Top of the Lake v.2 compared to TPTR (spoilers)

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Framed_Angel
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Top of the Lake v.2 compared to TPTR (spoilers)

Postby Framed_Angel » Sat Apr 14, 2018 9:25 am

I've meant to point out and invite dialogue on some similarities I noticed as I viewed ToTL S2 "China Girl." I found S1 quite mesmerizing so I was excited about S2, although as with TP, I had reservations how Campion might revisit something that was accomplished in a singular way, artfully filmed, story unfolding with mysteries and characters explored and revealed in their complicated beauty.
If you haven't watched ToTL especially S2 I am going to reference items that could be spoilers FYI.

Overall I was disappointed, mostly with the ending - - and because watching it came close to the timing of my watching TPTR this disappointment struck me as similar because it was nonetheless mitigated by a willful appreciation of what the auteurs had imagined, how they had impacted me with previous works, and the separate components of intrigue actors in various scenes delivered. With S1 ToTL I had been invited to revel in some gorgeous scenery, find interesting quirks in sense of Place with Jonno's tent or the young mute boy's collection of bones in his sanctuary-style "outbuilding." Anyone remember feeling immersed in sense of Place with Twin Peaks S1&2? The woods, the local gathering spots, and the otherworldly all stayed with me.

ToTL S2 brought a new setting and scenario to returning lead detective Robin, and plenty more urban and grimy undercore surrounding the characters in crime, contrasted w/ light airy residences like Mary's adoptive parents', open floor plan and sunlight-drenched. I'd consider how scenes were staged, even in the 1st ep alone there's care taken to give eerie night quality as the couple pushes the stuffed suitcase off the high ledge to the water below; or day-lit view from afar of uniformed law enforcement doing drills, or even the seedy parlor where "Puss" keeps cats and enjoins his Asian girls to sit for "English lessons." Lots of care was put into these settings like in TP the places feel they have a life of their own, and as others have said: you could think of several story-within-the-stories as a "moving painting."

The storytelling I'd reaped from TOTL S1 this time around felt like its creators were visiting anew with an experimental approach in mind. I was enchanted with Gwendoline Christie's mercurial and unpredictable character but her fate by the end had that unresolved "cliffhanger" feeling -- familiar, yes? Then the confrontation between Robin and Al struck terror in me even as the whole improbability felt ludicrous. For a Return to an acclaimed series so highly hyped and anticipated, I came away like I'd been watching its creator just taking the parts and moving them about, like playing with the contents of their dollhouse. Where the question might be "Would you like to get inside Lynch/ Campion's HEAD?" the answers leaped out for this viewer. I sure felt I'd gotten glimpses inside their heads, with less regard for adhering within pre-set boundaries and more inclined to reach with recognized characters for a mix or remix.
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Re: Top of the Lake v.2 compared to TPTR (spoilers)

Postby LateReg » Sun Apr 15, 2018 8:43 pm

I'd also noticed a lot of similarities between the two programs, both in terms of themes and especially unpredictability. I've said all year long, or, well, since September, that China Girl is the only thing that approaches The Return's wild unconventionality.
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Re: Top of the Lake v.2 compared to TPTR (spoilers)

Postby Mr. Reindeer » Thu Aug 16, 2018 5:21 am

I found TotL:CG much more disappointing than TP:TR. It started off promising—the first couple of episodes had a fantastic sustained mood, and I applaud Campion for doing a completely different, urban thing rather than trying to recapture lightning in a bottle. Most of my issues lie with the script, particularly the half-baked double coincidence that both Robin and Miranda end up having very personal connections to the murder case they just happen to be working on. This feels like the opposite of TP:TR’s world, which some have argued is overly defiant of storytelling conventions, refusing to connect dots. The world of TotL:CG ends up feeling almost self-consciously scripted. The character of Alexander was my other big issue. He plays like a more creepy version of Tommy Wiseau (if that’s possible), and I never quite believed that Mary would stay with him—particularly after he tries to guilt her into a life of prostitution, which felt like six or seven character beats were missing for her to take that leap. I guess the key to what Campion was getting at is what Robin says in the final episode—that Mary is scared of him—but then my further issue is that all of Mary’s parents just kind of shrug Alexander off as something they’re unhappy with but can’t really do much about. I’m not a parent, but I understand that a lot of times it’s better to let a stubborn teenager do his/her thing than discipline them and risk pushing them even further down the road of whatever they’re doing. Black Mirror did a great Jodie Foster-directed episode about the dangers of so-called “helicopter parenting.” But it treks into the realm of criminal negligence when Alexander’s behavior becomes publicly erratic, then violent, and then he becomes a murder suspect! Robin talks about the fact that she doesn’t have cause to detain him for Cinnamon’s murder, but she could arrest him for the assault on her own nose. The fact that she doesn’t, and leaves him out on the streets to potentially assault or even kill Mary, feels like an act of pure selfishness (she doesn’t want Mary to hate her), and really weakens Robin’s character.

