Top Boy



Sky One

It’s beginning to seem like no TV show will ever again be allowed to die and fade into memory; all are now doomed to get resurrected and forced to live again by reboot or remake, whether it’s a good idea or not.

This Friday sees the return of another two that are not quite what they once were. One is terrible, and the other is pretty okay – which might be worse, given it was originally one of the finest and most affecting series of its era.

This is Top Boy, the drama about life around drug gangs in an east London estate, written by Northern Irish novelist Ronan Bennett. The first series went out in 2011, when the riots were fresh in our minds, and detailed the rise of Dushane (Ashley Walters), a young dealer who, seeing no other career path available, set out to force his way up the ladder to become local kingpin.

Fast, hard, soulful, surprisingly funny, tense and tender, especially in its focus on children, it was a great and serious piece – so good that, when the drama, originally intended as a one-off, was revived for a second series in 2013, I worried it could only be a disappointment. But Top Boy II, in which Dushane fought against best-pal-turned-rival Sully (Kane Robinson), proved a worthy successor, with Bennett setting their struggle against the bigger battle for their Hackney neighbourhood, as property developers began moving in.

Six years on, Top Boy returns again thanks largely to the rapper turned TV mogul Drake, a fan of the series, who has produced this Netflix revival. Crucially, Bennett returns, along with Walters and Robinson and many of the original behind-the-camera team.

As the story begins, Dushane has left the UK far behind. We find him in Kingston, Jamaica: older, bearded, perhaps a little more mellow, but still watchful. At first glance, he resembles a monarch in exile, but it quickly becomes clear his situation isn’t quite as kingly as all that, and soon, situations conspire to force him to return to London, and try to get back into the vicious old game. But things in Hackney have changed – there’s a new generation, represented by Jamie (Micheal Ward), a youngster as ambitious as Dushane once was, and perhaps even more ruthless.

Walters is as charismatic a presence as ever, yet, while the episodes I’ve seen are good (episode one’s closing scene is particularly memorable), something has changed. At ten episodes, this new story is longer than the first two series put together, and you can feel the show trying to be “bigger”, losing something of the odd, drifting, lulling beat of the original, which found not only the brutality of city life, but its fleeting, unexpected beauty. Still, it’s early days – and, even if doesn’t live up to its old reputation, compared against most other UK crime shows, Top Boy remains in a league of its own.

Standing out for the wrong reasons, meanwhile, is Temple, starring Mark Strong, a fine leading man, who has never found a series to prove it. A remake of the 2017 Norwegian thriller Valkyrie, Strong plays a surgeon secretly running an illegal medical clinic, hidden underground in disused tunnels of a London tube station. Down there, he treats patients who, for various reasons, can’t go to regular hospitals. Meanwhile, he’s scrabbling for resources to pour into his true project, the nature of which gradually reveals itself. The first episode sticks closely to the original, but, as it stumbles between being downright daft and deadly dull, only lends weight to my long-held theory: sometimes, subtitles can make the stupidest shows seem better.



State Of The Union

10pm, BBC Two

Opening with a double bill tonight, this new sitcom might come in bite-sized chunks – each episode’s only around 10 minutes – but there’s hefty talent involved: written by Nick Hornby, it stars Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd, and is directed by the great Stephen Frears. A beautifully acted two-hander, Pike and O’Dowd play Louise and Tom, a couple whose marriage has hit the rocks, for reasons that baffle them. They’ve decided to try counselling, and each week we join them as they meet beforehand in the pub opposite their therapist’s office, to prepare for the session to come. We discover their story in fragments as they talk about their troubles (and try to avoid talking about them) in conversations by turns funny, awkward, painful and poignant, framed by Frears with the subtlest of touches.


Rise Of The Nazis

9pm, BBC Two

The dramatic reconstructions are disconcertingly prettified – all soft focus, pastel Nazis in the snow – but this is an excellent, lucid and pointed history lesson. Watching the rise of Hitler’s mob, it’s astonishing to see how elements of the old playbook have become fashionable among power hungry politicians today: listen to tonight’s opening narration, about the newly-elected Hitler’s disdain for the usual running of government, his refusal to listen to briefings or hear from experts, then draw parallels with the leader of your choice. The chilling focus of tonight’s episode is the stamping out of the last vestiges of the old state and any rivals. The slavishly power-hungry Heinrich Himmler comes up with a solution for dealing with any political opposition: first, denounce them as enemies of the state; then have them sent to “re-education” camps, beginning with a facility in the town of Dachau.


The Troubles: A Secret History

8.30pm, BBC Four

August 2019 marked 50 years since British Army troops were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland, but sadly that anniversary isn’t the only thing that makes this new series particularly timely, as the Brexit/ backstop arguments stretch out. In this seven-part series, journalists bring to light unseen information and evidence to offer a new history of the conflict. Tonight, reporter Darragh MacIntyre focuses on the beginnings, charting the growing unrest between unionists and nationalists across the 1960s, culminating with the arrival of the British Army, and the subsequent downfall of Northern Ireland’s government. Drawing on previously classified documents, unseen film and fresh testimony, the episode considers the formation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and considers the parts played on opposite sides of the divide by two radicals who would later become elder statesmen: Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.


Der Pass

9pm, Sky Atlantic

All eight episodes of this serial killer thriller were made available to stream as a box set via Sky’s on-demand service when the series began in July, but for anyone who’s been sticking with the scheduled broadcasts, tonight’s double bill is the big finale. Of all the international variations on The Bridge format, this German-Austrian variant has been one of the easiest to watch, partly because its pulp plot is solidly bolted together, but mostly because the show has become all about the character of its oddball Austrian cop, Gedeon Winter, played to the hilt by Nicholas Ofczarek. The hard-drinking, drugging, corrupt cynical loner is one of the crime genre’s biggest clichés, but Ofczarek’s performance, sometimes slow-burning, sometimes scenery-eating, has made Winter’s road to redemption an engrossing journey. Although his German counterpart, Ellie Stocker (Julia Jentsch), has become practically invisible by comparison.


The I-Land


Not much preview material was being made available for Netflix’s new seven-part mystery, but it sounds like it wants to be a cross between Lost and Westworld, with a Black Mirror-y twist – although, to judge by the trailer, it looks a wee bit ropey. At the heart of the story is a group of ten people who wake on a mysterious island with no memory of who they are, or how they got there. Twist one is that it seems as if they are all actually taking part in some simulated virtual-reality reality game, being controlled and manipulated by unseen forces. Twist two: is that, as they struggle to get home from the island’s perilous traps, it becomes clear that, should they die in this artificial world, they’ll also die in reality. All seven episodes are available from today.


Strictly Come Dancing: The Professionals 7pm, BBC One If you love Strictly’s Halloween and Hollywood nights, this brand new themed special will blow your mind wide open, as, for one night only, the show celebrates the late-1970s ITV action series, with the couples dressing up as Bodie, Doyle, CI5 mainman George Cowley and sundry tap-dancing terrorist types and tango assassins, in a range of exciting performances based on classic episodes from the archives, complete with cars crashing into cardboard boxes. Of course it’s not. Instead, it’s another time filler until this year’s series gets started in earnest, in which we get to meet the professional dancers, and hear how they came to dance in the hallowed Strictly ballroom. Insiders reveal the occult processes by which celebrities and pros get paired up, and there are contributions from past contestants, meaning…Ed Balls klaxon!