Review: Netflix’s Top Boy

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Top Boy makes a return with its third season after a six-year break, with the help of executive producer and big fan, Drake. The show offers a lens into young people’s lives living on an East London housing estate, their lifestyle comprising of both hardship and camaraderie.

The protagonists, Dushane, played by rapper ‘Asher D’, and Sully, played by rapper ‘Kano’, return to Summerhouse to find that the workings of their estate have evolved during their time away. An abundance of artists endorses the series’ comeback, including Mercury Prize winner Dave with his impressive TV debut as Modie and rapper Little Simz as Shelley.

Since Dushane, Sully and the viewers’ break from Summerhouse, aspiring ‘Top Boy’ Jamie is on the rise, offering a fresh personality to the estate and the screen. The show has been criticised for fuelling the prejudice around Black working class people by depicting them as ruthlessly violent criminals.

The multifaceted character Jamie, played by Michael Ward, challenges this critique. Jamie’s rise to the top is unequivocally achieved through the merciless and Machiavellian means too familiar to loyal viewers, as well as many of those who live on an estate similar to Summerhouse. Nonetheless, he simultaneously fathers his two younger brothers after their parents die of illness, making him an honourable and sympathetic character which contradicts this stereotype. 

It is not only the boys on the block that have changed over time; Top Boy also offers an insight into the changing nature of London, showing how areas like Hackney have become gentrified. This is comically captured in Dushane’s homecoming from Jamaica, when he buys a £3.50 coffee, which is fastidiously brewed by the barista. The show also makes more salient observations, the most harrowing of which being the distressing visits from immigration officers to the mother of the young hardworking schoolboy Ats, played by Keiyon Cook. Having lived and worked in England for 20 years, Ats’ mother, Amma, played by Jolade Obasola, is haunted by the threat of having to leave her son and life in London. This compels Ats to take on some of the financial burden, firstly selling homemade burgers to fellow students outside school. Later, he is enticed by the appeal of selling drugs and is driven into a violent gang culture.

This woeful path that Ats is dragged down shows how ostracization and financial injustice can force young people to get caught up in the troubles of the streets. This heart-breaking story strongly resonates with all affected by the Windrush scandal. Top Boy humanises this political crisis and highlights the traumatic reality facing families like that of Ats’. The long-awaited return of Top Boy, with its gripping plot as well as its fresh and familiar faces, does not come as a disappointment. In our uncertain political times, it is reassuring that the arts retain a front seat in shining a spotlight on the contemporary injustices of society. 

Image Credit: Netflix