Top Boy 2, C4, with Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Lorraine Burroughs

Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Dris (Shone Romulus) in Top Boy 2
Dushane and Dris in Top Boy 2. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Tuesday, 20 August, 9pm

Story: 27-year-old Dushane has finally made it as ‘Top Boy’, and is moving into the big time with boss Joe. But Dushane’s former right-hand man, Sully, is now a potentially dangerous rival with a new partner-in-crime, violent and volatile Mike…

Graffiti of Sully and Dushane in C4's Top Boy2
Sully and Dushane – series artwork

WELCOME BACK to the Summerhouse Estate, where the gangs are still thriving and tension is high. Dushane is where he wants to be – Top Boy – and thinks he can ride the tiger, that he is in control.

He’s joined up with big boss Joe and they are getting their largest drugs shipment ever. For most of the opening episode (there are four in all), everything seems to be going Dushane’s way.

Even when he is arrested on suspicion of killing Kamale, Dushane is soon released unscathed, with the help of attractive solicitor Rhianna, who even agrees to go for a drink with him.

Bleak Hackney accompanied by Brian Eno

Dushane’s former ally Sully is scrabbling around to brutalise his way to small amounts of

Vincent (Benedict Wong) in C4's Top Boy 2
Drug dealer Vincent terrorises Gem

cash, in cahoots with violent Mike. But even if Dushane misses his old mucker, Sully is strictly small time.

This second instalment of Top Boy picks up where the first, Bafta-nominated, series left off. It’s written by novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett (Hidden, Public Enemies), a resident of Hackney whose tale here has a proper feel for the borough and its rough side.

In modern TV dramas council estates are shorthand for ‘chavs’ and lawlessness, and certainly those featured in Top Boy are bleak, with a score by Brian Eno rubbing in the starkness of it all. But not all of Bennett’s characters turn to gang culture as a means of escape, and that’s what makes the drama a rewarding experience.

Escaping the Summerhouse Estate gangs?

Ra’Nell’s story is again contrasted with those of Dushane’s and the gang members, as he attempts to keep his head down while furthering his prospects as a footballer. His mother, Lisa, has turned a corner after her nervous breakdown and is now running her own hairdresser’s.

Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa in C4's Top Boy 2
Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa

But his friend Gem is in the clutches of a Chinese drug dealer, and his plight threatens to submerge Ra’Nell too. From 12-year-old budding rapper Michael to the other young members of Dushane’s crew, such as Nevaeh and R’Marni, this is the story of the youngsters in a hazardous urban setting.

Ronan Bennett has seen drug-dealing ‘tinies’ near his home and he has spoken to them, and Top Boy is a judgement-free portrayal of these kids, their attitudes, ambitions and relationships – good, bad and ugly. It’s in turn dismaying, raw, frightening and sometimes funny.

Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson and David Hayman

Ashley Walters, once of Grange Hill and So Solid Crew, has the charisma to be a believable gang leader, while David Hayman oozes menace as Joe. Kane Robinson as Sully holds his own

Gem and Ra'Nell in C4's Top Boy 2
Gem and Ra’Nell

as Dushane’s equal, while the young cast members (with Malcolm Kamulete as Ra’Nell and Giacomo Mancini as Gem) all feel authentic.

By the end of the first episode, the overarching crime storyline takes a shocking twist, ensuring that events are starting to spin out of Dushane’s control.

Apparently, a third series is in the pipeline, which is good news. C4’s drama renaissance is helping to expunge memories of its past reality horrors such as Big Brother and The Man with 10-Stone Testicles. Top Boy is a mark of the channel’s new-found thirst for originality and bold drama commissioning, following on from recent successes Utopia and Southcliffe.

Cast: Ashley Walters Dushane, Kane Robinson Sully, David Hayman Joe, Paul Anderson Mike, Sharon Duncan-Brewster Lisa, Giacomo Mancini Gem, Malcolm Kamulete Ra’Nell, Shone Romulus Dris, Lorraine Burroughs Rhianna

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