This September the notorious series Top Boy was brought back to our screens after a noticeable six-year absence due to being sadly dropped by Channel 4 in 2014. With award winning artist Drake’s passion and support, the show has been revived and is now available to watch on Netflix. Not only have the majority of the old cast returned such as Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano), the cast has also expanded and a few famous faces, including UK rapper Dave, also feature in it. Despite the show being primarily focused upon violence, drugs and gang culture in London, I believe that it is possibly one of the most authentic shows now available.

As a series, I feel as though Top Boy really caters towards a teenage or young adult demographic which is ideal as young people are unfortunately the most affected by gang culture. The use of slang, in the way characters converse with each other brings authenticity as the youth, especially in East London where the show is set, use slang to talk amongst each other. Immersing a sense of ‘black culture’ into the show in terms of music, speech and even including a majorly black cast was something that I particularly loved. Being both black and from East London, I believe that Top Boy has provided a spot in the entertainment scene that I and others from similar backgrounds can relate to.

Something that I think Top Boy brilliantly depicts is how status plays a huge factor of importance for men in gangs. Being the ‘Top Boy’ and gaining the respect it commands is valued highly amongst young males and this is successfully portrayed by the actors. Although the way in which they obtain this title is through illegitimate acts such as violence and drugs as well as rivalry, this is not deemed an issue and is just their lifestyle. Both Sully and Dushane’s plots reinforce this as both characters are shown as still actively trying to be head of the “Summerhouse” estate, even though they are significantly older than their rivals. Unfortunately, being the most superior rather than living a crime free life is deemed more appealing now to some in our society. Sully’s character in particular portrays this. Although in the first three episodes he is serving a sentence for a previous crime, his initial move straight after his release is to sell drugs for financial gain.

Despite the plot’s focus upon gritty issues, an aspect of Top Boy which impressed me is how the vulnerable and real-life situations that led the individuals to a life of criminality is addressed. This provides a true representation rather than the stereotypical reasons which are often portrayed in the mainstream media. As a viewer, I found myself gaining compassion for certain characters and their circumstances as they believed the only way that they could provide for their loved ones was through crime. Various issues such as death, financial troubles and immigration are highlighted and illustrated in the new characters of Jamie and Ats particularly. Ats (Keiyon Cook) who is first presented as a rather studious child, finds himself in a situation where he is recruited into a gang under the belief that it will help his mother with her immigration troubles. Additionally, Jamie (Michael Ward) is introduced as a caring older brother to his two younger siblings Aaron (Hope Ikpoku Jnr) and Stefan (Araloyin Oshunremi). However, a juxtaposition of behaviour is presented almost immediately as we are quickly introduced to a much more violent character who is leading the “London Fields” gang which is rival to “Summerhouse”. Yet in the second episode, we realise that the siblings have unfortunately lost both parents and that Jamie has had to adapt to being a parental figure despite only being in his twenties himself. Touching upon the emotional reasons as to why some turn to a life of crime made the show more heart-warming, as well as educative.

Overall, I think that the latest Top Boy Series is an amazing must watch which has provided such a unique aspect to the entertainment scene!  Not only does the show focus on the realities of gang culture, it also has a much more light-hearted side which follows the themes of brotherhood, family and love.

Chantelle Cassell

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  1. Doreen Georgestone
    Reply

    What a fantastic critique of the drama. I liked the way it looks at the characters as individuals, then gives an analysis of the background of the setting in a way that enticed me to want to watch the film. The critique reflects a good understanding of the human psychology eg young people losing parents and turning to gang life to get protection, sense of belonging and love.
    Fantastic write up. Well done.

  2. Adele
    Reply

    A very interesting and engaging piece Chantelle. Being from East London myself and sadly tracing the daily reports on these issues, I’m interested to discover ‘Top Boy’ for myself. Hopefully it reaches the very audience it aims to and beyond, in the vain that it will stir a real change in the individuals involved in those lifestyles.
    Thank you for your piece and I look forward to more from you.

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