This summer’s TV schedule is full of doom and despair. Chernobyl, The Virtues, Catch-22… and, of course, Love Island. You think we’d try to escape the dystopia being burnt onto our eyeballs whenever we watch the news and yet we seem to want it in our entertainment as well. Amidst all this great and gloomy TV is Years and Years, which has really caught my attention this summer.
Russell T. Davies’ Years and Years concluded last week after causing a storm on the BBC in its short six-part run. Davies has helmed the British institution Dr Who and boundary-pushing dramas Cucumber Tofu Banana and Queer as Folk. In Years and Years, he brings together both elements of his oeuvre and this marriage creates a beautiful, thought-provoking piece of popular entertainment.
The program follows the Lyons family over a period of fifteen years, taking us all the way up to 2034. The show centres around the relationships, celebrations, and tensions of the family, whilst an increasingly apocalyptic series of world events play out in a montage, accompanied by Murray Gold’s anxiety-inducing score. At key moments, the Lyons family’s personal dramas line up with world dramas in ways that persistently horrify, shock and at times tear holes through your heart.
Davies achieves a remarkable feat in creating a mainstream BBC program, with many tonal similarities to Dr Who (without the aliens), whilst dealing with prescient issues from multiple perspectives. At times, it is not subtle. However, in many ways that is what I love about it – the show aims to be popular and accessible. By doing so, Davies shows that discussions about climate change, political populism, and new technologies, played out by a diverse cast through diverse stories, can all be part of a mainstream show.
The more unsubtle moments of Years and Years almost always arise in lamenting diatribes. These come out of the blue. Great grand-mother Muriel could be serving up dinner and then suddenly, BAM! Fire and brimstone are laid upon us as she dissects how we are all responsible for this hellish world we are wallowing over.
Unsubtle is by no means a criticism in my assessment. Sometimes we need nuance and other times we need to be hit over the head with a shovel of unpleasant truth. Years and Years, with its ‘An-Inspector-Calls-esque‘ urgency and fury, grabs our emotions first. Then, when we finally catch our breath, we can begin to reflect on the issues that Davies is raising. Its impact lingers in us for longer. It was studying plays like An Inspector Calls at school that lit a fire of moral outrage in my tweenage self. Years and Years will do the same for many kids grappling with the wider world for the first time. It may also rekindle some indignation for those of us whose fires have been dampened somewhat. Years and Years is a rallying cry for empathy.
In its final episode, plot takes the forefront to close off the series. The ending stays on just the right side of ridiculous and concludes with a bittersweet moment that feels emotionally satisfying but still in keeping with the tone of the show. Davies has succeeded in crafting a story with wit, heart and an angry eye on our world.
The show has come about at the right time. It’s a bricolage of themes; climate change, refugee crises, banks collapsing, the gig economy, fake news, deep fakes, detention centres and on and on. The show is a perfect representation of our over-stimulated, saturated minds and captures something about the self as well as the world.
And speaking of timing, Tuesday’s finale got it spot-on, right down to the hour, airing straight after the BBC debate for the Conservative leadership candidates chaired by Emily Maitlis. Just twenty minutes after the top Tories had finished battling it out, Muriel was issuing the warning: “Beware those men, the jokers and the tricksters and the clowns. They will laugh us into Hell.” Well, I’ll just leave it at that.