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NETFLIX PICK OF THE WEEK: Top Boy

by Winston "Stone" Ford

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Props to @sonya_wins for the recommendation.

So people are calling this the British version of The Wire. It’s not even close.

Honestly, clocking in at at only 4 episodes you cannot really make a fair comparison between Channel 4’s Top Boy and the American drama series. However, the series does provide a decidedly different take on the world of drugs, gangs and corruption in London’s council estates.

As a series, Top Boy walks the line of trying to humanize it’s characters while trying to show a crisp, honest picture of urban life. In episode one we’re introduced to Ra’Nell, a studious youngster in the fictional Summerhouse Estate who, after his mother is sent to the hospital for depression, is left to fend for himself. After resisting the advances of the local drug crew to become a child solider, Ra’Nell falls into the drug game eventually, becoming a principal in a maijuana grow house operated by a family friend.

In parallel, Kamale and Sully’s drug gang (the one that tries to recruit Ra’Nell in the first place) has their own issues as they battle rival drug crews and try to muscle their way up the food chain. However, this story has been told time and time again, and although the writers try to humanize the dealers (Sully takes out a snitch and finds time to go to church with his mother, while Dushane spends time being a good father to his daughter) this storyline is a mere distraction from the situation at hand.

The real story here is Ra’Nell. You end up wanting to root for him. You want him to make the right decisions and not end up a statistic. However you also know that the environment that he is raised in does now allow him the support to make this possible. And that’s the nuance that Top Boy insinuates with this series. That there is really no way out for these kids. It never explicitly mentions this, but it’s eventent and clear by the characters motivations. Fortunately, the series finds a way to lay on the mellow drama heavy, yet as a viewer you don’t feel swallowed by it. The series is able to preach by not saying a single word.

But at the end, we’re left with too many questions. Will Ra’Nell grow up to be a productive member of socitey or will he fall deeper into the drug game? Will Dushane and Sully ever see prosperity from the drug life, or will they end up a staticstic like many Black men before them? These questions are left unanswered.

And honestly, I think that’s how it should be. Sometimes life dosen’t have the Hollywood ending. Sometimes things are just the way they are. As the series returns this Summer (in the UK), I hope that it maintains this pacing and not try to deliver us a heartwarming tale just to make us feel good inside. Because unfortunately, life for young boy’s like Ra’Nell rarely end up like anything in the movies or TV.

Stream Top Boy on Netflix.