Top Boy review – Episode Four (Series 2) – Channel 4

Top Boy Channel 4In the final episode of series two, the show picked up some much needed pace as all the various storylines started to pay-off. One of the B plots though, the one with Michael and Gem, slowed things down and distracted from the main plot, concluding with Lisa asking Dushane to pay a visit to the drug dealer who beat-up her son. Dushane agreed, presumably out of guilt, having involved Ra’Nell in the violent world of drug dealing last series.

This whole storyline has seemed a little boring and unnecessary to me. I think the writer didn’t know what to do with Michael, but felt he couldn’t drop the character because he was so central to series one.

The message in the storyline was also a little confused; while Dushane was threatening Vincent, Gem’s father appeared and stabbed Vincent in the leg, an echo of the drug dealer’s earlier comments about stabbing someone who attacks you. What is this saying though? The show throughout has contrasted the hardworking, legitimate businessman that is Gem’s father with the criminals in Summerhouse. But when Gem’s father uses violence to resolve a problem, and it works, what message is the show conveying? That violence is an appropriate way to deal with problems? Even if you believe that, it contradicts a lot of what has gone earlier in the show, and what comes later this episode.

Gem and his father ended the episode moving away from Summerhouse, with Gem sharing a cold and awkward goodbye with Ra’Nell. Lisa also vacated her shop. This ending highlighted just how wasteful and directionless the storyline with the property developers has been. It never amounted to anything, and should probably have been dropped. The script for the series could certainly have been tighter.

The bulk of the episode though was better, focusing on Dushane juggling lots of problems and trying to resolve them all at once. He kidnapped Kayla’s son, and used Rhianna to pass a threat to her. ‘I’m not your co-conspirator,’ the lawyer said. Rhianna finally realised what Dushane was capable of, and broke-off her relationship with him, both personal and professional.

Dushane next attacked the Albanians, with the help of Sully. This I think was supposed to be a big, exciting conclusion to the series, with the attack being promised from the start of episode two. I didn’t really care about it though. We don’t know who the Albanians are. They don’t even have names. They, and the drugs they stole, were basically MacGuffins; irrelevant devices used to generate the plot.

Once the drugs were recovered, Sully parted ways with Dushane, saying he couldn’t forgive him for letting Mike be killed. He disappeared, with the little kid Jason in tow. One of Top Boy’s major themes is how urban problems are passed down to the next generation. Sully had a similar upbringing to Jason, with a drug addicted mother and no role models. As a result, he empathises with Jason and decided to look out for him. Unfortunately, that probably means Jason growing up in the criminal world with Sully, and so the cycle begins again.

In this world, not every child gets to grow up though. Dushane realised Michael was the police witness, and had him taken to his flat. I’m not sure if he planned on killing Michael, but I doubt it, because if that was the case he wouldn’t be killing him in his own flat.

Unfortunately, the Albanians found were Dushane lived, and killed the other dealer who was in the flat with Michael. Realising that Dushane was about to get killed, Michael ran to the window and shouted a warning, before one of the killers threw him over the balcony. Michael had so much misplaced respect and affection for Dushane that he risked, and lost, his own life to save him. The series ended with Dushane without the child he treated as a little brother, or his best friend and partner, or the woman he had tried to start a relationship with. Dushane’s life of crime has left him entirely alone.

Top Boy Channel 4Top Boy’s second series was good, if a little jumbled at times. It did take on too many storylines at once, and a few of them – like the property developers plot – either weren’t resolved satisfactorily or felt a little unnecessary. The whole series felt like a stop-gap between series one and a third series, which is already in development, and which will, I presume, focus on a war between the Albanians and Dushane. And if that does happen, hopefully the Albanians will be actual antagonists, because this series they were nothing but a nationality.

There weren’t really any antagonists this series, besides a collection of forgettable police officers, and the aforementioned Eastern Europeans. The series lacked focus, or any stakes the audience could invest in, with the exception of Michael’s fate.

Still, there were enough enjoyable and interesting characters, and the show illustrated a slice of a culture not often seen on TV, at least, not without that culture being shown as overwhelmingly bad and stereotyped. People have criticised Top Boy for reinforcing these stereotypes of drug dealing, black youths, but the criminals here were sympathetic, with problems derived as much from social issues and deprivation as from poor decision making and character flaws. Other characters, such as Lisa and Gem’s father, were shown as good, law abiding citizens, trying to escape from difficult situations. Yes, we need TV to reflect the non-criminal aspects of black and youth culture, but that doesn’t mean the section of society represented in this show should be off-limits. It does exist; we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t.

