TV review: Top Boy, Channel 4 - Britain's answer to The Wire is so much more than guns and gangs
The Great British Bake-Off, BBC2
Wednesday 21 August 2013
When Top Boy first appeared on Channel 4 in 2011, there was a great deal of debate as to what it was: A British version of The Wire? A gritty and raw depiction of everyday Hackney life? Or just a clever piece of well-written fiction? Most of all, did it glamorise violence, making heroes out of drug dealers and gods out of gang leaders? The fast-paced and compelling beginning to the second season suggests that the show's creator, Ronan Bennett, has decided to answer such criticisms by turning everything up to 11 and thrusting the gang storylines defiantly centre stage.
Ashley Walters' Dushane is now Summerhouse's top boy. His mind is on expansion, although he knows his grip on power is a shaky one. Erstwhile best friend Sully is still furious with him and has hooked up with the disturbed Mike. Meanwhile, the feds are lurking round Summerhouse trying to find out just who killed rival gang member Kamale at the end of the first season.
As before, much of the joy of Top Boy comes from its believable slang-heavy dialogue, all "bare" and "believe" and "bruv". Whether it was the younger boys – many of them cast from local open auditions – engaging in half-hearted rap battles or the older women joking in the local hair salon, Bennett's script was tight and credible, while a brief scene in Dalston's Ridley Road Market did more to accurately capture London in all her grimy glory than any number of expensive ad campaigns.
Nor was it all guns and gangs. Despite its dark central storyline, Top Boy is often at its best in its smaller moments: the gentle jokes between Lisa and her friend Zoe, the scenes between the estate's young dealers, equal parts mockery and affection, a well-observed moment as Dris tried to get his young daughter ready for school.
Comparisons to The Wire's hoppers and slingers remain inevitable, especially now that Bennett has widened his vision to comment on gentrification and the real cost of both friendship and crime. Despite his best efforts and those of his charismatic young cast, Top Boy doesn't yet have either the fully confident tone of the American show or its ability to lay a character bare with one well-chosen phrase. That said, this was an involving and wonderfully well-acted piece of television, one that thrust you straight into a fully imagined world, forcing you to pay attention while making you almost queasily complicit in its characters' sins.
After all that tension, it was something of a relief to turn to the comfort of The Great British Bake-Off. Having been in America for the past five years, I've missed the brouhaha surrounding this show and was keen to find out what the fuss was about. Within the first 10 minutes, as jolly English teacher Glenn announced that he was going to bake a traditional Victoria sponge to please Mary Berry, only minutes after the woman herself had firmly announced she wanted to see more than a traditional sponge, I felt traumatised.
Then Ruby's eyes filled up with tears as her time ran out and sweet-faced Ali, the only man to have ever baked in his family, dropped his chocolate butterfly on the floor. By the time the nervous Toby, who bore a striking resemblance to Dylan Moran at his most disturbingly dishevelled, announced, "Oh God, brilliant, I've used salt by mistake', I was on my knees.
Fans of this show are clearly sadists who take pleasure in watching these lovely people aim for the heavens with their crazy chocolate confections, only to snicker as they fall apart and fail. Sadly, I'm as bad as the rest of you and, having been sucked in by Mary's stern stare, I will now be mournfully watching soufflés subside for the next 10 weeks.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 3 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Sherlock series 4: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have to be 'persuaded' to return, says Steven Moffat
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
A victory for gender equality on the high seas
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove