How it took a decade and Drake for ‘Top Boy’ to tell its story
(Credit: Netflix)


How it took a decade and Drake for 'Top Boy' to tell its story

A British television crime drama series that emerged from the gritty streets of Hackney, London, and made its way into the hearts of viewers worldwide got its fifth and final season on Netflix last week. Top Boy first aired on Channel 4 from 2011 to 2013 before getting cancelled, only to be resurrected nearly a decade later through slightly unusual circumstances that involved Canadian rapper Drake.

The show was acclaimed for its authenticity and portrayal of life on a Hackney estate. However, it was abruptly cancelled by Channel 4 in 2014, leaving fans in the lurch. As it happens with most good shows that get cancelled before their time, Top Boy also garnered cult status. 

Created and written by Ronan Bennett, the series brought to life the tumultuous lives of drug dealers Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson). Top Boy offered a raw and unfiltered portrayal of drug dealing and gang violence in the urban landscape. But the journey of Top Boy was far from straightforward; it took a decade of persistence and a dash of Drake’s star power to bring it back to our screens.

Drake became a fervent fan of the show, and upon learning that the series had been axed, he decided to take matters into his own hands. “Next thing I knew, we were sitting in a room with Netflix. And here we are,” Ashley told Radio 1 Newsbeat at Top Boy’s revival premiere as per BBC.

The third and fourth series were released on Netflix in 2019 and 2022, and the fifth and final series was announced in 2022. The show’s resurrection was met with critical acclaim, lauded for its acting, cinematography, writing, and soundtrack. It drew comparisons to iconic crime dramas like The Wire, Snowfall, and Power and received several nominations and wins from the British Academy Television Awards.

The cast of Top Boy helped it amass some of its fan following. Apart from seasoned actors like Ashley Walters and Robinson, the cast also featured the likes of Benedict Wong, Michaela Coel, Bashy, Scorcher, and the then-unknown Letitia Wright. 

Bennett played a pivotal role in crafting the series’ narrative. He drew inspiration from his years living in Hackney and ensured the story remained faithful to the area’s cultural and social fabric. Despite initial doubts about collaborating with Drake, the partnership proved to be a game-changer. He was a fan of the original, and as executive producer, he wanted the show to stay true to its roots.

The series, which regularly delved into issues such as gentrification, gang warfare, and poverty, included contemporary political events in its narrative to keep it relevant. Hackney’s transformation due to gentrification mirrored the show’s own evolution, and Top Boy highlighted the social consequences of this urban shift. Ronan told BBC, “You can’t blame people… you know, coffee shops are nice, and having smashed avocado on sourdough is nice – but there’s a price to pay.”

The show’s instant popularity on Netflix shows its resonance goes beyond its setting, speaking to universal themes and human experiences that transcend borders and cultures.

You can stream all five seasons of Top Boy on Netflix, with all eight Channel 4 episodes listed under Top Boy Summerhouse.