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“Shining Girls”—A Time Machine

Shining Girls series Apple TV+

Shining Girls, an Apple TV+   thriller series, is based on the 2013 novel The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  Totaling eight episodes, Shining Girls (released on April 29 of this year) also can be classified under the science-fiction genre.

In the opening scene a little girl, sitting on the front stoop of her house, is approached by a twenty-something adult male — a bit sinister and suspicious-looking — who engages in conversation.  A beady-eyed cocky man with an easy slouch and a bloodless dead gaze, he leaves her with a small painted wooden horse.  The little girl does not appear until much later.  We, the viewers, are unsettled in knowing he is probably a sexual predator who cunningly targets his victims. 

Thirty-something Kirby (Elizabeth Moss of “Handmaid’s Tale”), lives with her needy and neglectful mother (Amy Brenneman) and is determined to escape being an enabler for her mother’s unrealistic aspirations of becoming a successful musician.   Soon Kirby is living on her own, working as an office clerk for the Chicago Sun-Times, in charge of filing and archiving research for reporters. One reporter– Dan (Wagner Moura from “Narcos”), — allows her to assist in investigating a series of assaults on girls and young women, the first of whom was murdered decades ago. 

As Kirby and Dan piece together clues in the evidentiary puzzle and gain illegal access to archival evidence-boxes of cold cases, they receive little support from the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. 

Shining Girls utilizes a time-slip storytelling method for providing the history of each victim as well as the forensics for identifying the murderer. Constantly shifting years (between the 1920s Depression era and the 1990s) are part of the mélange of clues leading to the perpetrator, a time-traveling sociopath with almost super-human powers.  Too greedy and self-congratulatory to stop himself from his worst impulses, he feels compelled to kill because he can.  No apologies because none are warranted.

Shining Girls’ time-bending often amps up the suspense but also induces a dizzying timeline headache.   Instead of thrills, frequently there are jarring, confusing and unpredictable shifts.  Nonetheless, Elisabeth Moss’s superb performance serves as an anchor in a fluid reality that constantly warps and pushes her out of her own trauma and memories of what has happened to her.  Her character is both fierce and fragile: rage and obsession on the verge of being unhinged and hysterical. Her radical commitment to her own recovery and agency frequently vacillates between slipping into bewilderment and asserting an overconfidence in subduing and bringing her tormenter to justice.

Not a story without vertiginous flaws, especially the time-warp and whiplash-like reactions to  just where the action is taking place in a particular scene.  Still, Shining Girls is worth watching because of an outstanding ensemble cast.

Availability:  Apple TV+

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