I’m not a fan of shows dragging out a story designed for 6 or 7 episodes to twice its intended length. It’s something that’s always bothered me about TV shows that would otherwise be great, adding in extra scenes and offsetting the pacing. When it comes to Top Boy’s second season, ironically the four episodes here have the adverse effect. With bold themes, a deeper story and some frenetic action crammed into its season, Top Boy is consistent great but packs so much content into its short run time, it feels like a show that needs another 2 or 3 episodes to let everything breathe and simmer.
We pick up a year after the dramatic events at the end of season 1. Dushane is top dog in Summerhouse, with an army of loyal foot soldiers and a host of different rivals all playing ball for now. Lurking in the shadows is Sully, Dushane’s former right-hand man who intends to make a power play for his throne and entertains the idea of sitting at the top. All of this is thrown up in the air though as the police find the dead body of Kamale, the dealer Dris killed at the end of last season. As the police close in on Dushane around the same time Albanians steal a lucrative stash of drugs, all of these events cause a chain reaction that threaten to dethrone and destabilize the Summerhouse hierarchy.
Of course, on top of these two predominant narratives are a series of other subplots interwoven around this, including Vincent’s iron-like grip over Gem who he uses as a drug courier, and the Summerhouse neighbourhood on the verge of major renovation, seeing most of the shop-keepers on the verge of being priced out their businesses.
At times Top Boy feels messy and as the series draws to a close, a lot of the narratives come to an abrupt close with a somewhat anticlimactic resolution. Gem’s story feels unfinished, Kayla’s arrest and possible jail time comes to nothing and the abrupt way the police investigation comes to a halt feels uncharacteristically convenient to end of the series. There’s also a somewhat open ending here too and quite whether the third season explores what happens in the time between remains to be seen.
Much like before, Top Boy’s strength lies in the gritty realism depicted on the streets. The usual array of slang terms, grime music and accurate players in this scene paint a particularly raw and bleak scene. Seeing the inside of a crack den or the uncomfortable tension Michael faces as he finds himself watched by Dushane’s men really showcases just how grim Summerhouse really is. The interesting juxtaposition between Dushane and Rihanna certainly brings this into perspective too and her inclusion this season does well to grow Dushane’s character and bring him into new, uncomfortable positions he otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.
Aesthetically, the show relies heavily on its usual array of handheld cameras, close ups and gritty action. There’s a good use of blood, violence and pockets of action here too, with the episodes keeping the pacing tight and consistently quick. There’s an awful lot going on here and Top Boy never has a dull moment throughout its episodes. I just can’t help but feel the series needed another couple of episodes to let these stories simmer in order to really deliver an effective gut punch of emotion. It’s a minor gripe, but something that holds Top Boy back from being a better follow-up to the first season.
In terms of content though, there’s no denying that many people will see Top Boy’s second season as an improvement over its first. It’s tense, action-packed and full of shocking moments that really show off the ugly side of the drug scene. The script is well written too and the characters all progress nicely, albeit with a slightly-too-convenient ending thrown in. Still, it’s not all bad though and with the third season on the horizon, Top Boy does well to bow out on a high, even if it does pull the trigger a little too early, in desperate need of a few more episodes to really sell the drama in the show.