Hit Or Miss: Netflix's New Crime Drama 'Topboy'

With the help of superstar rapper Drake, Netflix will be reviving BBC’s Channel 4’s show Top Boy this fall. The show first arrived in 2011 as a limited engagement series consisting of 4 episodes. The 2nd iteration of the series premiered in 2013, again with 4 episodes. For those unfamiliar with the show, the story takes place in the fictional Summerhouse Estate in Hackney, East London. It follows a young man named Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete) as he navigates his neighborhood and his mother’s admittance into a psychiatric facility after a mental breakdown. The story also follows Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson), two local drug dealers that face new challenges as they struggle to survive and maintain their status. Netflix has released a cast announcement trailer that is sure stirs excitement and intrigue.

The new show stars Michael Ward, Simbi Ajikawo (Lil Simz), David Omoregie, Shone Romulus, Ashely Walters (Asher D) and Kane Robinson (Kano) who will reprise their roles. The new story takes place years later, picking up with Dushane and Sully who have each returned from exile and prison respectively. The trailer runs in at a cool 1 minute 41seconds, just enough time to establish the mood and stakes of the show. The first image shown is a dumpster slowly burning just outside an apartment complex. In the next shot, the flickering of the flames can be seen dancing on the interior of an apartment where we are first introduced to characters played by Simbi Ajikawo and Ashley Walters. Ajikawo’s voiceover utters, “Everyone around here thinks they’re a big man”. Immediately, the tone for the show is set in just 3 images. This is precisely what a good trailer should do. It is important to establish a tone quickly so that the audience is drawn into the world.

The atmospheric simmering score comes by way of Brian Eno and Michael Asante. The score is the heartbeat of the trailer. It fills the spaces and brings a strong tension to the images. It also elevates the already very effective voiceover. The voiceover, which is spoken by Simbi Ajikawo, helps us understand the type of world viewers are being brought into. She ends the trailer by saying, “Everyone wants to be a top boy”. This line conveys a main theme of the show. Under certain conditions, the fight for security and power can be fatal. It is in this struggle that the show grounds itself in.

Another exciting aspect of the trailer is the cinematography and lighting. The colors are deep with a lot of dynamic range. There is a moodiness to the color that strengthens the emotion in each image. The lighting in the trailer is a potent mix of blue and purple that is reminiscent of Barry Jenkins Moonlight. These qualities give the show a cinematic look that places it alongside Ava Duvernay’s ‘When They See Us’ and Sam Levinson’s Euphoria. It’s great to see television that understands the importance of cinematography and lighting. It is not only a great tool for strengthening narrative, but also an effective way to create emotive images and atmosphere.

The pacing of the trailer works perfectly. It is likely that there will be another longer form trailer, but this shorter length gives the show a sense of urgency. The trailer is a slow boil that starts in a meditative fashion, beginning with very brief and efficient world building. At the 36 second mark, a fight breaks out and the image suddenly changes to something akin to cell phone footage. The pacing of the trailer speeds up dramatically and we are shown various action sequences that display the violence present in the housing complex. Police sirens blend into the backing track. The trailer doesn’t reveal any narrative threads. Ultimately, this is a cast reveal trailer that also functions as a mood piece. There doesn’t necessarily need to be any narrative information revealed for the trailer to work. It is more important to build a world because that allows for the viewer to consider all the narrative possibilities in the show.

Although this is not a new show, the trailer seems interested in adopting new viewers that may have not seen the previous seasons of the show. It will please long time fans of the show who have been patiently waiting and intrigue those who have yet to see the show. The original seasons can be seen on Netflix. It has been 6 years since the last season. Its affiliation with Drake, who owns the rights and is serving as executive producer, will bring greater interest to the show. Based on this trailer, with anticipation for the next one, the show deserves in definite “Hit”. Overall, the show looks to be a punchy and emotional crime drama with a memorable cast. Catch it in the fall on Netflix.