If it didn’t already mirror real life, there would be something kind of brilliant about a brash new-to-politics B-grade celebrity rising to power based on her penchant to speak her mind. [Viv Rook (Emma Thompson) even ends up naming her party the Four Star **** party, based on the bleeping of her f-bombs on live TV.] But just like in real life, these kinds of political characters are often making waves in the background, being crassly entertaining or appalling while we all go about our everyday lives and worries. So instead of focusing on the rise of an outrageous politician, Russell T. Davies’ Years and Years follows the parallel story of the multigenerational Lyons family, introducing them in the “present” (2019) and quickly jumping a year or few ahead in each episode. As the world changes around them, they (like us) often tend to click away, turn off, or tune out of geopolitical news… until their own lives are directly affected, often in disastrous ways.
The adult siblings are the center of the Lyons clan. Daniel (Russell Tovey), works with resettling refugees to the UK, and has just gotten married to his longtime partner. Brother Stephen (Rory Kinnear), a successful businessman, and his wife Celeste (T’Nia Miller) are dealing with a teen at home who is obsessed with technology. (To her, being “trans” turns out to be a baffling wish to be “trans-human”.) Bubbly sister Rosie (Ruth Madeley) is a single mum, and navigates her world in a wheelchair, while their older sister Edith (Jessica Hynes) is an environmental activist, out on the front lines trying save the world while the rest of society clicks the next amusing video. The whole family gathers yearly to celebrate the birthday of their matriarch Gran (Anne Reid), whose seen-it-all commentary grounds the family, and the series. When you think the world is ending, Gran is there to remind you that it usually manages to go on.
As a family drama, Years and Years is of course very well done (after all, it is Russell T. Davies). But skillfully layered on top of the family drama is a social commentary/political horror show that matches Black Mirror. What he has done is create terrifying, almost-dystopian scenarios made all the more powerful because the Lyons, who we know and love despite their flaws, are smack in the middle of everything. What the show so skillfully does is not base the show in a future that has flying cars and soylent green. Sure, technology is sleeker, and the internet and media are more exaggerated in their reach, but in this near-future, siblings still squabble, you still have to go to work, and the mortgage still needs to get paid. When this regular family is thrown into the disturbingly real scenarios of our modern world, the horror is all the more effective. Let’s just say that the end of episode one was so unexpectedly terrifying and possible that I had to pause and flap my arms to shake it out before watching the next hour.
I don’t want to give away any of the plot, because the impact of the show comes from the unexpected. Some of the shocks will scare you, and some will break your heart, all because deep in your gut it is all so believable. But I’m not sure I want another season, as it is too disturbing to see what this crazy world may bring us the next few years. The Lyons represent all of us, and I really want us all to be OK.