Elisabeth Moss in Shining Girls (Photo: Apple TV+)
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| Apple TV+
Eight-Episode Limited Series (Drama) | TV-MA
What's Shining Girls About?
Elisabeth Moss plays the survivor of a brutal attack whose life is now a swirl of confusion — which may also describe you as you sit through this slow-burning adaptation of Lauren Beukes' novel about a killer who leaps across time.
Moss plays Kirby Mazrachi, a clerk at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992 whose near-death trauma has left her psychologically shattered. Her reality is continuously shifting. Her mother, for instance, is a party gal one day and a born-again Christian the next, and her pet dog Grendel becomes a pet cat. Moss does excellent work as Kirby — a woman aching for revenge, yet struggling to get some control of her world.
Jamie Bell plays Harper, one of the weirder serial killers in memory. He never ages, and he seems to know what's going to happen before his victims do. Is he real? What's his deal (other than he's a terrible person)? Why does he leave trinkets inside his victims' bodies?
Wagner Moura (Narcos) plays Dan Velazquez, a barely-sober reporter who works with Kirby. (For what it's worth, Richard Roeper, the Sun-Times critic who was at the paper back then, was "mesmerized" by how Shining Girls "perfectly captured the very essence of the paper in that era.")
Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) plays Jin-Sook, a research scientist at the Adler Planetarium, the other Chicago institution featured prominently in the series. She and Kirby eventually team up to try to smoke out Harper.
Amy Brenneman is Kirby's mom, although her particulars change so wildly from scene to scene that you may be tempted to think she's actually taking part in an improv exercise at Second City.
Chris Chalk is Marcus, a photographer at the Sun-Times whose relationship to Kirby also shifts over time.
Executive Producer Silka Luisa turned Beukes' book into this eight-episode limited series. By all accounts the show is much different from the novel.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
Shining Girls is a very strange show about a man who attacks women and is somehow able to time-shift, giving him foreknowledge of his victims' moves across several decades. It's also about a woman whose very loose grip on reality makes her an unlikely person to bring him to justice — not to mention an exasperating set of eyes through which to tell this story.
The show's confusing, non-linear approach, combined with a plodding pace, makes it a challenge in the early going. (“This has been the slowest of slow burns ever,” noted one commenter in our forums.) But then, the fog starts to lift. By the crucial sixth episode — when the pace picks up and secrets get explained — you'll be helpless to do anything but see this dark tale through to its satisfying conclusion.
Chicago history buffs and Elisabeth Moss completists will definitely want to watch. Patient viewers who can put up with the show's pace and depressing atmosphere will be rewarded in the end.
Pairs well with
The Time-Traveler's Wife (HBO/HBO Max). Not as well-reviewed as Shining Girls, but with a similar premise, more sex, and something Shining Girls doesn't have: a sense of humor.
Kingdom (Netflix). Medieval zombies threaten the ruling dynasty in this Korean import that's a refreshing change of pace from the typical genre slog.
Mr. Mercedes (Peacock). David E. Kelley produced one of the best Stephen King adaptations in years in this tale of a detective hunting a criminal who himself is being hunted.