Top Boy has certainly got the critics talking. The four-part UK television drama depicts the lives of young inner-city Londoners caught up in drug and gang culture. Originally supposed to be filmed in Hackney, the Channel 4 programme had to move locations after local mayor Jules Pipe refused permission: “It was not fair on residents to have their neighbourhood stigmatised on national television as riddled with drugs and gangs,” he said, according to The Evening Standard. So what’s all the fuss about?
Mixed reaction. Tracy McVeigh reported for The Observer on the reactions of Hackney locals to a preview of Top Boy. “It emerged with broad approval but not unscathed,” McVeigh said, writing that some locals had picked up on outdated slang and plot holes. McVeigh also reported that some locals were troubled by the programme-makers’ decision to use the name of a real gang from the area.
The real deal. Writing for The Guardian‘s Comment is Free, Franklyn Addo said he had been worried the programme would be just another “cliched urban drama series with poor acting”. However, Addo argued that Top Boy is well shot and well acted. What’s more, as a Hackney resident, Addo wrote that the portrayal of problems in the area was accurate: ”In my borough, I have witnessed the grossly irresponsible way in which older people encourage young people to involve themselves in crime and believe Top Boy is one of the most realistic depictions of life in some estates to date,” he said.
Racial stereotypes. Lindsay Johns was rather less impressed in The Daily Mail, arguing that Top Boy perpetuates racial stereotypes: “The type of representations of black masculinity on offer in Top Boy are at best deeply troubling and at worst seriously debilitating,” she said. Johns said that the programme pandered to racial prejudice: “I yearn for some unashamedly normal (read positive) televisual representations of the multi-faceted and disparate nature of the Black British experience, not the trite, one-dimensional, clichéd ghetto dross that we are continually served up.”
Down to The Wire. In The Telegraph Ed Cumming said that comparisons with US drama The Wire are unavoidable, and that the two programmes are similarly rooted in reality. Cumming singled out former So Solid Crew rapper Ashley Walters, who plays drug dealer Dushane, for particular praise.
Water cooler television. Writing for Metro, Rachel Tarley said Top Boy was not perfect, suffering from a sometimes contrived and over-the-top script, but that the programme is “a proper TV event – something worth talking about”.
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