Russell T Davies has written some of the most amazing dramas ever including Queer As Folk, A Very English Scandal, Cucumber, and Doctor Who. It’s hard to imagine any of these incredible shows being topped but then, out of nowhere, he’s brought us Years and Years. The series premiered in the UK back in May so I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing all six episodes and I genuinely cannot recommend this show to you enough. It is without a doubt one of the most amazing and important TV shows ever created and you would be mad to miss it. Now that the show has begun airing to an even larger audience on HBO in the U.S., I thought it was time for me to get writing about it so we can all discuss how important this story is.
Set in the city of Manchester, the show follows the lives of three generations of one family, the Lyons, from the year 2019 through to 2034. Each episode jumps forward so many years and the further we get into the future, the more familiar it feels…
The first episode starts with an introduction to businesswoman and entrepreneur turned politician, Vivienne Rook, played brilliantly by national treasure Emma Thompson. If you’re thinking that the character seems too familiar then you’d be right. She’s Donald Trump, she’s Boris Johnson, she’s Nigel Farage, she’s Marine Le Pen, with a quick dash of Katie Hopkins thrown in there for good measure. She’s a representation of all that is wrong with the world’s politics yet somehow is gathering a strong following. She appears on the BBC political debate show Question Time and when asked about the current situation in Israel and Palestine her response is, “I don’t give a fuck”.
It gets her trending on Twitter; it gets people talking about her. She’s saying all the right things and entertaining people, which is what she wants. People like her do trick the public by saying all the right things and it’s why we have things like Brexit and other political catastrophes happening around the world. Interestingly, she shares a similar name with a Doctor Who character, a reporter who was investigating suspect politician Harold Saxon in The Sound of Drums. I think it already goes without saying that Rook definitely has an unknown ulterior motive for her move into politics.
Watching this all play out are the Lyons family consisting of great grandmother Muriel (Anne Reid) and her grandchildren Stephen, Daniel, and Rosie (Rory Kinnear, Russell Tovey, and Ruth Madeley, respectively), along with their children. They’re a typically normal family and their portrayal feels real and honest. I can relate to families like this one as I’ve grown up surrounded by them, I’m friends with them, and ultimately I’m part of one. The family is diverse with their sexualities, disabilities, or race never being shown to us as a negative or something that needs to be made an issue of (the rest of the world’s diversity acceptance is a different story though). Rosie is in a wheelchair but it’s never presented as an issue; instead, she’s shown as an independent mother who works to provide for her family. She’s an inspirational character without even trying to be.
In the opening scenes, there’s a radio news broadcast stating that Doris Day has dominated most of the front pages of the newspapers after her death yesterday. This episode actually aired in the UK the day after she sadly died so for them to get that in there so quickly was brilliant. It gave me goosebumps as it added a whole new level of realism to the show. The broadcast airs as the family travel to the hospital as Rosie is giving birth. As Daniel holds his new nephew in his arms he delivers a monologue which explains to us the premise of the entire show:
Don’t know if I could have a kid in a world like this. It’s like that Rook woman said, things were OK a few years ago before 2008. Do you remember back then? We used to think politics was boring. But now, I worry about everything. I don’t know what to worry about first. Never mind the government, it’s the sodding banks. They terrify me…and don’t even start me on ISIS. Now, we’ve got America. Never thought I’d be scared of America in a million years, but we’ve got fake news and false facts and I don’t even know what’s true anymore. What sort of world are we in? Cos if it’s this bad now, what’s it going to be like for you, huh? 30 years time, 10 years, five years? What’s it going to be like?
His words begin one of the most brilliant aspects of the show: the time jumps, which are always so haunting. I get a lump in my throat every time one of them happens, not just because the music is emotional, but because each event that happens over the years is something that could and probably will happen.
