It is undeniable that Top Boy has had a lasting impact on British television. When it premiered on Channel 4 in 2011, it was the first drama to explore the complex world of inner-city drug gangs. It also paved the way for mainstream success for many Black actors, including Letitia Wright and Micheal Ward, and helped boost the international recognition of UK music artists like Kano and Little Simz. The show’s devoted fanbase ultimately convinced British producers that there is a demand for authentic portrayals of Black life on screen. This can be seen in the success of shows like the BBC sitcom Dreaming Whilst Black and the Peckham romantic comedy Rye Lane.
However, for viewers, the most significant aspect of this show is its exceptional quality as a television series. The fifth and final season demonstrated a mastery in creating gripping and unpredictable content that was difficult to look away from. From the very beginning, when we see Sully (Kane Robinson) and Dushane (Ashley Walters) trying to maintain a fragile truce after being former best friends and leaders of the drug gang on Summerhouse Estate, it was evident that anything could happen. The power dynamics constantly shifted, there were intense shootouts in retirement homes, and a heartbreaking death scene in a bathtub.
The intensity of the jeopardy was often overwhelming to witness. The characters would practice seeking revenge in front of mirrors, or commit desperate robberies as they spiraled towards self-destruction due to grief. By the third episode, even Dushane, who was usually more composed, was involved in a poorly executed attempt to cover up a murder. Despite splashing bleach around, his fingerprints were still left behind.
However, this show delved into much more than just action-packed tales of crime. Viewers were given a glimpse into the characters’ personal lives through touching scenes, such as Jaq and Lauryn’s bonding at the nail salon (“What are these things? Gems? Keep them away from me!”) or Sully’s playful walks to school with his tired daughter (“Can you walk a little faster, Dad? Not that fast!”). When Stefan (Araloyin Oshunremi) sat on the bench where he used to meet his deceased brother Jamie and proudly spoke about his new girlfriend, hoping for some sign from his sibling in the afterlife, it was difficult to keep dry eyes.
The organization persisted in its efforts to demonstrate that violence related to drugs and based on location does not occur in isolation. It brought attention to the government’s forceful actions to deport individuals who were born in the UK and legally reside there (or as one member of the Summerhouse group put it: “Trying to send him to Rwanda or some other place”). When the police used a battering ram in an aggressive manner, it sparked a peaceful protest, highlighting the “us versus them” mentality that can further elevate the status of community leaders who recruit young individuals to sell crack cocaine. This statement is especially relevant now, given the absurdity of the government’s deportation policy, which was even deemed “crazy” by one of its own cabinet members.
The new characters in the series were remarkable – Barry Keoghan portrayed a confidently arrogant villain and Brian Gleeson played a hilariously uptight gang leader. The returning actors also delivered their strongest performances yet, with Jobson standing out as a potential breakout star and Kano’s portrayal of a volatile individual becoming increasingly compelling with each season. They certainly deserve recognition during award season.
The highly anticipated return of the show brought a thrilling conclusion, ending in a way that did not disappoint. Instead of waiting for a decline in quality, it went out on top with its most impressive season yet. The finale was shocking, confusing, and captivating, leaving viewers wanting to watch it over and over again. In a year full of stellar endings from popular shows like Succession, Happy Valley, and Barry, Top Boy’s final scene stands out as the best. Despite other well-known shows ending this year, the exceptional finale of Top Boy may not receive the recognition it deserves. However, that is not a problem. Top Boy has forever changed television.