I agree that there is a lot to love in the show, and I think the assault by Al is the perfect example in microcosm. On its own, the scene is a masterpiece of suspense and action, brilliantly acted and shot. But taken in the context of the overall series, it’s ludicrously heavy-handed and unbelievable, and undermines the subtle characterization of Al in S1.

All that being said, the performances were brilliant, and there were so many scenes that worked terrifically. The first meeting between Robin and Mary in particular has incredible work from Moss and Englert, and just by itself makes me glad the season overall was made. For me, though, the series that has most closely approached TP:TR’s “wild unconventionality” is Atlanta, consistently producing episodes like “Teddy Perkins,” “Woods,” “FUBU,” and “North of the Border” that are nothing at all like one another, let alone anything else on television.
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Re: Top of the Lake v.2 compared to TPTR (spoilers)

Postby eyeboogers » Thu Aug 16, 2018 8:32 am

Mr. Reindeer wrote:The character of Alexander was my other big issue. He plays like a more creepy version of Tommy Wiseau (if that’s possible), and I never quite believed that Mary would stay with him.


I thought Alexander - and Dencick's performance, was the highlight of TOTL:CG. While that storylines does end up going to ridiculous extremes (I HATED the entire beach sequence in the final episode), I think the theme of why someone like Mary would stay with Alexander goes right to the core of what TOTL is about. Also as villains go they don't get much more original, extreme and yet still human than Alexander.
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Re: Top of the Lake v.2 compared to TPTR (spoilers)

Postby Mr. Reindeer » Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:48 pm

Yeh, I guess part of it is that I liked Mary a lot thanks to the performance, and really wanted her to be smarter than continually remaining with someone who treated her like garbage. But as you say, that frustration in seeing an otherwise strong, smart woman be manipulated by a sleazy guy into an abusive relationship is part of what Campion was getting at, and it’s something that happens all the time. And the resolution of Alexander’s arc with the video at the end at least gives us a glimpse of what Mary likely viewed as his decent/humanitarian side. Before that moment, I didn’t see any complexity in the character at all, and I think that was part of my problem. I couldn't rationalize what she saw in him at all. He just seemed sleazy and mean. I know there was an element of bait-and-switch in letting us think he was the true villain before showing us at the end that he does have some ideals and moral compass, but seeing him be anything other than abusive and confrontational during the main body of the show would have gone a long way toward making the relationship more palatable for me.
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Re: Top of the Lake v.2 compared to TPTR (spoilers)

Postby LateReg » Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:47 pm

Mr. Reindeer wrote:I found TotL:CG much more disappointing than TP:TR. It started off promising—the first couple of episodes had a fantastic sustained mood, and I applaud Campion for doing a completely different, urban thing rather than trying to recapture lightning in a bottle. Most of my issues lie with the script, particularly the half-baked double coincidence that both Robin and Miranda end up having very personal connections to the murder case they just happen to be working on. This feels like the opposite of TP:TR’s world, which some have argued is overly defiant of storytelling conventions, refusing to connect dots. The world of TotL:CG ends up feeling almost self-consciously scripted. The character of Alexander was my other big issue. He plays like a more creepy version of Tommy Wiseau (if that’s possible), and I never quite believed that Mary would stay with him—particularly after he tries to guilt her into a life of prostitution, which felt like six or seven character beats were missing for her to take that leap. I guess the key to what Campion was getting at is what Robin says in the final episode—that Mary is scared of him—but then my further issue is that all of Mary’s parents just kind of shrug Alexander off as something they’re unhappy with but can’t really do much about. I’m not a parent, but I understand that a lot of times it’s better to let a stubborn teenager do his/her thing than discipline them and risk pushing them even further down the road of whatever they’re doing. Black Mirror did a great Jodie Foster-directed episode about the dangers of so-called “helicopter parenting.” But it treks into the realm of criminal negligence when Alexander’s behavior becomes publicly erratic, then violent, and then he becomes a murder suspect! Robin talks about the fact that she doesn’t have cause to detain him for Cinnamon’s murder, but she could arrest him for the assault on her own nose. The fact that she doesn’t, and leaves him out on the streets to potentially assault or even kill Mary, feels like an act of pure selfishness (she doesn’t want Mary to hate her), and really weakens Robin’s character.

I agree that there is a lot to love in the show, and I think the assault by Al is the perfect example in microcosm. On its own, the scene is a masterpiece of suspense and action, brilliantly acted and shot. But taken in the context of the overall series, it’s ludicrously heavy-handed and unbelievable, and undermines the subtle characterization of Al in S1.

All that being said, the performances were brilliant, and there were so many scenes that worked terrifically. The first meeting between Robin and Mary in particular has incredible work from Moss and Englert, and just by itself makes me glad the season overall was made. For me, though, the series that has most closely approached TP:TR’s “wild unconventionality” is Atlanta, consistently producing episodes like “Teddy Perkins,” “Woods,” “FUBU,” and “North of the Border” that are nothing at all like one another, let alone anything else on television.


