Top Boy is juggling a lot of storylines, characters and themes. It’s admirable to see a show attempt this, but with only four episodes in its short series it might have taken on too much. The American TV shows Top Boy is so influenced by tend to have 13 episode seasons; with only four hours Top Boy can’t cover the same ground as effectively.
As a result, in episode two, only a tiny amount of time was given to Lisa’s barber shop, and her attempt to save it from property developers. I can see why the writer wanted to include this; probably making a point about richer society’s preying on the poorer parts, and contrasting that with the more micro examination of Dushane and the drugs gang, but with only two episodes left and very little revealed it might have been better to cut this storyline.
Sully’s storyline seems equally irrelevant. I like the character, and hopefully he’s going to cross paths with Dushane at some point, but right now it just seems like a wandering tangent, as he and Mike agreed to kill Sully’s cousin for a fee, and then kidnapped him instead in order to extract money from him.
Ra’Nell and Gem also seem like afterthoughts, left over from the last series with nothing to do. Gem is caught-up with the Asian cannabis grower, who is using the debt Gem owes to control him, but this seems like a less interesting echo of series one.
Michael though is more interesting. Arrested while carrying drugs – in a nice series of events that avoided feeling contrived – he admitted to the police that he was working for Dushane, and that he knew the location where Dushane’s murder victim was picked up from. Keeping this secret from his friends and colleagues, while juggling the realities of the drugs trade – getting mugged at one point and losing a significant amount of drugs – Michael has a lot to deal with for a 13-year-old kid.
And there will be 13-year-olds that have these types of problems. A lot has been written about how ‘real’ Top Boy is, illustrating the lives of people like Michael. Successfully rendering this realism though is not just about accurately capturing a section of society and its people and dialogue; it’s about good and natural writing. Including characters with idiosyncratic ticks, like the kid who covers his mouth when he speaks, helps construct a world that appears solid. Similar was a scene where Dris told his friend to kiss his daughter before leaving for a job. The awkward, jokey moment felt genuine as it wasn’t simply designed to push forward the plot.
The rest of the episode followed Dushane, as he hooked-up with his lawyer friend. She pointed out that Dushane might be a ‘king’ but he is king of a ‘shithole.’ Both this series and the last have consistently contrasted this part of impoverished London with the more glamorous areas, with cinematic shots filming the flats of Summerhouse and the glittering City of London on the horizon. Dushane might be the Top Boy, but he’s Top Boy of a place so destitute that most people would do anything to get out of it.
- The little wanderer kid was back again, being recruited by Sully, and standing unfazed in the foreground munching pizza as Sully and Mike attacked a guy behind.
- Sully leaving his kidnap victim with Mike while he dealt with a petty dispute over his phone – almost letting the victim escape – is the type of thing Dushane wouldn’t do. Sully just isn’t competent, which is why his former partner has parted ways with him.
- There was a scene with a Scottish police officer badgering Michael into confessing. That is a something that can be really clichéd – ‘you can’t handle the truth!’ etc. – but the well-written dialogue and the acting just about made it work.