The Week in TV

What to watch (and not watch) this week in TV: Top of the Lake, Jason Schwartzman on Parks and Rec & more

What to watch (and not watch) this week in TV

Austin Photo Set: News_WeekinTV0311_Top of the Lake_Mar 2013
Top of the Lake. Sundance Channel
Austin Photo Set: News_WeekInTV0311_Parks_Mar 2013
Parks and Recreation. Danny Feld/NBC
Austin Photo Set: News_WeekinTV0311_Top of the Lake_Mar 2013
Austin Photo Set: News_WeekInTV0311_Parks_Mar 2013

In our weekly roundup of what's worth seeing (and not seeing) on TV, a creepy Kiwi thriller starring Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss and special guest stars on Parks and Recreation.

Top of the Lake
Premieres Monday, March 18 at 8 p.m. on Sundance Channel

Writer and director Jane Campion returns to television with the six-hour miniseries, Top of the Lake, a slow-simmering crime drama that shares more than a little DNA with Twin Peaks and The Killing.

Set in Laketop, a small New Zealand community settled on a breathtaking, mountain-studded lakefront, the series follows the young, big city sex crimes detective Robin Griffin (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss sporting her best Kiwi accent), who has returned to the small town of her youth to visit her dying mother.

She’s called in to investigate the case of Tui Mitcham, a 12-year-old girl who, after she mysteriously walks waist-deep into the freezing lake one morning, is discovered to be five months pregnant.

In the course of her investigation, Griffin uncovers the barely-suppressed violence, incest and corruption of the outwardly idyllic rural community she tried her best to flee. At the center of this violence is the Mitchum Family, headed by the grizzled yet charismatic patriarch and drug dealer Matt (Peter Mullan) and flanked by his thuggish sons.

Also causing waves in the remote mountain town is Paradise, a newly-established halfway house for women “in pain,” led by the enigmatic, “enlightened” spiritual guru GJ (Holly Hunter in a long white wig), whose role in the series’ first installment is still uncertain. However, Hunter’s few brief scenes in the first episode promise plenty of eccentric, enigmatic proselytizing to come.

The series’ first installment, written and directed by Campion, effectively establishes a tone of disturbing menace despite its picturesque setting, creating an unbearably tense feeling that Laketop is ready to implode at any moment.

This seething unease is bolstered Moss’ excellently understated, guarded performance, as well as the showier ones put in by Mullan and Hunter, bright spots in a series that occasionally borders on dreariness but is ultimately intriguing and unnerving. A- — Katie Stroh

Parks and Recreation
Airs Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on NBC

This unwaveringly sweet natured sitcom starring Amy Poehler as do-good civil servant Leslie Knope marches toward a season finale with an uncertain future. Whether the show will return for a sixth season is still very much up in the air, and so far, season five has been the show carrying out a contingency plan, carefully preparing to see of each of its characters off into the cancellation sunset.

So this week’s episode, where Jason Schwartzman guest stars rather fittingly as the owner of a struggling indie video rental store, comes as one of the more pure manifestations of the show’s adept ability to tell stories about politics. Where most shows can be queasily purple in their ideology, this show may make the best case for bipartisanship.

Case in point: to save the video store from having to close, Leslie works to have it named a historical landmark, hoping the tax break will be enough to keep it afloat — the Randian Ron (Nick Offerman) gruffs that it’s just another government bailout. How the show nurtures and nettles the idealistic if uninterested liberal and the overheated but pragmatic conservative is stupefying.

But unlike so many sitcoms that behave as Parks and Rec’s narrative antecedents (namely The Office’s mockumentary-style), Mike Schur’s has never been about meanness. Quite the opposite: If this truly is the beginning of the end, it should celebrated as the rare show where the power of positivity always wins out. B+ — Aleksander Chan

Also on This Week:

Family Trade. Premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. on GSN. A family-owned used car dealership will trade a vehicle for just about anything he can re-sell.

Preachers’ Daughters. Premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. Take a look at the lives of three teenage preacher’s daughters and the challenges and temptations they face after church has let out.

Playing With Fire. Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on E! Explore the personal and professional lives of New York’s hottest culinary stars.

Wicked Single. Premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on VH1. Boston’s boozy, partying answer to Jersey Shore.

Girls. Season finale Sunday at 8 p.m. on HBO. Lena Dunham’s young adult drama closes out season two.