Apple TV+'s latest addition to their roster, Shining Girls, feels at first like a fairly standard procedural drama. Not focusing on a police investigation of a serial killer so much as a surviving victim, it is set apart primarily by its internalised approach to her psyche. Or at least that's how it first appears.
Kirby (Elizabeth Moss) survived a vicious attack 5 years before the events of the show take place. The attack left her with scars both physical and mental, and she uses a notebook to keep track of the apparent ever-changing nature of her surroundings. Struggling to remember: Does she have a cat or a dog? Which corner of the office is her desk in? Small changes constantly undermine her hold on reality, as she endeavours to hide and adjust to them on the fly.
Her attacker, played in typical ‘British actor as a bad guy' fashion by Jamie Bell, continues to stalk her and others, constantly prowling for his next victim. Kirby starts to make moves, with the help of a journalist she works with, Dan (Wagner Moura) to investigate what happened to her and others. The killer is brought back close to her and is forced to try and finish the job he started.
For all it's genericism — a killer preying on women, an alcoholic journalist and obsessive following of clues — it has just enough to set it aside from that to keep it interesting. There is mystery in just how the killer is finding his victims and the methods he uses to torment them. This intrigue is brought to the fore slowly, evolving from things that could potentially be linked to understandable damage to Kirby's mind, to something stranger and more unexplainable. Skirting the line between procedural thriller, and Philip K. Dick style sci-fi, and somehow managing to give decent time and balance to both. This puts it in a position to be this year's The Outsider, in that it takes a different approach to a familiar format.
Of course, there is criticism to be had. Why are we still primarily telling stories about men who hurt women? They are the majority in the real world, that's true, but just once it would be nice to not see women spend huge runtimes as victims being torn apart. Some attempts are made to repair and code shift this narrative in the final episodes, which is valuable, but the criticism still exists and it would be nice if there were some variety to the victims.
Elizabeth Moss does an excellent job as Kirby, evolving from scared and unstable victim to strong heroine, while also ably taking the directors chair for two episodes. However, there are signs that she is starting to play a lot of very similar characters, with her shtick seeming to be dry characters who are generally unhappy with their existence. That's aside from the irony around her connection to Scientology and the oppressed and heavily controlled characters she plays. The cognitive dissonance is strong.
Shining Girls is one of those shows that potentially makes Apple TV+ worth having. Try not to read too much about it beforehand (hopefully we haven't given too much away here), and enjoy the twists as they appear.
Shining Girls is available on Apple TV+ now.