Shortly after director Jane Campion's celebrated seven-part miniseries “Top of the Lake” completed its domestic run on The Sundance Channel, the entire series became available April 16 on the Netflix streaming service. Without question, this Elizabeth Moss/Holly Hunter-led crime drama is a must-watch for both binge-viewers and those with more steady viewing diets, and its ultrafast arrival on Netflix points out just how variable the time frame can be for series jumping from cable to streaming.
Just looking at the bones of “Top of the Lake,” it seems at first-blush like a variation on AMC's version of “The Killing”: a female detective investigates the disappearance of an adolescent girl. But as Grantland's Andy Greenwald wrote last week, “Saying ‘Top of the Lake' is a smarter version of ‘The Killing' would be like calling a Harley-Davidson a smarter version of a Big Wheel.”
Moss (Peggy Olson on “Mad Men”) plays Robin Griffin, a Sydney, Australia police detective on leave in her native New Zealand to take care of her ill mother, and is pressed into service when 12-year-old Tui Mitcham is brought into the local police station, traumatized and pregnant. The unfolding story takes many unexpected turns and explores them all with equally unexpected originality as Tui goes missing and Robin uncovers the underbelly of the New Zealand interior. In this beautiful untamed world, an ad hoc shelter for traumatized women, built from discarded shipping containers, is operated like a cult by GJ (Hunter), and Tui's father, a murderous Scot named Matt Mitcham (the utterly amazing Peter Mullen), lives free and wild with the assistance of corrupt police.
Considering the middling-to-toxic reviews conferred on Netflix's most recent original series, Eli Roth's supernatural melodrama “Hemlock Grove,” “Top of the Lake” will be a much better choice for discriminating viewers. And given the Sundance Channel's relatively small viewership compared to its sister channel, AMC, hopes are high that “Top of the Lake” will receive the post-cable following it richly deserves.
That corporate relationship between Sundance and AMC points out a sharp difference between how the channels are deploying their original series. AMC generally waits to push the most recent season of their series onto the streaming services until just before the next season starts: the fifth season of “Mad Men” arrived on Netflix just before the sixth season began earlier this month. Last year's episodes of “Breaking Bad” are expected to follow suit just before the series' concluding episodes begin on Aug. 11.
There are pluses to both releasing styles, and it remains to be seen how Sundance will roll out its current new series, “Rectify,” created by Ray McKinnon and overseen by much of the “Breaking Bad” production team. But this is a viewing model that is still in its infancy, or at least its toddler phase. It could take many forms as it grows up.