The Sundance Channel, after taking a cue from its basic-cable sibling AMC in creating high-impact original programming, is now a serious contender for multiple Emmy nominations when they are announced July 18. And if there is any justice, it will get at least one win.
The Sundance Channel’s original series “Rectify,” about a man released from death row but not fully exonerated, is eligible in the Best Drama, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director categories, according to an AwardsLine story about the channel’s unprecedented Emmy promise. If nominated, “Rectify” will likely face stiff competition in all those categories from established favorites such as “Homeland,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” (which shares a producing team with “Rectify”).
But the Sundance Channel has a real shot at a win with the cryptic and menacingly beautiful miniseries “Top of the Lake,” co-created and -directed by Jane Campion and starring Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter. Moss, who does a spectacular job of making us forget her signature role of Peggy Olson in “Mad Men,” is eligible for lead actress, and Hunter, who previously teamed up with Campion for the Oscar-winning film “The Piano,” is a shoe-in for a supporting-actress nomination.
The seven-episode miniseries focuses on the disappearance of a mysteriously pregnant preteen, Tui Mitcham, in a remote mountain town whose long-term inhabitants all appear to be connected, often in sinister ways. Moss’ Det. Robin Griffin, who grew up in the fictional Lake Top, has returned home to investigate the disappearance and visit her ailing mother.
Hunter’s “Top of the Lake” character, GJ, is like no one we’ve seen on television before, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone but Hunter nailing the role. GJ is the so-called spiritual leader of a roving colony of troubled and discarded women who have recently set up a camp of shipping containers on a plot of land called Paradise, which Tui’s father Matt had previously laid claim to. The enterprising oracle sleeps with her eyes open and eats every meal as though it’s her first in days. She has little patience for the “crazy bitches” who follow her unquestioningly and pay her for room and board, and at one point speculates that she may be a zombie. She’s hilarious, in a way that characters in dramatic crime series almost never are.
GJ clearly has her own practical reasons for corralling the women, but you couldn’t call her a fraud: None of her followers appears unhappy to be there, and she seems to be able to read the minds of her visitors. Although her “advice” is delivered in little more than prickly platitudes, she’s never wrong, and always several steps ahead of her adversaries, though she barely acknowledges them. Her role in the investigation of the missing girl is at once obscured and essential.
GJ’s flowing silver hair (a wig) has led to speculation that she’s modeled after Campion herself, but the director told Vulture that GJ was drawn from a man she knew called UG, who she said struck her “as the most unusual human I’d ever met.” (See for yourself in multiple YouTube videos UG filmed over the years.)
If you haven’t watched “Top of the Lake” yet, do not hesitate -- Emmy nominations notwithstanding. It’s available now via Netflix and iTunes. The Sundance Channel earned an Emmy nomination in 2011 for “Carlos,” but has yet to take an Emmy Award home. Will 2013 be the year it does? We think so.
The 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards will be telecast on Sept. 22 on CBS.