Top Boy: A Netflix Review
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
It is worth mentioning quickly, that when I say season 1, I mean the original channel 4 production. Like Narcos, a new imagining, starts with another season 1. However, for this review, season 1 means the first Top Boy from 2013. With, I don't imagine, any small amount of bullying from Netflix, the Channel 4 original has now been renamed Topboy: Summerhouse. Making it sound like a gardening show. Weak move from the boys in Leeds
We find Dushane in Jamaica. In a sledgehammer form of subtlety, we are reminded that he has a good side also. This incident causes him to meet the clumsy caricature of a Jamaican Yardie gang boss, Sugar. He (Sugar) has marked Dushane for death for said incident. To buy some time Dushane promises to make him rich selling his Jamaican ingredients all over London. After some dramatics, muscle-flexing and all that, Dushane is going back.
Sully is finishing his unexplained stretch inside on the exit landing. Running into an old Summerhouse acquaintance, we are reminded of Sully's status. He laughs with contempt at the top-dog of this prison, a chap called Modie. Maybe, just maybe, we might see him again.
Now as this is a review, not an essay. I cannot be too specific. However, I must address my main issue with this show. The exposition. If you recall the character Lenny from of Mice and Men, that should be a good example of how heavy-handed it is. There are certain characters that would be less obviously going to perish if they had a stopwatch running down every time they appeared on-screen with a black crucifix atop their heads.
The show, quickly, deals with the national phenomenon of County Lines drug dealing. It handles with subtlety the damage this ugly technology-led practice causes, as well as its long-term effects (local racial tension, 'cuckooing'). The money making enterprise ends, as does the character of Jason. A marked man. The grim-reaper was practically walking behind him the last time we see him in life. Want some advice? If you meet Sully or Dushane, do not be likeable or sympathetic. That will end badly for you!
We meet the incredibly uneven Jamie. Running by default/usurpation the Fields gang (Dushane and Sullys rivals from the first outing) He is a bit of a paradox. A tough, forgiving, violent, loving, hate-filled, family man. He does well at parents evening, and he slaughters gangsters. I had a problem with him being a worthy foe for the formidable Sully and Dushane. Too much humanity, he had many weaknesses. Firstly he was too young, and too many open dependents that would make easy ransom/blackmail-fodder.
Jamie's gang open off by killing the Turkish gang that supply the drugs. This touches on a very real problem in the hard-drugs world that causes many deaths and millions in healthcare costs.. A heroin drought. The supplier is gone so the have no "food" to supply. This causes addicts to inject pills, alcohol, heavily cut "home-bake" heroin, made from codeine tablets. Since the war in Afghanistan, this happens more and more, to learn more, read the Government findings
Ever noticed this? It makes your day happier
All of a sudden they are with an (unexplained) upper-middle-class couple who, inexplicably have a lot of heroin and cocaine. Constantly. Even more inexplicable , yet obvious, is the vanishing of the plain husband, and the staying of the sexy wife. Guess what she ends up doing a lot with Jamie?
We find a lot of good character development. I was taken aback at two young schoolboys being a beginning opener. Season one all over again? No. I was glad to say. No tedious side-plots with Chinese weed-growers. Also, only once is Jerk-chicken mentioned. In season one, I think there was more of that than there was heroin.
Sully and Dushane return, with the old dynamic, immediately addressed by a traumatised Sully. It was always Dushane who was seen as the leader. This caused a split before, where Sully teamed up with Arthur Shelby. Always a bad idea. So Sully makes sure Dushane knows they must be equal. By the series end though, it has to be said, especially considering Dushane's visit with his camera-phone, the old Tony-Manolo ranking starts to shimmer through.
We see Dris. Slightly pathetic, maybe softened a bit due to being a parent. His arm is damaged. He is a shadow of himself having had a stroke from too much Nos , plus a severe alcohol and cannabis appetite, as well as a hinted at harder drug problem. Still, for those of us that remember him from the original outings, it is hard to sympathise. Animal rights folk will remember what he did to the dog in Summerhouse
We meet the savvy Jaq, played by Jasmine Jobson with realistic aplomb and genuine aggression. Without doubt, for my money the star of the series.
The action was top notch. Confusing, loud, emotional and often the result ambiguous. So just like real violence. That is what is so great about Top Boy. It has a sense of realism. Go down East St Market or Elephant and Castle, or take that terrifying left into Regents Park Estate. You see where they get it from.
Still, remember I said, it is a "sense" of realism. It is not realistic. Therein is, poetically, my main issue. It is just too far fetched. Kill Turkish suppliers? You would not see the week out.
The main question though Aside from a snippet at the end that is just a precursor to season 2/4, "Where are the effing police"? there are shootouts, murders, bodies dropped from tower blocks, public affrays using knives and guns in hospitals, and innocent teens brain-dead from being in the wrong place. They would not have been able to move a muscle. Especially with the three seconds it would have taken the police to know Sully and Dushane were back.
Sugar, a worldwide, hardened, cold-blooded gangster with immeasurable reach. Finished off by some girl with a vial. No repercussions? God no.
I could go on. The story is needing work. It has too many leaps-of-faith required. Also little nonsensical things, for example, Jamie: He is in no way intimidated by Sully or Dushane, he is smart as a whip and seems to have the upper hand. The his ex-boss Modie is out of jail, he escaped, and as we saw, he is nothing compared to Sully, yet Jamie is immediately cowed by him. He is half-blind and on the run. At no point does Jamie rise up to him. It does not figure.
Also, without saying to much, a trope that pisses me off is here, and I say: "REMOVING BULLETS FROM A WOUND WILL NOT HELP!!!!!!!"
Still, that is the negative. The positive is that it is a polished, sexy, granular, emotionally driven piece of excellent modern-day fiction and I recommend it to all. There is a piece involving a police shootout,(spoiler protocol dictates I must be vague and it leaves an excellent question as to the resolution. The factors involved are clever and well thought up and leaves you with a cute little conundrum of both wondering whether they were right and whether it will be discovered they were right. . If you think you might like it, you will. However, it is no romcom. If you want to feel warm and fuzzy, put a coat on first
This was. in my opinion the best of the three series. No expendable side-event. No confusing and time-filling sub-plots. The best judge is to ask; did I watch it quickly, and the answer is yes. Also, could I have watched it all in one go if I had the time, once again, I answer in the affirmative.
The end tells us a second re-visit is on the cards. I predict Jaq's girlfriend will be explored. Her offer of safe punters for the product seems a good route. I must say, I expected it this season, but, like most, I was outsmarted by Dushane and Sully.