But of Top Boy, a tough and very realistic portrait of drug trafficking in the city of London, nobody said anything.
For those of you who like your series to navigate unchartered or forbidden waters, 2014 was not a great year. Britain’s Channel 4 decided not to renew three series that were in their own right, incisive and uncomfortable to watch: Black Mirror, Utopia and Top Boy. The first got the longer end of the stick the best stop. When its creator, Charlie Brooker, it was clear that he was not going to get a third season (instead he was offered to make a special Christmas episode that was aired at the end of that same year) he started looking for a new home for the series and found it on Netflix. The second, Utopia, also caused interest from the US industry, but in this case to make a remake. In his day, David Fincher was involved in the project, which HBO was going to do. In the end it ended up in the hands of Amazon and it is the writer Gillian Flynn who is leading the adaptation of the Dennis Kelly series that is expected to be released this year. But of Top Boy, a tough and very realistic portrait of drug trafficking in the city of London, nobody said anything.
The series went from being classified as Britain’s answer to The Wire, to slipping between the cracks and into oblivion. There came a time when even the cast admitted that the idea of a third season was completely ruled out. Everything changed when years later, rapper Drake discovered the series and was impressed by its crudity in denouncing how the system permits the destruction of the lives of vulnerable young people who become part of the hierarchy of drug trafficking. Few series have been as effective as Top Boy when it comes to accurately portraying that kind of neighborhood that society prefers to turn a blind eye to, the streets where boys who are still kids and entering adolescence are recruited by drug-traffickers who own them. The interpretations of actors like debutante Malcolm Kamulete along with other more experienced co-stars, like Ashley Walters, the realism with which the director works, the use of color and an impeccable soundtrack were just some of the strengths of a series heavily influenced by The Corner and the already mentioned The Wire. Strengths that blew Drake away, so much so that when he finished watching it, he asked to meet with series creator, Ronan Bennett, who had no idea who the rapper was.
Weeks later, Drake was standing side-by-side with the screenwriter in Netflix’s offices, selling the project with himself as executive producer. The US based platform didn’t hesitate to sign them up as long as Drake was on board, and six years after season two of Top Boy, a third season has just recently been released and is available on Netflix. The show is back with visible changes in terms of form now that they have more budget, which translates into more complex situations and scenes. In terms of content however, nothing really has changed. Season three stresses the fact that, although the years have passed, life in the neighborhood remains the same. Dushane and Sully, our protagonists, haven’t been living in Hackney for some time, but the area hasn’t changed. Traffickers are still on the corners and the kids are still easy prey to become part of their vertical exploitation system. People are mere cogs in the machinery that can be replaced without hassle and which never rests, and Top Boy dissects this point with a rawness rarely seen on television.