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Welcome to Recency Bias, an occasional column where we lean into rejecting the dogshit past by embracing the last thing we’ve seen as the best thing we’ve seen.

I have a 15-year-old son who was, until now, never interested in movies or television. Any of it. The last movie I took the boy to in a theater was Rogue One. That was eight years ago. He walked out of the showing looking like he’d been punched in the face. After that, my man exclusively watched soccer, soccer clips on YouTube, and video feeds of soccer podcasts … on YouTube. Because he consumed so little pop culture, we had no pop culture tastes in common.

And then a month or so ago, he walked up to me and asked, “Hey Dad, you wanna watch Top Boy with me?”

“Is that some kind of soccer show?”

“No, it’s a TV show.”

“Like, a TV show TV show?”


“Have you watched it already?”


“How much of it?”

“All of it.”

“Oh. Is it good?”



So we went down to the basement and queued up the first episode. I had never heard of Top Boy before. If you’re as old and white as I am, perhaps you haven’t either. It debuted on Channel 4 in England and then migrated to Netflix, although Netflix divided its five seasons into two titles—Top Boy and Top Boy: Summerhouse—for Netflix-y reasons that I’m not terribly motivated to parse. My son and I started with the original Top Boy, which apparently meant we were watching it out of order. But I caught on quick.

I’ve said the words “top boy” a whole lot of times without explaining the show itself. My apologies. Going by its title, you might think that Top Boy is a kid’s show, or some kind of reboot of Queer as Folk. Both of these guesses are inaccurate and, frankly, pretty American of you. The easiest way to describe Top Boy is The British Wire. There are fewer cops in Top Boy. But like The Wire, it examines, in great detail, the inner workings of the drug trade in a major city, swapping out Baltimore (boring) for London (ISS COMIN’ OME!). You get to know the dealers, their suppliers, their flaws, their rivals, their families, and the ambition that blows all of their lives apart.

That ambition, especially for Dushane Hill (played Ashley Walters, better known on the UK hip hop scene as Asher D), is to become top boy, which is essentially British slang for the man. You reach the top of the food chain in the London underworld and you're not only rich, but protected. You own the supply chain, you own the cops, you own your henchmen, and you can even gain entry into the pristine world of white collar investment. You’re untouchable. That’s the dream.

It’s also, as you might have guessed, an illusion. There is no real top boy in London. Just when you think you’ve asserted full control over the city, you discover that there are power brokers above you who you didn’t even realize existed. Every supplier is distant (and dangerous in their own right), everyone below you wants what you have, the cops know your every move, and new rivals arrive from every corner, all of the time. All of it is tenuous. You will never be safe, and you will never make a clean transition over into the world of legitimate business. To live in this world is to understand that there is no peace for you or your loved ones. To believe otherwise means you’re fooling yourself, and that you’ll be dead soon. You protect, you take, and you kill, and you keep doing it until someone does it to you. The cycle never ends, in part because everyone aspiring to be top boy thinks they’re the one who can end it.

This is heavy shit. If I were new to parenting a 15-year-old, I might’ve taken issue with my son watching a show that has copious amounts of violence, nakedness, profanity (gasp!), drug use, and all of the other TV-MA accoutrements. But I already had an 18-year-old, and I was already long past using movie and TV ratings as some kind of ironclad method of determining what pop culture was appropriate for my kids and what wasn’t. Also, the boy had already watched all of this shit anyway, so the horse was out of the barn.

So I didn’t flinch when my son and I binge-watched the first two seasons of Top Boy and saw multiple stabbings, shootings, beatings, and boobs. And do you know why I didn’t flinch? Because this show is fucking AWESOME. All of the nasty bits are essential to showing the audience, in full, what it’s like to live in the London underworld. By the Season 2 finale, which was devastating, I was already like, “This is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen.” Then we queued up Season 3 the other night and suddenly Barry Keoghan showed up. I cried out, “That’s Barry Keoghan!” which meant nothing to my son but still felt good for me to say. I have watched a lot of good TV in my time, so imagine the joy I felt to discover this completed series that I didn’t even know was there. The fact that I was watching it with my kid didn’t make it awkward, it only made it cooler. I’d rather my kids consume great art like this than kiddie dogshit like The Thundermans.

I don’t like praising any TV show or movie as “real,” because that’s a shopworn sales pitch from studios, and because it’s cheap talk coming from a middle-aged suburbanite who has no personal connections to inner-city London. Also, Top Boy, a show in which almost every major character is black, was created by Ronan Bennett, a white Irishman. However, it was produced in part by Walters, fellow lead actor Kane Robinson (a.k.a. Kano), LeBron bestie Maverick Carter, and hip hop legend Future. Drake was also somehow involved in bringing the show to Netflix after it was a smash hit in England. So we’re talking about a story that has some real pedigree backing it, along with writing that feels like it could only come from people who have lived it. Top Boy is the kind of show with characters so well-drawn that you start ranking them in your head. I’m torn between Jaq and Sully as my favorite presently, with Lauryn coming in near the bottom because she’s such a dumbass.

Most important, every episode MOVES. You will never complain that nothing happens on Top Boy, because you’ll be too busy shouting OH SHIT when another person gets gunned down. That’s spectacular entertainment, and now I can’t wait to see what kickass show my teenager brings to me next. Four stars.

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