Fall TV premiere season is going to be as packed with new series as ever in 2017, and it can be difficult to sort out what is and isn't worth watching. Luckily, there is one show that already stands out as a series that deserves to be watched and re-watched. Sundance's Top of the Lake: China Girl is a six-part series that stars Elisabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin, who lands the troubling case of a young Asian woman who washes up on an Australian beach with her body crammed into a suitcase and her identity unknown.
Robin must team up with the less-experienced cop Miranda (Gwendoline Christie) to find out what happened, just as she re-enters the life of her daughter Mary (Alice Englert), who she gave up for adoption as an infant. Mary has a troubling (and much older) boyfriend by the name of Alexander (David Dencik), and her parents Pyke (Ewen Leslie) and Julia (Nicole Kidman) do what they can to intercede. If that's not enough to convince you to check China Girl out, read on for our reasons why you need to be watching this series.
The Plot Defies Genres
Top of the Lake: China Girl is fundamentally a murder mystery about a young woman who died an awful death and the investigation into what happened, but there's much more to the series than a simple case of "Whodunnit?" It's also the story of a woman who has been deeply hurt and struggles to readjust to her life, even as she lands a case that forces her to face some very personal demons. Robin is more than a cop, and China Girl is more than a mystery procedural. Writer/creator Jane Campion crafted a genre-defying six-part series.
The series can also qualify as a family drama, as Robin tries to become a part of her teenage daughter's life many years after giving her up for adoption. One of the adoptive parents is much more welcoming than the other. China Girl can even qualify as a coming of age story for young Mary, who is being pulled in a number of different directions as her 18th birthday approaches. She's not always terribly likable, but the show effectively develops the catalysts that led to how she acts out, and she's compelling despite her behavior. Top of the Lake: China Girl even manages to fit in a side plot about Robin and Miranda struggling as women in a male-dominated profession, and they both handle their positions quite differently.
The Performances Are Amazing
If you somehow didn't know that Elisabeth Moss is a powerhouse actress after her performances on Mad Men and The Handmaid's Tale (for which she is currently nominated for an Emmy), Top of the Lake: China Girl should make up your mind for you. Moss is stellar as Robin shifts from detached detective to a person attempting to recover from a trauma to a woman who is discovering motherhood nearly 20 years after she gave her child up for adoption. As the story progresses, Elisabeth Moss will tug at your heartstrings as Robin's worlds come dangerously close to colliding.
Elisabeth Moss isn't the only performer who can blow your mind in Top of the Lake: China Girl. Gwendoline Christie is another highlight. Best known for her roles in Game of Thrones and the Star Wars franchise (to which she'll soon return), Christie shows off her acting chops in a brand new kind of character. Miranda is a rookie cop rather than a fierce warrior, and her interactions with Robin can range from painfully awkward to truly heartbreaking. China Girl showcases Gwendoline Christie in a different way than her fans have likely seen before.
I'd be amiss if I didn't mention David Dencik as Alexander. He's almost uncomfortably convincing as a man who has managed to hook a teenage girl into obsessively loving him and as a skeezy degenerate who would upset pretty much everybody else. Nicole Kidman is unsurprisingly effective as she brings her Academy Award-winning acting chops to the small screen as well. As for Pyke... well, Ewen Leslie gives us a character who is at once both sympathetic and difficult to support.
You Don't Need To Know The First Season
Top of the Lake: China Girl is technically a sequel to 2013's Top of the Lake, but knowing the entire plot of Top of the Lake isn't necessary to enjoy China Girl. While the sequel does touch on what happened in the first batch of episodes all about Robin Griffin, China Girl gives enough context that newcomers won't need to do research about what's going on with Robin's backstory. The carryover elements from Top of the Lake aren't what drive the plot of China Girl, and China Girl is a story that stands on its own. If you haven't caught Top of the Lake, you can still find yourself wrapped up in the case of China Girl.
It's Easy To Find
The first four episodes of Top of the Lake: China Girl have already aired on Sundance, with the final two set to air on September 12 starting at 9 p.m. ET, but there's no reason to worry if you've missed the live airings. Episodes are available on the SundanceTV app and sundance.tv after their network debuts. Additionally, episodes are available streaming on Hulu the day after they air on Sundance. The show isn't difficult to find, and it's definitely worth the search. After all, it only runs for six episodes, and it tells a full story from start to finish.
For your viewing options once you've finished Top of the Lake: China Girl, take a look at our fall TV premiere schedule.