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Top Boy: Why Netflix's British Crime Drama You've Never Heard Of Deserves Your Attention

In 2002, HBO's "The Wire," one of TV's greatest dramas of all time, cracked down on crime dramas in a way that no show had done before and that so many have tried to replicate since. Contenders like "Snowfall" and "Power" have come close, but none has managed to deliver such a raw and groundbreaking depiction of criminal gang life and its fallout as David Simon's Baltimore-based opus — that is, except for one that inadvertently came at the king in 2011 and has watched the throne ever since.

"Top Boy," created by Ronan Bennett, became a show that, for British viewers, found itself wedged into the same conversation as "The Wire" for its themes and unflinching depiction of drug dealing and those consumed by it. Differing slightly in its focus, Netflix's show sticks specifically to one side of the law, inhabited by friends Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson, aka Kano), who run a drug business on the fictional housing estate of Summerhouse in the London Borough of Hackney.

Now, the show that Drake and Netflix saved after its initial cancellation is ending, taking with it a legacy that more need to be aware of. But why is "Top Boy," a show that Esquire deemed "the best show on Netflix," still under the radar? And why is tuning in before its final season the right time to visit Summerhouse before its gates close forever?

Top Boy gained new life on Netflix thanks to a little help from superfan Drake

While it might look like the third and final chapter of Netflix's "Top Boy," Dushane and Sully's story has been around much longer than that. Die-hard fans of Ronan Bennett's show will know that it actually spans five seasons, not three, originating on the United Kingdom's Channel 4 in 2011 before being brought back to life on the streaming service. Regardless of the praise it received, the network canceled the show in 2014, and it was only thanks to a world-famous rapper that it was revived in 2017, much to the surprise of the brains behind the original operation.

"When 'Top Boy' was canceled, it was one of those ones I wasn't able to shrug off. It meant too much," Bennett said during an interview with BAFTA Guru. "When I heard that Drake was interested, I didn't pay it a lot of mind, partly because I didn't know who he was." Aware of how fragile hope can be in the industry, it thankfully all changed for the better when the two sat down together. "It became clear that he was serious and that we really had a chance of going forward," Bennett shared.

Drake's obsession with "Top Boy" began after stumbling across it on YouTube, getting hooked through its heart-stopping Season 2 finale and then being baffled that he couldn't go back for thirds. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, Drake said of the show, "That human element drew me in."

Top Boy: Summerhouse, the show's star-studded origin story, set the bar for future talent

After Netflix sealed the deal to continue "Top Boy," part of the package was getting the first two seasons and giving them a new name. Listed as "Top Boy: Summerhouse" on the streaming service, the original series can be easily overlooked but is absolutely essential and quickly managed viewing.

Beyond the callbacks that add even more emotional heft to Ronan Bennett's story, it's wild just to see some of the supporting stars on the series who went on to become household names. "Top Boy: Summerhouse" is blessed with the likes of Sharon Duncan-Brewster of "Dune: Part One" as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe's current Sorcerer Supreme, Benedict Wong, and current Black Panther, Letitia Wright.

As far as the behind-the-scenes talent, Yann Demange, who directed four episodes of the original series, is now coincidentally on course for some massive projects in the coming years. Besides directing Mahershala Ali in the MCU's "Blade," he's also giving the series treatment to David Cronenberg's "Scanners" on HBO.

While all of these people have come and gone onto greater things, one star of the show has stuck with "Top Boy" since the beginning: a British music icon whose only significant acting credit is this show and whose performance on it just so happens to be one of the best on U.K. television in the last decade.

Kano as Sully is Top Boy's undisputed highlight

If there's one undeniable saving grace that "Top Boy" has had since the beginning, it's the performance from Kane Robinson, aka Kano, a British grime rap icon before the show even began. During the show's Netflix term, Robinson has flourished as Sully, the volatile and tortured half of Summerhouse's most unpredictable partnership. It's a truly commendable effort, particularly when he didn't want any part of it to begin with.

Robinson admitted that even after the show's six-year hiatus, he still had a very much take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward his small-screen alter ego. "Sometimes when I'm on set I actually think to myself, 'I don't even like this,'" he told NME. Be that as it may, here's clearly found a middle ground after a decade. "I just have no interest in the industry of acting, I don't want anything to do with it," he explained. "But I respect the craft. I really respect it – that's why I won't film the show and make an album at the same time."

It shows. Robinson's focus has been unflinching, transcending everything Sully was before he returned on Netflix. Season 3, Episode 4, "Bonfire Night," directed by "The Marvels" director Nia DaCosta, is a particular highlight, pushing Robinson into depths fans had never seen him go. Naturally, with turns as good as this, the final season is going out with a bang and drawing in some equally big names to help with the send-off.

The final season of Top Boy has a Joker up its sleeve in Barry Keoghan

Without going into spoilers, it's safe to say that the final season of "Top Boy" will see a handful of characters get their comeuppance for past misdeeds, as is always the case for characters in a crime-riddled story. Part of that could be coming for Sully and company in the form of Season 5 additions BAFTA-winning "Banshees of Inisherin" star Barry Keoghan and Brian Gleeson from the award-winning Apple TV+ show "Bad Sisters." Details on their characters are currently unknown, but given just how terrifying Keoghan can be when required (see "The Batman" and "The Killing of Sacred Deer" for evidence), you can bet that he'll be a fierce new addition for the show's final lap.

To gain a talent like this really is just a testament to how far "Top Boy" has come. The British answer to "The Wire" might tackle the same topics but does so with a grit that could only be found in the territory it's based. The hope is that it will end on a high that's consistent with what came before and just like HBO's revered staple of television, get the attention it so desperately deserves. Netflix's quiet crime drama doesn't have to come out on top, but with the story, characters, and talent that have pushed it to this point, it deserves to go down as not just one of the streaming service's greatest additions but one of the best television shows ever made.