Shining Girls, a new Apple TV+ show based on the novel by Lauren Beukes, is a deliberately slippery, complex, enigmatic show that refuses to give its audience easy answers. Like Severance, it proves that Apple’s original content is forcing other platforms to up their game. It’s strange and fabulous.
For reasons that will become clear, it is difficult to describe how and when the story of Shining Girls begins. The main character is Kirby Mazrachi (Elisabeth Moss), an archivist at the newspaper Chicago Sun-Times who has been attacked by a mysterious man named Harper (Jamie Bell). Through her collaborating with wary journalist Dan Velazquez, who has had his fair share of problems with alcohol, Kirby pieces together links between her attack and the murders of various women. The twist is that the murders haven’t happened over the last five or 10 years, they go back almost a century. And yet they seem to have been committed by the same person…
Flitting between the perspective of Harper and the Kirby-Dan duo, Shining Girls is a profoundly, perhaps unwisely ambitious drama. Not content with being a thriller about solving the murder of a few dead women, it throws in a concept that will surprise anyone unfamiliar with the source material: the notion that Harper is somehow able to control or travel through time, becoming an almost omnipotent character. In a novel, there would be ample space to explore and explain the various causes and effects implied in this awkward premise. Unfortunately, in the TV adaptation, there is no narrator to guide you through. Some viewers will find this frustrating, and may be unconvinced by the few attempts to explain the physics involved, but there is so much more to enjoy here than the inner workings of the plot.
Moss, for example, is sublime as a traumatised character trying to make sense of her post-attack world. Some of the nicest touches in the show involve the subtle changes in aspects of a scene (the length of Kirby’s hair, for example, will change mid-conversation), and we are trying to make sense of things as they happen almost as much as she. Never sure who or where she is, Kirby is a broken woman looking for answers. Moss makes her a complex character, initially timid but becoming more formidable as the show develops.
There’s some great writing: “When you write about the dead, you write with water,” says Dan, urging Kirby to tell her story because she, unlike the murdered women, is alive and kicking. And with Bell also fantastically horrible, there’s a commendable amount of great work on display. It is easy to see why its detractors will complain – it is a little opaque, and perhaps it fails to stick the landing – but its mystery is a huge part of its charm, and you’ll be gripped till the very last minute, anxious to see how all the pieces of the jigsaw come together.
‘Shining Girls’ is streaming now on Apple TV+