s commune, Tui goes missing and it appears as if Robin will stop at nothing to find the missing girl.
With its exotic New Zealand scenery Top of the Lake certainly looks fantastic and the mountains that loom high over Lake Top certainly give it an eerie vibe. The small town of Lake Top comes across as one of those places where most characters are hiding something and where a person like Matt Mitcham could certainly become top dog. Top of the Lake also shares a lot of similarities with the Nordic noir genre due to its meandering pace and damaged central heroine in Robin Griffin. Robin was absolutely captivating figure and was given life by the brilliant Elisabeth Moss. Dodgy accent aside, Moss was absolutely brilliant as the avenging cop keen to find out exactly who had hurt Tui. There was also a sense that something had happened to Robin the last time she was in Lake Top and that that incident had had a profound effect on the rest of her life. Moss is ably supported by Peter Mullan, who again plays a terrifying crime lord, and by Holly Hunter as the mysterious GJ who certainly knows more than she’s letting on. My main issue with Top of the Lake was Jane Campion and Gerard Lee’s script which took its time to tell the story. Indeed, in not revealing many details about the central characters, I felt that the story was holding too much back and this had a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the piece. Despite this, I feel that Top of the Lake still is one of the year’s strongest dramas thanks to its stunning scenery, brilliant cinematography and talented ensemble cast. Ultimately I’m very intrigued to see where it goes next and I just hope that the pace picks up over the rest of the series.
Channel 4 aren’t strangers to the world of gritty dramas what with both Top Boy and the This is England series winning them plaudits over the past few years. Run, which aired over four consecutive nights this week, was yet another gritty drama and focused on four interconnected stories. The first focused on Carol (Olivia Colman) a hard-working mum with two layabout sons who cause her nothing but grief. When her sons kick a man to death, Carol struggles with her guilt and wonders if protecting her sons is worth the agony. Carol also supplies phones to Chinese immigrant Ying (Katie Leung) who sells them on in order to get enough money to pay back the gangsters who got her into the country. When Ying’s possessions are stolen she finds sanctuary in the barbershop of Jamal (Gershwyn Eustache Jr) however her freedom is short-lived when the gangsters come looking for their money. Ying has previously sold dodgy DVDs to Richard (Lennie James) who bought them in order to give them to his estranged daughter. Former heroin addict Richard struggles to keep clean and hopes that a stolen car will mean he can give some money to his daughter before she moves to Bristol. It later transpires that the stolen car belongs to Kasia (Katharina Schuttler), a cleaner whose gambling addicted husband was the one who was killed in the first episode. Kasia discovers that her husband had a secret son from a relationship with stripper Tara (Jaime Winstone), after this revelation Kasia tries to get away from her past life and move on.
In terms of the fact it’s stripped across a week and involves interconnecting stories, I felt Run has a lot in common with last year’s True Love. Obviously a better title for Run would be True Grit, if that wasn’t already taken, and maybe that would give it more credit than it deserves. It seems that writers Marlon Smith and Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan think that a gritty drama should be populated by scenes of extreme violent, excruciating drug abuse and horrifying rape. In fact the first rule of a gritty drama is that it should have characters you care about and who you feel you know by the end of the episode. I really couldn’t say that about all of the characters who were nothing but clichés such as strong-willed matriarch, recovering drug addict and struggling immigrant. That’s nothing against the actors involved all of whom did they best they could with the material they were given. Predictably, new national treasure Olivia Colman was the stand-out and her episode was by-and-far the best of the four. However the always reliable Lennie James and former Harry Potter star Katie Leung also anchored their episodes well. The series was primarily well-shot as well with some interesting set pieces throughout the week. But, as a whole, Run fell flat due to some truly grim scenes and two-dimensional characters. This was a drama trying too hard to feel gritty and at the end of the day all I got was a bunch of depressing scenarios strung together by wafer-thin connections.
More drama now as we see the return of Law and Order UK for what is already the show’s seventh series. There has been some shake-ups on both sides with both the police and the barristers adding new members to their team. The first episode started with a train crash that resulted in the death of fifteen people, among them a mother and son who were on the way back to welcome home the father who had just returned from Afghanistan. In fact the son’s death is seen on screen as Sam Casey (Paul Nichols) attempts to save the life of the boy only for him to later die while trying to be revived by the paramedics. The increasingly emotional Sam, whose wife won’t let him have access to their son, snaps at a potential suspect raising the ire of new DI Wes Leyton (Patterson Joseph). Sam and his calming boss Ronnie (Bradley Walsh) finally track down their suspect Finn (Aidan McArdle) who claims that he wanted to commit suicide but got cold feet at the last minute and left his train on the tracks. As Jacob Thorne (Dominic Rowan) attempts to prosecute Finn he finds that new defence barrister Kate (Georgia Taylor) is willing to fight his corner. Jacob becomes more and more frustrated with Kate which is an issue as Henry (Peter Davidson) later reveals that she’s the CPS’ newest recruit. As its characters are primarily either angry coppers to barristers intent on doing the right thing, Law and Order UK is packed full of clichés but seemingly isn’t ashamed of that fact. From the scene in which Sam tries to get the child to ‘stay with him’ to the questioning of a rather posh scoundrel everything is pushed to breaking point. While I enjoy some of the performances, most notably from Bradley Walsh and Peter Davidson, all of the characters are incredibly thinly written. Georgia Taylor’s Kate for example is a plucky intelligent female though I feel that she has no aptitude for the law at all. In the year in which ITV’s crime dramas have been incredibly gripping, Law and Order UK really sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m just hoping that, unlike the programme’s American counterpart, this doesn’t carry on for another fifteen years.
Finally, as last week’s instalment was almost solely devoted to it, I can’t leave without talking about the final of The Apprentice. Unlike the previous two years, the final was dedicated to the interview round but rather saw Leah and Luisa expand on their business plans. Both had to get help from the previous candidates but, while Leah worked quickly to get her ideal team, Luisa hung around too long and ended up with arrogant Zee and charming wimp Jason. In terms of the overall execution of the task it appeared as if Luisa had the edge as she got the full co-operation of her team members and her promotional video looked a little more professional. In fact the only issue that her baking wholesalers, entitled Baker’s Toolkit, seemed to have was that the brand was a little too pink. Luisa later faltered during her pitch, as she spent too much time icing cupcakes, while Leah’s was more professional. Prior to her pitch however, Leah has been a ball of stress and was really found of the name Niks skincare as she felt that skin backwards would perfectly reflect her cosmetic procedures clinic. During the pitch, Leah appeared reluctant to listen to the industry experts who told her that she should be the face of the brand. Leah’s new stubborn nature made me think that Luisa may win the investment but ultimately it was the Northern Irish Doctor who was chosen. On You’re Hired, Lord Sugar explained that he’d made his decision based on the fact that Luisa already had three businesses to run and that she’ll do fine whatever happens. I feel that it was more to do with Leah’s business having lucrative returns and the fact that she already had an exit strategy. Leah’s business was also the riskier of the two and I feel that the tabloids will almost be on the lookout for an issue with one of the clinics in order to further tarnish Lord Sugar’s name. Ultimately, though the winner may not have been right, this series of The Apprentice has been a joy to watch from Alex’s eyebrows to Myles’ abs to Jason’s abdication and the Tidy Sidey there have been more classic moments than the past couple of series combined. I’m just hoping that series ten of The Apprentice continues this momentum and we have yet another collection of quirky characters to watch.
Next Time: The Cafe, Who Do You Think You Are and Burton and Taylor