A while back I had promised you a response to your thoughts about Lost over in the Lost/Twin Peaks thread, but I realized that all I wanted to say there was that I really appreciated finding someone who simply loves the show at this point. For such a significant program with a huge following, it's rare to find anyone nowadays who will defend it as a totally great show despite its flaws, or to praise its finale, and it was very refreshing to see you do just that. I feel that so many people haven't gone back to the show to see if the finale actually makes the most sense after all, which I believe it does...and I have to admit that I was very upset about that finale at first, but had a friend who helped me think my way through its actual meaning. I finally made my way through the entire series with its meaning in mind, and ended up being blown away by the finale, purely on an emotional level.

What I really wanted to reply to you about was Top of the Lake to clarify my "wild unconventionality" comment. You're totally right: the weakest element of Top of the Lake: China Girl is the glaringly coincidental plot points, which could be read as very conventional indeed. But the way the show moves and feels - it feels disconnected, unbound by conventional approaches to pacing or the crime genre, and it feels very messy - extremely messy! - loose, wild, throwing shit against the wall and not even caring if it sticks. The random dream sequences, her one-off and never-returned-to encounter with the villain of the first season, the entire nonchalant, is-he-or-isn't-he-or-who-cares characterization of Alexander...the whole thing just feels like it's sort of floating, unfinished. That's how it feels to me, which is why the more conventional plot points are so puzzling.

I also wanted to say something about Atlanta. This might come as a shock to you given our other conversations and what they've revealed about my taste, but I actually don't see Atlanta being as unconventional as everyone says. Oh, I think it's the best "comedy" on television outside of Bojack Horseman, and it's probably going to finish as the 2nd best season of TV in 2018 (behind The Americans, namely due to how it absolutely nailed those last couple episodes!, and ahead of Bojack), but that's mostly because I have a so-called "objective" side that recognizes it as being obviously great. I love Atlanta's aesthetics, top to bottom, it has its own look, mood, etc.; the performances are great, and so is the writing; and yes, episode to episode, you don't really know what to expect. Yet within that, nothing seems all that unconventional to me. I don't know the proper way to say this, but I feel a lot of the "unconventional" praise heaped upon it is due to the culture/race that it focuses on, and how it breaks from the norms and the expectations we attach to such films/series. Is it strange to say that just because Atlanta focuses more on a culture rather than a genre, when we praise stuff for breaking down genres all the time, and when Atlanta seems to belong to no genre whatsoever? Is it strange to say that it doesn't really even feel "black" to me like so many other programs about the black experience? Obviously all that makes it groundbreaking as genre/topics/culture/etc are important to consider when it comes to breaking down boundaries in art, but I wonder if, say, another cultural mash-up like Master of None would be nearly as praised in particular for its unconventionality if it contained some of Atlanta's exact same, less conventional flourishes? Are there any other shows about hip-hop culture that contain so many seriously surreal touches, for example? The praise for its surrealism is therefore slightly overblown, in my opinion, as is the praise for it being so unpredictable. Matt Zoller Seitz even published an article about how it is a miracle season - and I would agree with that, as even though I feel that it lacks the emotional wallop of Leftovers season 3, it is otherwise just as flawlessly written and similarly divided into a series of borderline perfect yet somehow unique standalone episodes that build into a whole - and he focused in part on how you never know what to expect from episode to episode. But ain't that the thing about situational comedy in the first place? Aren't countless other shows, such as (especially) Master of None, doing the exact same structural thing right now to varying degrees of success? I guess partially what I'm getting at is that I feel that something like The Return (which I view as so far ahead of Atlanta/most things in its unconventionality/subversiveness that it shouldn't even be brought up here) or China Girl, which in their longform film structure can't rely on episodic segments, are more impressively unconventional because they are telling a continuous story that still keeps you not only on your toes but totally off balance despite the sameness of the episodes/parts, often through the elemental force of the basic tenets of filmmaking (cinematography, editing, pacing, tone, atmosphere, scoring, etc) applied to and enhancing an equally unconventional - but not necessarily twisty (simple twists often are nothing but that) - story that is uninterested in typical narrative beats or plotting, resulting in beats that are difficult to tap along to (as opposed to plot points or diversions that are simply unexpected). I also must admit here that I have a distrust of Glover. This is gonna sound weird, but I get the impression when I'm watching Atlanta that he's doing some things simply because he KNOWS they're good, not necessarily because he's good. I know that might sound like a load of bullshit, and as long as the product is good it maybe shouldn't matter, and maybe I'm just dead-wrong, but the difference between being that good because it comes from your soul and doing something just because you know its good is something that I think is interesting to think about, and which I can't shake when it comes to Glover, whose music I was familiar with long before Atlanta. None of this is meant to take away any of the off-kilter brilliance of Teddy Perkins or Woods and such. I just don't see Atlanta as being quite so unconventional as others do and I ponder how much that unconventionality is linked to its culture rather than filmmaking in general. In other words, I can think up and jot down a long list of things it does differently or better than a lot of "similar" programs, but while watching it, it mostly seems like a normal slice of life show to me with a few surreal touches and many brilliant moments.

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