Top Boy is back and better than ever. The stakes are higher, the consequences are graver and the scramble to be the ‘top boy’ is enthralling. After a six-year hiatus, the series was picked up by Netflix thanks to Drake’s pleas, and all the original cast reprised their roles for the latest season. However, the dynamics in present-day Summerhouse are completely different to what we saw before. Dushane (Ashley Walters) is nowhere to be seen, Sully (Kane Robinson aka Kano) is in jail and Dris (Shone Romulus) is recovering from a stroke and attempting to get through a ‘drought’ in ends.
Along with the original cast reprising their roles, much of the original creative team worked on the new season. This means that the original aesthetic and unique cinematography of the first seasons is maintained. The colour-palette is luscious and almost iridescent at times, with beautiful orange tones drenching the screen. Although the situations in Top Boy are frequently ugly, the world they inhabit is a beautiful one to look at.
The first episode elegantly weaves expansive urban scenes in London with vibrant, luminous scenes in Jamaica. Immediately, new kid on the block Jamie (Michael Ward) is juxtaposed with Dushane, a hardened veteran at this point. Jamie has to get the Turks out of the way to end the drought on the streets and Dushane has to deal with Jamaica’s kingpin, Sugar, after a robbery went wrong, leading to the death of one of Sugar’s entourage. The first episode does an excellent job in setting the tone for the remainder of the season. All the tensions that will continue to boil as the season goes on are present from the get-go.
Things can get overwhelming in Top Boy, in a good way. It seems that at any given time, so much is going on and the pot keeps on boiling. There are some genuinely heartbreaking moments; Amma’s (Jolade Obasola) experience with immigration, Ats’ transformation, as a consequence of the immigration, from an innocent boy to a kid on the roads, Sully watching Jason burn to his death (which is perhaps the most poignant moment in the entire season), Tilly catching a stray bullet and suffering from brain damage, and many more. There are some genuinely beautiful moments as well; Jamie’s relationship with his brothers as their sole provider, Ats (Keiyon Cook) and Stefan (Araloyin Oshunremi) starting their own burger business to help Amma and the blooming relationship between Dushane and Shelley (played brilliantly by Little Simz) That’s the beauty of Top Boy. Amidst all the violence, the writers manage to find ways to humanise the characters, and there is an air of vulnerability around several of the characters at certain moments.
Even though Top Boy is founded on violence, ‘road culture’ and gang warfare, it simultaneously manages to be a social commentary as well, touching upon heavier themes such as; gentrification, immigration, mental health issues, family dynamics, poverty and many more. There is a clear sense of nuance in each character’s depiction, and the depiction of London as a sprawling metropolis as well. Being young, black and living in a place as dynamic and diverse as London is complex, and this complexity comes through in numerous ways in Top Boy.
For me, Kano as Sully is the star of the show. Sully, much like Dushane, has become hardened by his experiences. However, he shows a humanity that Dushane seldom shows, even though he can be incredibly ruthless at times as well. Sully’s moral compass grows stronger and stronger throughout the season, and the scene when he watches Jason burn showcases just how great of an actor he really is.
The interweaving storylines and individual battles throughout the series prove to be entertaining at the cost of believability sometimes. For example, the hospital scene when Jamie and the Fields are beefing with Cam and the A-Roads seems to have no major consequences when in reality, arrests would have undoubtedly be made. Top Boy frequently struggles with how to handle the repercussions of people’s actions outside of the main narrative. The characters occasionally seem invincible at times. Broad day shootings and broad day skirmishes in the middle of London would definitely warrant attention and at times, the show ignores this for the sake of narrative and character development. Another critique of the series is the unfulfilling deaths of the ‘villains’, particularly Modie, Sugar and Cam. Modie, played by the multi-talented Dave (a bit too theatrically for my liking) dies in a way that ruins the tension that the show worked so hard to build between Modie and his recklessness, and Jamie and his more calculated approach. Similarly, Sugar was portrayed as being an extremely powerful figure in Jamaica’s underworld but his death will be sure to leave a sour taste in some people’s mouths (no pun intended).
The conclusion to the series highlighted Dushane’s experience on the roads, and his ability to outmanoeuvre his opponents in an intelligent, but questionable, fashion. Is purposely involving the police the correct way to handle a situation on the roads? That’s up for debate but it was a smart move nonetheless. Ats’ character arc finally reaches its inevitable conclusion as he betrays Stefan. Elsewhere, Dris’ has to face the consequences of his own betrayal but whether he’s really dead or not remains to be seen. But perhaps the biggest twist of the entire season is finding out that the two drug addicts that we see swaying from one side to another in search for another hit are actually undercover police officers. It is a convincing, satisfying twist that allows for several possibilities in future seasons. Is Dris really dead? Will Jamie take Dushane’s offer? Will Sully ever work with Dushane again? Will Aaron forgive Jamie for what he went through? These are just some of the questions that will need to be answered in the next season.
I find it hard to believe that some people still think that Top Boy ‘glorifies’ violence, or being on the roads, when it actually does the opposite. We are shown numerous instances when violence leads to misery and death, and most of the characters are deeply troubled by what they experience. This season of the show definitely lived up to the very high expectations. It is well-written, with stellar performances and engaging storylines. Top Boy is definitely here to stay.
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