‘Top Boy’ season four review: high quality crime drama with a humanist core

Get ready for more thrilling dalliances with east London's drug gangs

After Channel 4 prematurely cancelled Top Boy in 2013, it was revived by Netflix six years later, mostly thanks to the efforts of megafan Drake. The new, Drizzy-approved season caught up with drug dealers Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane ‘Kano’ Robinson), detailing how much things had changed in the intervening years. Dushane had his fair share of problems during the reboot, but eventually managed to best young pretender Jamie (Micheal Ward) and consolidate his position at the head of the drug trade. It was, undeniably, a huge success and breathed new life into the franchise.

Season four starts several months later and things are surprisingly calm. Business is good and Dushane’s even making plans to retire. As we’ve come to expect though, the good times don’t last. Over the course of 8 intense, rapidly unfurling episodes, his business empire has to contend with supply issues and the complicated family connections that run it. Sure, a lot of the issues can be dealt with by bullets but Top Boy is at it’s very best when exploring the emotional aftermath.

After murdering childhood friend Dris (Shone Romulus) at the end of last season and still dealing with the loss of Jason (Ricky Smarts) in a house fire, Sully is a man weighed down by his decisions. Robinson portrays that pain and conflict beautifully over this new run, as Sully tries to find his place in the world. Likewise, the once-swaggering Jamie has also been humbled by what has come before. He has some big decisions to make about his future, and the future of his two younger brothers, with Ward really selling the quiet fury of a character who’s used to being in control.

Despite the cast of anti-heroes and antagonists, creator Ronan Bennett treats each one with sympathy and understanding. We might not agree with their often-violent, selfish actions, but we know why they do what they do.

Top Boy has always been ruthless and this new season is no different. There are at least two crushing moments in the last episode that’ll have you holding your breath, but the most heartbreaking moments are also the most authentic. Scenes depicting Amma’s (Jolade Obasola) deportation battle or the abusive relationship Lauryn (Saffron Hocking) finds herself in are uncomfortable though handled with necessary care. The show never resorts to soapy voyeurism and while a lot of Top Boy references wider social issues, it’s always to serve the story.

Elsewhere, there’s an expanded list of locations (Morocco, Spain, and, more locally, Peckham). These add an international flavour to the show, but the heart of Top Boy remains in its well-drawn ensemble of characters. From the warmth of Shelly (Little Simz) to the effortless cool of newcomer Becks (Adwoa Aboah, in her TV debut) every one brings something vital to the table.

Less-surprisingly to long-term fans, it’s Jasmine Jobson’s Jaq that really steals the show. Introduced last season as Dushane’s fiercely loyal second-in-command, this time around we see a lot more of her. Vulnerable, confused and sometimes manic, she struggles to keep her promises to both family and business. It feels like she’s the future of the show.

Top Boy has been part of our lives for over 10 years now. There are moments where this new season references the ethereal escapism of Netflix’s 2020 drug thriller White Lines but a decade after it first aired, there’s still not another show like Top Boy.

‘Top Boy’ is streaming now on Netflix

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