Channel 4’s “Top Boy” Makes Triumphant Return.

Series 2 of Top Boy.

Series 2 of Top Boy.

When Chan­nel 4 aired the first series of Top Boy over four suc­ces­sive nights in 2011 it felt like some­thing of an aber­ra­tion. Here was a bril­liant­ly illu­mi­nat­ing win­dow on a cor­ner of inner city life, dra­ma­tiz­ing a part of Britain that con­ven­tion­al tele­vi­sion tra­di­tion­al­ly ignores. Com­pelling, believ­able, impres­sive­ly visu­al and all too real, series 1 was reviewed by me ear­li­er here.

Hard­ly the sort of pro­gramme in oth­er words that one nor­mal­ly asso­ciates with a sta­tion like Chan­nel 4.

But since then, pro­grammes like South­cliffe, the dystopi­an Utopia, the bril­liant French import The Returned (which I reviewed ear­li­er here) and now this, series 2 of Top Boy sug­gest that Chan­nel 4 might final­ly be get­ting some of its mojo back.

The Returned.

The Returned.

It’s point­less try­ing to talk about Top Boy with­out com­par­ing it to The Wire. That is man­ages to stand up to and mer­it that com­par­i­son is remark­able. Even if, for the moment, it doesn’t quite scale those kind of heights. But then again, nei­ther has it so far been giv­en scope to, with just the four episodes per series to play with.

As with all the best dra­ma on tele­vi­sion, it’s all down to the writ­ing. Ronan Ben­nett’s scripts are bril­liant­ly struc­tured and won­der­ful­ly nuanced. They’re giv­en life by a col­lec­tion of remark­able per­for­mances from a mix­ture of vet­er­ans and new com­ers. And once again the direc­tion is notable for its sense of style and grandeur as much for its grit­ty real­ism. And the whole thing is giv­en a won­der­ful sheen thanks to Bri­an Eno’s qui­et­ly men­ac­ing score.

Series two has just begun on Chan­nel 4. Watch it. This is the best and the most impor­tant dra­ma pro­duced for tele­vi­sion on these islands this decade.

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