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

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.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?