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

Sarah Hughes
Thursday 22 August 2013 07:40
Ashley Walters in Top Boy
Ashley Walters in Top Boy

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.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in