Why you should be watching Shining Girls on Apple TV+
Ivan Radford | On 03, Jun 2022
If you were ever in doubt that Elisabeth Moss is one of the greatest actors working today, Shining Girls will convince you beyond any doubt. A twisting, harrowing, fascinating thriller, it’s grounded – and driven – by Moss’ raw, intense screen presence.
She plays Kirby, a newspaper archivist who works at the Chicago Sun Times in the 1990s. With aspirations of being a journalist that were never fully realised, she gets the chance to be both detective and key source in a report when the body of a young woman is found in the sewers. Teaming up with veteran journo Dan (Wagner Moura), they attempt to track down what it becomes apparent is a serial killer.
We know that it is for two reasons. First, we see the guy: Harper, played with a haunting, intimidating quality by Jamie Bell. And second, we know that Kirby survived a near-fatal attack with identical injuries to his victims some time ago. The show jumps back and forth to observe this seemingly impossible time-travelling villain, who has a calculating confidence as he interacts with everyone from a young girl sitting on her doorstep to an astronomer, Jin-Sook (Phillipa Soo), who works at the local planetarium and is singled out as a potential target by Harper. Whether he’s lingering in the background, waiting ominously, or inserting himself into someone’s day through tiny interactions before cornering them with a blank innocence, it’s a horribly brilliant use of Bell’s unique energy, and a reminder that for the most part Hollywood doesn’t seem to know what to do with his talents.
But this is Moss’ show, and she is the cornerstone of its fragmented, puzzle-piece structure. Having the chance to witness Harper in action means that we already know she’s onto something, even as the Sun Times editor questions her reliability as a source. And that knowledge is key to Shining Girls’ disorienting effect, as it taps into the uncertainty of Kirby’s life post-assault. Astrophysics and timey-wimey confusion are part and parcel of her apparently altering life, as her pet changes without warning or she suddenly finds herself married instead of single. The script, adapted from Lauren Beukes’ 2013 novel, leaves in the carefully constructed limbo between crime procedural and sci-fi mystery, with Moss shifting her register, mood and behaviour ever so slightly in reaction to the relentless parade of unknowns around her. It is a gut-wrenching vulnerable and ferociously committed turn that keeps us glued to an unravelling study of the lingering effects of trauma, as Kirby shapes, solves and writes her life’s story. The result is that rare thing: a TV show unlike anything else out there.