It was decent, this second series, and Top Boy is a show that tries to offer more than just excitement, adding social criticism and intelligent themes. I’ll be happy to see the third series, and just hope that it is more focused, and adds a more engaging central conflict, and antagonists, for the main characters to go up against.

Random notes:

  • I’m not sure how the Albanians knew were Dushane lived. Maybe they checked the electoral register at the local library. They are very crafty, these unnamed and non-specific Albanians.
  • There needs to be some sort of conflict between Sully and Dushane next series, because the show can’t do this whole shaky truce thing again, and the characters can’t get back together as partners because that opportunity disappeared this episode.
  • I don’t want to keep comparing this show to The Wire, but Top Boy covers the same ground, and it is noticeably not anywhere near the level of the American show it seeks to replicate. It has failed to examine anything The Wire hasn’t already covered, and there is lots in the US show absent from this one. Maybe series three could try and differentiate itself from its American cousin a little more.

Top Boy Reviews: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three

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5 thoughts on “Top Boy review – Episode Four (Series 2) – Channel 4

  1. I think the message about the Gem/Ra’Nell storyline was that we all need someone to look out for us. One of the themes of the show is loyalty and belonging, and that we are all lost without it. So, Gem’s father had been missing from his life, too busy to notice his son’s problems. His act of violence against Vincent showed his sense of loyalty towards family and son. Part of Ra’Nell and Gem’s purpose I think was to show the possibility of escape and another life.

    I agree the property developer thing was unnecessary and didn’t feel real. But I do think that part was badly written 😦 The property developers were more cartoon than the Albanians. But I think it was OK for the Albanians to be a bit faceless. It’s probably similar to real life – some people come and invade your turf, you don’t really know who they are, and they don’t care who you are, you just want the other person off your patch.

    Definitely the criminals were sympathetic characters without being glamorised. One thing I thought was telling – Dushane didn’t understand Rihanna’s disgust with his behaviour. Which I think is quite realistic – that he is not socialised in the moral norms of a different section of society. He seemed to think that the swagger and the talk would win her over and seemed genuinely perplexed that it didn’t.

    The series made me think, which is more than most telly does, (I didn’t watch The Wire so probably don’t know what I am missing) and so did your review. Thanks for posting.

  2. My name is shacquan palmer im 14 years of age im currently doing gcse drama im a level 6A Last year i done a short film on youtube the film was called thaagam short film i am the boy with the blue just do it bag around my neck. And that short film has now got 5,860 hits so that was a great success for my first experience I been to two established stage schools, which was Stagecoach and recently the Anna fiorenteni theatre school where I was doing drama, singing and dance. I would like to join your agency. Because I would like to be upcoming movies and tv serials. Thank you

  3. Hi there, I am a GCSE student who is reviewing Top Boy and I would really appreciate if I could share my review with you.
    Thank you in advance for reading!
    Top boy is a British television drama series that was first broadcast on channel 4. From 31 October to 3 November 2011. A second series began airing on 20 August 2013 on Channel 4. The series aims to provide an insight into life in east London estates, and how drugs affect everyone living there. Set on the fictional Summerhouse housing estate in Hackney, the series follows the lives of a group of people involved in drug dealing and street gangs. It is about the drug trade an how it impacts on peoples lives an how. it shows all sides of it from the top boy making his money selling drugs, the drug users not being able to be their for their children an how the affect of drugs has impacts on every ones every day life style. the actual drug supply is done by young boys an girls who grew up in that environment, this shows some examples how young children can be brought into the drug trade movements because of the influence of money.
    money is the main subject of the series because everyones making money for either supporting there children and putting roofs over their head or trying to get enough money so they can leave the lifestyle their in an live abroad or elsewhere.
    People that would watch this type of series would be people who them self go through the same type of things. Also many other people would watch this because they want an understanding what an how things work because a lot of top boy is based on real things. I myself like top boy i wouldn’t mind sitting down for an hour to watch episode. If i was to rate this movie id rate it a 10 out of 10 the reason i like the series is because its raw material its not famous actors its people who actual come from the environment. This is good because this made it more realistic. The acting brings more potential because the actors have an actual insight of what their acting about. All movies have a morels i thing the morels of this was not to get to involved in drugs an the other people involved with drugs, an to never underestimate anyone.

    Dushane (Ashley Walters) Was a member of So Solid CrewUses the alias of ‘Asher D’, when performing He Has three children He Went to the Sylvia Young acting school. His friend Sully (Kane Robinson) Kane Robinson was born on May 21, 1985 in London, England. He is known for his work on Tower Block (2012), Point Blank (2007) and Top Boy.

    • You make some good points, especially about money being a theme in the series and the lesson of never underestimating anyone. I never noticed that until you pointed it out. Thanks for the comment; you should keep writing, it was interesting to read.

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