Top Boy

Top Boy





Emily Tsiao

TV Series Review

Dushane and Sully know the narcotics business. They should, as they’ve been running their own operation out of London’s Summerhouse estate for more than a decade now.

It hasn’t been easy; Summerhouse and the surrounding areas are riddled with crime. (Arms dealers also frequent the grounds.) Dushane and Sully have gone up against rival gangs, watched friends die and even taken a few lives themselves.

And that doesn’t even touch on the hardships they’ve faced unrelated to their lives of crime. Folks living at Summerhouse still get cancer and have strokes, just like anybody else. And since it’s a lower-income community with a higher influx of immigrants, its residents must deal with racism and gentrification.

But now, Dushane and Sully will face their greatest challenge yet.

You Wanna Be On Top?

Sully had tried, for a time, to leave the dangerous world of drug-dealing. He had seen too much death; he had caused too much death.

But violent events brought him back, and Sully has now fully embraced the vicious nature required to be “top boy” (a term used for the head of each narcotics gang).

He kills Jamie, Dushane’s protégé of sorts whom Dushane had planned to become the next top boy so that he and Sully could retire. Then he forces Dushane to step down, giving him the choice to die like Jamie or retire, as he was planning to do anyway (though not, perhaps, in such dramatic fashion).

Then, right as things seem to be going to plan, an Irish gang steals the Summerhouse gang’s latest delivery of drugs. The leader tells Sully that they’ll be working together from now on—and, by the way, they’ll take 50% of the profits. And if Sully doesn’t agree to this business arrangement, the Irishman will cut Sully out of the deal completely. (And by “cut out,” I mean he’ll kill Sully.)

Sully doesn’t know what to do. Trying to handle it on his own, he winds up getting one of his men killed. So, he’ll have to seek help from the only other top boy he knows.

He can only hope that Dushane is willing to lend a hand.

Top Boy, Low Standards

Top Boy originally ran on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. However, despite successful ratings and critical acclaim, it was cancelled after just two seasons.

Then Drake (as in, the famous Canadian rapper with 11 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100) discovered the show on YouTube, bought the rights to the series and pitched it to Netflix, resulting in an additional three seasons.

The original first two seasons can be found on Netflix, titled Top Boy: Summerhouse. And the content found there is about even with this revival series. But for those just now diving in, there’s some content issues to look out for.

Drugs, obviously, are a pretty big issue. Folks are dealing and using illegal narcotics. For the dealers, violence walks hand-in-hand with that trade. Dushane and Sully cross paths with more than one arms dealer. People get shot, stabbed, beaten to bloody pulps and more. And sometimes we see every bit of those gory details onscreen.

But we also witness what happens to the families of those involved in the shady business. Fathers go to prison. Mothers neglect their children. Families are torn apart.  In the case of Jamie, he only got into the business to provide for his two younger brothers after their parents both died from cancer. Then Sully murdered him in cold blood right in front of them. Another young member of Summerhouse’s gang, Jaq, gets her pregnant sister out of an abusive situation with an arms dealer, only to realize her sister is addicted to narcotics.

Language here is every bit the TV-MA trope, with dozens of f-bombs (and more) in each episode. Sex and nudity (including full frontal male nudity) is frequent, intense and often between unmarried partners. There are a few LGBT characters, as well.

Top Boy might be one of Netflix’s top shows, but content-wise, it seems the creators have been scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Episode Reviews

Sept. 7, 2023 – S3, Ep1: “Step Back”

Sully forces Dushane to step down as top boy of Summerhouse, threatening to kill him if he doesn’t. Shortly after, Summerhouse’s drug operation is threatened by a rival gang. Meanwhile, Dushane focuses on helping Shelley, his girlfriend, open a chain of salons.

A flashback shows Sully killing Jamie (who is offscreen), and we hear Jamie’s younger brothers scream in fear. In the present, Sully verbally threatens to kill Dushane if he doesn’t step down as top boy. (Dushane complies.) A man is shot point-blank in the head (we see blood spurt from the lethal wound). Others are threatened at gun point, but no further shooting takes place.

Sully and Jaq discover that their latest delivery of narcotics has been replaced with the severed heads of their cohorts by a rival gang. (That gang then forces them into a deal to take half their profits of all future sales.) Dushane makes a thinly veiled threat to his money launderer. A woman threatens to get a baseball bat when strangers come looking for her son. We see a man with massive scars on his face and an eye patch.

A young man is forcefully removed from his home by six immigration officers, who claim he is there illegally. (His mother protests that he entered the country legally when he was an infant, and we have no proof, but this appears to be true.) The officers break down the door of his apartment and roughly push his mother (who is a weak cancer patient) to the side. He’s handcuffed and shoved into a police vehicle. His neighbors object and stop the agents from taking him to deportation by organizing an impromptu sit-in, blocking the vehicles from leaving the complex. Officers grab the sitters and try to force them to leave but are unsuccessful. And after several hours of chanting and waiting (during which more people join in and neighbors offer water to the participants), the immigration officers receive an order to release the man.

A lesbian couple makes a few sexual jokes about female anatomy.

The mother of a newborn infant worries that her baby takes after his father (who abused her). And she refuses to breastfeed seemingly because of the resemblance. However, we later learn she is addicted to drugs: Her sister finds her passed out on the couch after using them.

Several drug deals take place onscreen. In one instance, a dealer notices a neglected infant (she comments that the baby doesn’t look as though it’s been bathed in weeks), but she sells the drugs to the mother, who is showing obvious signs of withdrawal. A few people smoke cigarettes and marijuana. Folks drink alcohol in restaurants and bars.

One of Jamie’s younger brothers, Stefan, is living in foster care after the death of his brother, who was his caretaker. He skips school and lies to his foster mother that it was cancelled. Shelley suggests to Dushane that he can use her new business as a money-laundering operation. We see fish getting skinned and chopped up in an outdoor market. We hear about the crimes of smuggling and extortion. Characters lie. Jaq is criticized for participating in a protest since it could be discovered that she is a drug dealer if she gets arrested.

We hear more than 40 uses of the f-word, three uses of the s-word and two uses of “h—.” God’s name is misused twice, and Christ’s name is abused once.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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