The long-awaited return to the streets of Summerhouse has kept fans of this Netflix fave on tenterhooks. The show was finally confirmed for release on March 8 with all episodes immediately available to binge watch. Social media blew up with ecstatic gratitude and apprehension; applications to join the already large Facebook fan group trebling within days. The expectation was immense and furious.
There was a worry that filming during the pandemic with its strict rules on contact may have caused the show to lose an edge. There was further wonder about whether it had simply been too long and would have an anachronistic feel . After all, one of the many plaudits for this show has been how it is realistic to the drug scene in heavy urban gangland areas. This show picks up six months later when it was many years in real time causing something of a 'Trainspotting' effect. Other long awaited returns of pre-Covid favourites have disappointed, such as the now laughably bloated and woefully pretentious final season of Peaky Blinders. Was our greatest crime drama in decades going to fall to the same whimsically grandiose level?
Let us answer these; there were clearly less extras, that is immediately noticeable. There is filming overseas in Spain where the virus also hit very hard but I am glad to say it does not register on the dynamic of the show. Secondly, I for one do not agree that Top Boy portrays the drug scene accurately so that is a moot question , and finally I am glad to say that it was in no way over stylised and had no feel of an Emo rock video. It maintained the same punchy style of great beats, establishing downward shots, multi-cut close ups and perspective changes that give it the realism and signature grit that has made it the powerhouse it is.
So, what is it all about? As per usual the two main characters, Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) have fallen out at the end of the last series. Dushane's political and unethical games to topple the worthy adversary they had found in Jamie had knocked Sully's conscience. Sully is in isolation off site in a place of torment over the death of Dris (oh yes he is dead as it gets. Forget the "missing" post-it, he was shot to pieces.) We are introduced to Lizzie's connections in Spain, due to personal issues the whole setup is at risk with violent repercussions and Dushane takes control.
Jamie is out of jail thanks to the video of Ats planting the gun being released to the CPS and comes home to adulation from the now defunct and penniless ZT's gang but to wary cold politeness from his brother Aaron and sullen resentment from his younger brother, Stef. The aforementioned has cut ties with Ats who is part of the dealing gang run by Jaq. His mother is chasing him but a mixture of conscience and revenge fuels the story on the sides as we advance. Stef turns to his brother for advice on how he could ever forgive his old best friend but it is too late for the two to reunite as Ats is found dead in a skip. A tragically ignominious end for the wayward victim of last season. Jamie is welcomed by Dushane but then given a comparatively junior role.
The story of the Spanish issue and Sully's irritating family hijinks, the interesting expansion of Ruben, the Mr Fix-it provider from the last season and the Summerhouse property expansion make up the bulk of our storyline. The usual heady mix of violence and intrigue peppers each scene so you always know one or the other is not far away.
It was the strongest opening episode I have yet seen and the pace did not disappoint. As always Kano plays the mass-murderer/drug dealer/thief Sully in a somehow sympathetic way. A true testament to his presence and charisma that he can have you sympathising for him regardless of what he has done (the scene with him and the fox felt like The Mighty Boosh had taken over) and you realise just how capable he is on his own without Dushane. Mr Walters as Top Boy Dushane is cold and ruthless as ever, although I do sometimes wonder if he is trying to channel Michael Corleone and if he is that is a little clumsy and trite. Once again though, the stand out performance of the regular cast is Jasmine Jobson and the captain of the gang, Jaq. She shows more of her vulnerable side this season. however, the newcomer award must go you Howard Charles as the deadly Curtis. A scouse gun-merchant with a vested interest in Jaq's naive sister Lauren. His stoic intensity and effortless verbal flow gives him the searing air of a cobra that you know ill soon bite and deliver enough venom to end us all.
Is it perfect? No. It is pretty damn spectacular though. It found its feet last time in the multi-episode format and sometimes lagged but not this time. I found no weak episodes and the interest never waned which was the failing of recent crime drama series such as the BBC show The Bodyguard. That said there are some issues I find hard to bear. Sully and Dushane are mass murderers and the police make a few half-arsed attempts to bring them down but nothing sincere. They are leaving bodies across London and dealing hard drugs openly. They somehow got Ruben to almost turn by just mentioning Dushane and that somehow terrified this hardened streetwise gangster. We also see Dushane having panic attacks? It has been done to death, Sopranos, Analyse This/That and is a trope that needs retiring.
Then we have the method of selling the drugs which someone obviously thought was clever by hiding it in rubbish bags, one deal per bottle. A cute idea but in that nasty scene someone would snitch to the police within a day of that practice. All the officers need do is walk to where they are and remove the rubbish bags and they lose thousands of pounds each time. Not as if the onlooking dealers could object without going to serious jail as that would be intent to supply and conspiracy in big numbers. Then I have the visibility of Sully and Dushane. They are top of the tree, yet Dushane recognised the cops who were undercover as low end junkies. They are saying there are only three layers in the drug trade dealer-captain-boss. I cannot believe that the top dealers in a city the size of London are that close to the street. It is always the same cafe and the whole world knows it yet it has not been bugged or staked out.
Those are just a couple of niggles, nothing anywhere near enough to mar the excellence this series holds in my view. That said, there were a couple of issues I found did detract and would cause the lost marks in the rating. I did take exception to the Summerhouse renovation story. I just prayed my prediction was wrong; that his mother would not die causing him to go all Robin Hood and save Summerhouse and its residents. I was saddened when I found I was 100% right. It felt so disingenuous and insulting to the viewer. Secondly it is the way that Sully and Dushane fall out at the end AGAIN. It is getting very formulaic now and the audience deserves better. Give us a different cliffhanger please. The side story of Shelley having a past involving a poorly thought out incident of violence was as full of holes as the body they dug up. Shelley was already a strong enough character in her own right and the subplot was not really required.
That is the exception to the rule. A couple of clangers dropped in a series of such class that even though 99% of people do not fully understand the dialogue, it is still a worldwide smash. It is subtle and pleasing. The scene where Sully shows up in Spain is so delicious, followed by his wicked delivery of his views on Jamie. Who needs air-con when you have someone as cold as Sully. Just one of the endless pleasing gifts the filmmakers and writers give the viewers but without two minutes of incidental music, aggressive use of colour filter and pensive shots of people going through turmoil. It is entirely unpretentious, in-excessively complex and sofa-clutchingly gripping.
It has been a long time coming and has not disappointed in any way. This shows that Netflix is just what the BBC is not anymore. Long live the kings.
Oh yeah, and if you are gonna letch at some poor girl, make sure Jaq is not walking by.