The streets need to be fed. Network television only gives us a meal every several years or so. We had Miami Vice in the ‘80s, New York Undercover in the ‘90s, and The Corner and The Wire in the early 2000s. Each of these shows portrayed actors of color in prominent roles, and even though we have shows like Power and Empire today, it's still not enough. We hungry. Luckily, there may be some more satiation out there.
One such show—that really flew under the radar for a few years here in the States (unlike other British shows that found American audiences like Sherlock and Luther)—is Top Boy. The eight-episode British miniseries premiered in December of 2011 on public access Channel 4 and is highly regarded due to its authentic take on London street culture. The cast is made up of a mix of legendary Grime artists, neighborhood kids, and career actors. Like The Wire, Top Boy finds ways to humanize its criminal characters of color instead of portraying them as heartless savages.
In the series, Dushane and Sully—played by Grime artists Ashley Walters and Kane Robinson, respectively—start off as lowly street soldiers running a team of young punks in the fictional Summerhouse projects. Tired of dealing with middlemen, they take matters into their own hands and quickly rise to become the plugs by the end of Season 1. They’re the polar opposites of each other. Dushane is tactical and calculated, while Sully is sloppy and unpredictable, but still the marriage works because both are extremely loyal to one another.
The series doesn't only focus on their Dushane and Sully's struggle to make something of themselves though, it also follows two youths in Ra’Nell and Gem as they try to resist the temptation of fast money. Both come from single parent households; one (played by Malcolm Kamulete) lives with his mother, who suffers from mental illness due to an abusive relationship, while the other (played by Giacomo Mancini) lives with his father due to his mother running out on them.
Top Boy does a good job mixing up plot with realistic dialogue which incorporates London street slang in a way that fully immerses you into this world they’ve created. I would describe the slang they use as a hybrid between patois and proper English. It’s interesting to witness American hip-hop and street culture have so much reach. Which brings me to my favorite thing about the show: Mans really be feeling like they’re on the road.
The British crime drama has been critically lauded and has had the ratings to match such high praise. And yet, after two strong seasons, this authentic, commercially and critically successful show hasn't been given a third season. Why?
During an interview with the Shortlist, the show’s lead Ashley Walters had no clear answer saying, “it’s just the nature of the beast sometimes.” Season 2 ended in a cliffhanger suggesting that a third installment would be in play—but that was all the way back in 2013. Two years later, Drake started talking about the show out of nowhere. The Toronto rapper showed his love of the show with two Instagram posts by referring to himself as a "top boy" (British slang for the baddest man on the road) and calling Dushane a "real bod man":
In an interview with YouTube series Not For The Radio, Walters got on the subject of Drake's fandom and had this to say, suddenly introducing the idea that Drake might help the show get another season:
"Drake thought [Top Boy] was proper. This was via text. I was speaking to Future mainly, Drake's manager. We were going back and forth. And we were like, 'Put a deal on the table.'"
“Eventually they got in contact and asked, 'What's happening with series three?' I told them Channel 4 had canceled it. They said, 'That's sad, but we're going to do something about it.' Furthermore Drake was like, 'You need to break America.' He wanted to help. We were going into meetings. Top Boy is the sort of brand we knew would sell to Netflix, Amazon. The numbers speak for themselves. So we had that power and the production company (Cowboy Films) still owned the rights. And Drake made an offer and they turned it down. I don't know what is going on with it—but I heard they are talking about a Top Boy Chicago.”
So maybe the 6 God can pull off a resurrection? Right now it seems like Top Boy's only hope.
While I think it’s dope Drake is trying to revive the show, making a Chicago version before allowing the show’s creators to tie up any of the original show's loose ends would be a disservice to us all. Americans are already familiarizing themselves with the British version—both seasons are currently available on Netflix—and if properly promoted, a third season would help them fully crossover, while in turn opening up the door for a Westernized version, whether it be set in Chicago or Toronto, where the street slang is similar. If Drake is trying to be Top Boy's savior, then he better come correct.
Regardless of what happens with a third season, or a new iteration though, do yourself a favor and watch Top Boy—it may teach you how hard it really is in these streets for the poor and disenfranchised.