During our first jump, we see that Trump has won a second term as President, China has built an artificial island called Hong Sha Dao, Vivienne Rook is standing in the local elections as an Independent candidate but fails, The Queen has died and the UK now has a King on its throne, the Ukranian Army has overthrown its government, Angela Merkel has died (much to the delight of Vivienne), and protests are growing in the UK due to the rising number of Ukranian refugees that are entering the country.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom as Daniel has married his partner Ralph (Dino Fetscher) and the family have had plenty of celebrations together. They remain happy together, for now…
As we arrive in 2024 there are already cracks in Daniel and Ralph’s marriage after Ralph begins spending too much time on his phone. He’s susceptible to fake news and online conspiracy theories and can’t seem to get enough of them. While working as a housing officer for the council Daniel strikes up a connection with Ukranian refugee Viktor (Maxim Baldry). The refugee camps we see in Dover are a lot like the camps we’ve seen in recent years across the Channel in Calais. One of the promises of Brexit was that immigration would be controlled and reduced, but in this version of the future, it was another false promise. Immigration is higher than ever. It’s already upsetting to see people running from way, violence, and persecution in the real world so to now be presented with a scenario where it will only get worse for people is heartbreaking.
Elsewhere Stephen and Celeste’s (T’Nia Miller) eldest daughter Bethany (Lydia West) has an announcement to make. Technology makes advances every day so it’s not surprising that it’s advanced quite a lot in five years. Bethany wears a headset that means she can live wearing a constant virtual filter over her face which hides her true feelings. She’s clearly unhappy with her life and wants to hide behind a mask. It’s no different to how people act on social media these days. People don’t want to post a true picture of themselves anymore as they have the capability to filter and manipulate the images to present themselves to the world in a way they want to be seen. This new headset just takes things to the next level.
She announces that she’s trans. We (and her parents) automatically assume she is transgendered but this isn’t the case, she’s transhuman. In other words, she wants her consciousness uploaded to a cloud so she can discard her body and live forever digitally. At first, it sounds absurd, but the more you think about the more you realize that this could potentially happen one day. We live in an age where machines are replacing people to do their jobs so surely the next step would be for us to actually become the machines? If any other writer had penned this transhuman story I would probably think it was a bit too fantasy like. But Russell T Davies just has a brilliant way of making us believe the story he’s telling and convincing us that this is possible. It’s both genius and terrifying.
Rosie has embarked on her first date with a single dad from school and all seems to be running smoothly until they head to the bedroom. Tony (Noel Sullivan) has a robot called Keith which performs household chores such as cleaning but it turns out the robot may be getting used for something more. As she looks for condoms Rosie discovers an attachment for Keith so he can… well you can probably guess the rest. Sex robots are already something that exists in the world but due to their cost are something you probably wouldn’t come across in your neighbor’s house. They look like real people and apparently feel like real people. Keith, on the other hand, looks a lot like a budget version of Rosie the Robot maid from The Jetsons.
It doesn’t knock Rosie’s confidence when it comes to dating men and she reacts how anybody else would: by ringing her family and having a bloody good laugh about it. It’s these kinds of moments that make these characters feel so real. Obviously, I’ve never known someone to be in a situation with a sex robot named Keith, but I have laughed with my friends over dates that have gone wrong. It’s a true to life scenario.
There’s more trouble in the world as tensions between Trump and China have escalated and at a party celebrating Muriel’s 92nd birthday, the family discovers just what Trump is capable of. During the party, we meet the previously unseen Lyons sibling Edith (Jessica Hynes) via a video call. She’s near the artificial island of Hong Sha Dao and warns the family that there could be an imminent nuclear attack. During his final days in office Trump has hit the big red button and launched a nuclear missile at the island.
As the sirens blare out the family descends into panic and arguments. Muriel gets a teapot and begins to make tea for the family and it’s something I could see my own Gran doing should this ever happen. There’s an old saying that a cup of tea makes everything feel and seem better, a saying that the older generation has kept going and passed down to us. So, of course, Muriel would be in the kitchen making tea when there’s a threat of a nuclear bomb.
Daniel rushes off and ditches his husband because if these are his dying moments he wants to spend them with refugee Viktor. They have sex as the bomb goes off on the island, as the country riots, as effigies of Trump are burnt, as the drums pound, as Rosie screams “what happens now?!” Then bang, it’s over and we can breathe.
The threat of nuclear war surrounds us every day and to see it happen in a not too distant future is a scary sight—scary because it feels so real and so likely. We have to wait a week to discover the fate of the world after Trump’s last stand and I’m glad. This show is a huge emotional rollercoaster and you’ll thank me later when I say that a breather between episodes is recommended. Each episode is fast-paced with plenty of shocks that you honestly don’t want to miss. It might claim to be five years in the future but with how real this all seems it feels more like right now.