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TV: Top Boy

TV: Top Boy

Suitable for 15+!


This series has proved to be very “problematic”, as it raises some really difficult issues surrounding London life on the council estates. First broadcast in 2011 (so it’s quite an old show) for Channel 4, the series is very dramatic and can be depressing in its realism. It’s set on a fictional estate called Summerhouse, apparently in the London Borough of Hackney. Murders, drug dealing and blackmail are frequent in the activities of the gangs. The series shows us how ordinary people can be dragged into the criminal underworld, especially poor people, if they are not careful. Those looking to make a quick, easy bit of money in a hurry find it difficult to get out of the drug business, once they’ve entered it.


Rather than following just one character, the series follows many different protagonists. First is young boy Ra’Nell, who with his friend Gem, struggle to balance school life and surviving on their own. After Ra’Nell’s mum has a mental breakdown, Ra’Nell has to fend for himself for a little while, and finds an opportunity to make some money with one of his mum’s friends, Heather. Meanwhile, Gem’s philosophy of taking whatever money is offered lands him in a lot of trouble.


Dushane and Sully are the estate leaders of the drug gang. Although their activities are horrible, they live in constant fear for their life and their business. They have to make really tough calls on what to do when their boss threatens them, and although they have more money than most people on the estate, it seems like it’s impossible for them to leave it behind.


The cast is excellent, and includes some first-rate (but maybe not famous) actors. This is especially true of the teenage actors – they manage to successfully portray people who have grown up too fast, in a mature and realistic manner. The adult cast is great, too, especially because adults with lives like this are incredibly complicated characters.


I hope that it’s not that realistic. There are some really harrowing, depressing, disgusting scenes in the TV show. Hopefully it’s the same as most other TV shows – an extremely dramatized version of reality, although I’m a bit worried that in some parts of the world, ordinary people can be dragged into crime as easily as Ra’Nell and his friends.


So what sort of issues does this controversial TV series cover? There’s the obvious issue of drugs, drug dealing, as well as the gun and knife crime it entails. Ra’Nell’s mother suffers from mental illness, and the first series deals quite well with her breakdown. Sexism and sexual crimes are also prominent, and it prompts lots of questions in the viewer’s mind. Finally, there are lots of moral issues in the series, and even the toughest/roughest characters are troubled by these.


The series got great reviews from critics, who agreed that the actors were good. One of the leading actors had actually been in trouble with the law for possessing guns, so he “knew the world he was portraying”. All of this must have made the series as convincing and as gritty as it is. Difficult to watch, but gripping nonetheless.


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