Years and Years: 1.01
Russell T. Davies is back, and it's about time too. After last year's excellent A Very English Scandal, Years and Years is his new series for BBC One; a timely examination of a family living within a fracturing society while fears about fake news grow, antagonist entrepreneurs appear on Question Time and xenophobic attitudes prevail. Sound familiar? You might be mistaken for thinking the first part, at least, is a documentary. From the very beginning Davies is taking no prisoners with the series and the left-wing commentary on modern day Britain certainly won’t go down well with The Daily Fail readership. Which, naturally, means it’s really rather good.
Whilst the trailer emphasised Emma Thompson’s role as the provocative Vivienne Rock, the right-wing entrepreneur is mostly relegated to TV screens in various living rooms in the first episode. The meat of the story here revolves around the Lyons - a multi-generational family from Manchester who have their own issues to deal with, alongside the steady deterioration of the UK as a functioning nation. It would be naive to classify Years and Years as dystopian as much of what we witness in the first episode wouldn’t feel out of place on the 10 o’Clock News. Rock, as a character, is a clear amalgamation of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins, and the rhetoric she spouts could easily be taken directly from any of the aforementioned Twitter feeds. It is only the 'real life filters' which feel slightly out of place (the real life filter doesn't serve the same purpose as on one's phone, and the concept feels like something invented by writers who have never actually used Snapchat).
The Lyons family consist of four siblings, Rose (Ruth Madeley), Stephen (Rory Kinnear), Daniel (Russell Tovey) and the elusive Edith (Jessica Hynes). The narrative grows around the siblings and their extended families, including their children and matriarchal Gran, played by the wonderful Anne Reid.
The action begins with the birth of Rose's second child and the years begin to be marked with birthdays, elections, wars and deaths (RIP Lizzie) take place - each marked by a birthday celebration within the family. Davies is no stranger to time travel of course, but this is a softer, more terrifying type of time travel than we are used to in Davies' work. There is a sense that whatever is happening is utterly unstoppable and perhaps it is unstoppable because the general public (including the Lyons) are unmoved to do anything about it. Near the beginning of the episode, Tovey’s Daniel gives a rousing speech on the maternity ward where he explains his fears about bringing up a child into this world. He talks at length about how no-one ever thought about politics before 2008 and now it’s all he can think about. As insightful as it is, and though Daniel is the most switched on to the impending nuclear attack, he is as shocked as the rest of the family when the worst actually happens. We may all talk the talk about wanting the world to be a better place, but what are we doing about it.
There's no time for any of the Lyons to consult about the bigger picture. Housing officer Daniel sees firsthand the turmoil of the refugee crisis, whilst also falling in love with asylum seeker Viktor, unknown to Daniel's husband. Rose, a single mother struggles with robotics when she discovers the man she is dating has frequent sex with his house robot (one of the funniest scenes in the episode). Meanwhile, Stephen and his wife Celeste (T'Nia Miller) are coming to terms with their daughter coming out as 'trans-human', which loosely means that she wishes to discard her body and upload her brain into the cloud. All of this is framed by Grandma Muriel's constant mildly racist patter as she insists on yearly family gatherings - an experience many of us can relate to.
The way in which small events snowball into bigger global catastrophes is reminiscent of Turn Left, episode of Doctor Who Davies penned back in 2008. There is a similar mounting despair as society begins to crumble - the terrible events that happen in Britain in Turn Left are represented through Donna’s small family, just as the focus is on the Lyons family is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Davies has a knack for creating relatable ‘every’ characters - people who are easy enough to identify with, people whom we can see ourselves reflected in. Using these likable and (in the broadest sense) normal family allows the audience to be invested in them and their future from the outset.
So what happens now for the Lyons? The year is 2026, Trump has just fired a nuclear missile at a Chinese military base, Russia has instigated a civil war in Ukraine and a coffee in London now costs £12. All are plausible realities. As bad as the global stakes are, impending end of the world has set the Lyons on edge. What will the aftermath bring them? Will Vivienne Rock become the PM? With the world in such a volatile state, it's surprising that TV hasn't quite caught up to the potential for excellent narratives driven by the widening gaps in Britain today. Like The Good Fight on Trump and the USA, Davies is utilising the nightmare scenarios that many are being faced with, and fictionalising elements to create an engaging series whilst also holding up a mirror to the realities of the UK today. Let's see what the rest of the series has in store.