Were you a fan of Top Boy, a drama that aired in the UK in 2011 and 2013? You can watch it on Netflix if you’ve never seen it before. If you were a fan, you have something in common with Drake. But the difference between you and Drake is that Drake has the ability to get a new season produced, and for Netflix to pay for it. So, six years after the second season, there’s a new story involving Dushane and Sully. Read on for more…
TOP BOY SEASON 3: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Scenes of East London and its largely Jamaican population over the song “Quarterback (Secure the Ball)” by AJ Tracey.
The Gist: The drug trade in East London, especially in and around the Summerhouse public housing project. Jamie (Micheal Ward) lives with his brothers in Summerhouse, and he’s part of a drug gang whose leader just went to prison for 18 years. The guy taking over — someone Jamie has little respect for — says they should continue to buy their supply from the Turks they’ve been dealing with. Jamie thinks their prices are too high, and he has suppliers that can get it to them cheaper. The new leader says if the Turks get cut off, they’re going to get violent.
Meanwhile, in Kingston, Dushane Hill (Ashley Walters) has been biding his time since arriving there from London a number of years ago. As we see when he’s spotted at a party, his exploits as a dealer in East London reached all the way back to his hometown. When the party guy asks him if he’s visiting, Dushane says “Something like that.”
He’s working at a rental car shop with his cousin Donovan (Kimo Armstrong), but he also knows Lester (Kibwe Lawrence), a loyal “dog” of a local crime boss named Sugar (Gilbert Chen). Looking to make more money, he calls Lester, who wants to rob the local post office. He claims Sugar knows about the operation, but he really doesn’t. The Post Office is closed, so Lester decides to rob a local general store. In the process of the robbery, Lester shoots and kills the proprietor’s son, and then Dushane kills Lester so the old lady Lester was pointing his gun at doesn’t get one in the head. He immediately tries to leave Kingston, knowing Sugar will be after him.
Back in London, Jamie cuts a deal with two Brits who will get them their drugs much cheaper than the Turks will. This is important to Jamie; he thinks he can lead his gang much better than who’s there, and he also wants a bigger cut of the pie. He knows that if the Turks get wind of this that they’ll kill him and everyone he knows, so he goes and kills them and permanently cuts them out of the picture.
In Kingston, Sugar calls Dushane to the prison where he’s holed up (despite being in prison, Sugar still wields a lot of influence, on both the inside and outside). He’s pissed that Dushane killed Lester and says he won’t leave the prison alive. That’s when Dushane offers to sell Sugar’s goods in London, where he knows the streets and the trade. “I know you got food,” he says, with “food” meaning “not food.” “I got the people. I can make you some serious money.” He eventually says, “If I didn’t respect you, I would have jumped in a plane straight after killing him.” Sugar lets him go, but as Dushane and Donovan drive back, they’re stopped by cops and one of Sugar’s thugs who take them into the woods and threaten them both, before telling Dushane to respect Sugar when he’s in London.
Our Take: When Top Boy aired its first two seasons in the UK in 2011 and 2013, it took place mostly around the Summerhouse complex. Six years later, though, the show, whose new season has Drake as one of the executive producers, we essentially start a new story. Both Dushane and Sully (Kane Robinson) are back, though we don’t see Sully return to Summerhouse until episode 2, because he’s still in prison.
Do you have to watch the first two seasons to understand the third? Maybe. It does provide context to why Dushane is in Jamaica and why he wants to get back into the game, and who the people he knows in London are. But it won’t really help you with the London side of the first episode, since Jaime and the people surrounding him are new characters.
But the first episode is extremely confusing, for a couple of reasons. One is the patois used by the characters; creator Ronan Bennett isn’t shy about making sure everyone uses an authentic Jamaican accent. But that also means that you may want to turn on closed captioning to get an idea of what everyone is saying. My screener didn’t have CC, and it made for quite the confusing watch.
It also isn’t 100 percent clear who some of the other players are, whether it’s in London or in Kingston. Perhaps we’ll get more of an explanation down the line, but trying to keep track of everyone, while trying to hear what everyone is saying, was tough.
But that by no means should be a deterrent to watching Top Boy. Ward and Walters put in fine performances in the premiere, and once you have everything straight, it should be compelling to see Dushane back on his old turf while indebted to a kingpin back home.
Sex and Skin: Nothing.
Parting Shot: An overhead shot of Dushane carrying his paraplegic cousin Donovan on a mountainous road after Sugar’s thugs threatened them in the woods.
Sleeper Star: Kadeem Ramsay is good as Jamie’s friend and running mate Kit. He helps Jamie get away on a motorcycle after he draws out and kills the Turks.
Most Pilot-y Line: Nothing stands out.
Our Call: STREAM IT. For fans of the original series, Top Boy’s comeback delivers. If you’ve never seen it before, you can jump in with Season 3. Just be prepared to be a bit confused until the end of episode 1.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.