Top Dog is a Swedish series on Walter Presents that is based on the novels of Jens Lapidus (who also wrote Snabba Cash). When Philip Schale (Björn Elgerd), the son of one of the richest men in Sweden, gets kidnapped, his father enlists his lawyers, instead of the police, for help. Emily Jansson (Josefin Asplund) is an ambitious young attorney appointed to find Philip. Across the tracks, Teddy Maksumic (Alexej Manvelov) is released from prison after serving 10 years for kidnapping and murder. He is welcomed home by his former gang, but he announces that he is done with that world. Isak (Mahmut Suvakci), the gang boss, thinks someone is betraying him, and he asks Teddy to find out who it is before he steps away from the life. While doing that favor, Teddy meets Emily. Eventually, Teddy and Emily end up looking for Philip together, and with their complementary skills, making a lot of progress. But, things get complicated; maybe overly so.
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Emily strides into her job at a swanky downtown law firm, where we can immediately tell that she is not well-liked. She’s trying to make partner in an old-boys club, she plays hardball with her colleagues, and she is aloof. She also has a secret-she is almost a million dollars in debt, and she desperately needs the money that a partnership in a law firm offers. So, when she is asked by her boss to find Philip Schale “off the books”, she jumps at it, because he will owe her a favor. When she happens upon Teddy at a squat that Philip rents for his extra-curricular activities, Emily’s curiosity is piqued. So, she steals Teddy’s wallet. This sets off a chain of events wherein she asks him for help to find Philip. Over the course of the series, Emily opens up to Teddy after he calls her out for having no friends or connections. Eventually we learn why Emily is so closed off, and it’s a heartbreaking story.
Teddy is the opposite of Emily in that he has too many close connections. He is a man on a precipice. He just wants to run a legit pizza business, but between Isak, his best friend Rewan (Kardo Razzazi), and his nephew Niko (Gustav Lindh), Teddy keeps getting dragged into old business. His biggest concern is Niko, a 17-year-old with a promising future who has been hanging with the wrong people. What Teddy does NOT know, is that Niko is selling drugs behind Isak’s back, which is a dangerous game. I think Teddy helps Emily basically because he has nothing else to do. He tells her firmly that no matter what they discover, he will not rat out his friends or family. As the series progresses, we learn about his past, and how that is affecting his life out of prison.
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Turns out the kidnapping is a MacGuffin. What Top Dog is really about is greed, desperation, and finding your way in life, whether you navigate the granite hallways of big business, or the mean streets of a sketchy neighborhood. The show goes out of its way to demonstrate to viewers the similarities between gangsters and businessmen. Except for Teddy, most of the characters’ actions are driven by money-needing it, protecting it, or lying about it. Succession is another theme, with Philip taking over the CEO role in his father’s company, Emily striving to replace a retiring partner from the law firm, and Niko trying to get ahead by breaking the long-established rules of his gang. You’ll recognize these themes, and even plot points, from Snabba Cash, The Lawyer (screenplay by Jens Lapidus), and the Danish series Follow The Money, all of which I liked better than Top Dog.
Our take on Top dog
The plot of Top Dog gets positively byzantine, and I have a few beefs with that. The solution to who kidnapped Philip borders on the ludicrous, it’s so complicated. Sometimes the writers don’t bother telling you how a character got some key information. And there are some very unlikely coincidences. At first, I was irritated, but then I just went with it, figuring it was a casualty of adaptation between the book and TV. The strengths of the series are the twists and the suspense. I definitely said out loud to the screen, “Well, I didn’t see that coming,” at the end of several episodes. Emily and Teddy are an interesting team. They aren’t an “odd couple” per se, because they come from such different worlds, but they do agree on taking whatever measures necessary to get answers. Jens Lapidus actually wrote a “Teddy and Emily” trilogy, so I’m interested to see how their relationship develops. As for Top Dog, I binged it, but it’s not flawless.
Note: Although the series is named Top Dog, it’s not based on the book of the same name. It’s based on the book VIP Room, which is book 1 of the Teddy and Emily trilogy.
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