The Remote: Elisabeth Moss is top-shelf good in “Top of the Lake”

Ryan Pait

It can be hard to shake up your image — just ask Miley Cyrus.

When you’re known world over for basically one role, it can be hard to break out of it.

The same goes for Elisabeth Moss.

Moss has worked steadily in TV and movies since she was a child, but one role has stuck with her: that of Peggy Olson, advertising wunderkind on AMC’s “Mad Men.”

It’s easy to see why it’s stuck: Moss is a gifted actress, and with every episode of “Mad Men,” she breathes more life into Peggy.

This has made her a fan favorite and a critical darling as well: Moss has received four nominations over the years for her performance as Peggy.

With the Sundance Channel’s miniseries “Top of the Lake,” however, Moss is able to shed the role of Peggy and take on an entirely new one.

And she didn’t even have to twerk.

Moss portrays detective Robin Griffin in the miniseries, which is set in the fictional town of Laketop, New Zealand.

As Robin, Moss drops Peggy’s American accent for a New Zealand/Sydney hybrid and trades in the sexy ad world of “Mad Men” for the bleak landscape of crime solving.

It’s a bone-deep and lived-in performance, and one that is worlds apart from Moss’s work on “Mad Men.”

Moss is real steel here: Robin is a messed-up character, with a murky past and a muddled future.

Robin may falter, but Moss’s performance never does. She’s great.

I was pleasantly reminded of Jodie Foster’s Academy Award-winning performance in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Even with that association in my mind, however, Moss still makes the role hers.

In addition to being nominated for “Mad Men” at this year’s Emmy’s, Moss is also nominated for her work in “Top of the Lake.” And it’s well deserved.

So Moss is fantastic. Big surprise. But what about the show as a whole?

It’s actually pretty great too.

“Top of the Lake” won’t be for everyone, but it is an exceptional piece of work.

The plot of the show revolves around Robin’s investigation of a 12-year-old girl named Tui (Jacqueline Joe), who tries to drown herself in the show’s first scene. She’s pregnant.

It’s a haunting image. It’s an uncomfortable one. But it’s an effective one.

If any of that sounds disconcerting to you, maybe it’s best that you don’t watch “Top of the Lake.”

It’s bleak, sometimes unbearably so.

“Top of the Lake” is directed by Jane Campion, one of the four women ever to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar.

The miniseries showcases some of Campion’s hallmarks: sweeping cinematography, women wanting to take charge of their fates.

Considering the subject matter in “Top of the Lake,” they’re doubly effective here.

For all its austerity, though, “Top of the Lake” is extremely rewarding. It’s a slow-burn procedural, but what it lacks in pace it makes up for in true impact.

Fans of “CSI” and “Law and Order: SVU” won’t feel at home here. Robin doesn’t solve the mystery in the first episode or even the second.

Everything unravels (rather perfectly) in the last ten minutes of the series. A final twist makes “Top of the Lake” perfect for repeat viewing.

My only question is what the indomitable Moss will do next. “Mad Men” has one more season planned, and after that her schedule will be wide open.

Maybe she’ll twerk it out in a Miley Cyrus biopic. Who knows?

I’ll be watching, though.