Years and Years, Russell T Davies’ near-future drama is as terrifyingly prescient as it is compelling. Here’s our main points of concern from episode two.
Watching Years And Years is hard. It is presenting us with a version of the future that seems all too plausible at the moment, and while that is sometimes hard to watch, we can’t look away.
British isolationism, the rise of the far right in Europe, white male dictators taking over the planet, wars – trade or otherwise – crippling economies and causing financial collapse. It’s a bit like watching You’ve Been Framed but with the clause that no one gets hurt removed, so instead of the drunken uncle losing his false teeth on the dancefloor, he stacks it and breaks a collar bone (sorry, now we’ve ruined You’ve Been Framed for everyone).
At the moment, the next chapter for Manchester natives the Lyons family seems a bit short on LOLs to be honest, so here’s what’s concerning us most about what their future has in store.
Is Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) the acceptable face of populism?
She’s a gajillionaire who owns our now privatised public services, such as the council Housing Department where Daniel Lyons (Russell Tovey) works.
She is ignorant of the real nitty gritty of politics and gets shown up at the public debate for not really knowing the basics of our new trade deals with Europe. She wants to focus on problems at our own front door, is a master manipulator of the media and doesn’t care if she breaks the rules. But, as she might say, “Who gives a fuck?” She presents a new way forward for politics, focusing on things that really matter to real people – like children’s access to porn and, erm, the horses killed in WW1.
She is also a woman, willing to take on the male-dominated global corporations and banks, and most importantly, she says it how it is. No wonder people are getting behind her, she speaks to all sides of the political spectrum. From those, like Ruth Madeley’s Rosie Lyons, who are just cheerily “furious at everything”.
To those who understand the wider world only too well, like Jessica Hynes’s Edith Lyons, whose lifetime spent kicking against the pricks left barely a dent in the status quo and gave her just 10 years to live. “Tear the world down,” she says grimly as Viv sets out her political vision.
The question we are struggling with is: is Vivienne actually… could she possibly be… one of the good guys? The wounds left by the last financial crisis have just opened up again, plunging even millionaires from that there London into penury. Could it be time to rip off the plaster and start again. We’re not sure how we feel about that.
Who will fight for human rights?
It seems the legacy of Brexit has been to make all those damn Remoaners all the smugger as Britain is left high and dry on its own, isolated from Europe and Trump/Pence’s America while still, to the Leave Means Leave brigade’s chagrin, having to accept refugees. But the far right has become rampant in Europe, where LGBTQ+ rights are being eroded to the point where people have to live ‘discreetly’ or be arrested and tortured.
Even worse, in this country, laws have been reverted to 2014 where we deport people first and let them appeal later, even if their lives may be at risk.
Daniel’s boyfriend Viktor (Maxim Baldry) finds himself in Kiev within 12 hours of being detained. Let down by government and bureaucracy it is left for normal people like Daniel to fight for human rights. That is a chilling prospect.
Will technology save us all?
In this episode we see many facets of the unstoppable rise of tech (though nothing quite as chilling as the mental image of Noel from Hear’Say having sex with a robot). From the cosmetic (Bethany’s actually-quite-cool phone hand), and the medical (the eradication of spina bifida) to the political (Vivienne’s masterful use of the Blink to first distract from her lack of policies and then to further her own) and finally the existential (the possibility that Edith’s life could be ‘saved’).
Each of these comes with its own moral dilemma – Bethany can’t bring herself to tell her dad, miracles are only available to those who can afford them, if Viv is proposing to making Blinks commonplace, what does that mean for our personal freedoms? And the big one, can we really beat death? Can we really play god? So, for all the good that tech does us, it also raises some tricksy questions.
Alternatively, now that all the financial systems have failed, will all technology be moribund and will we have to return to the lives of the hunter gatherers, trading what skills and commodities we still have.
Good luck working out how to roast a rat over a bin without the internet all you accountants, housing officers, data miners and, erm, journalists.
Finally, WTF has happened to chocolate?
“Now, I looked and looked and looked for chocolate,” says the Lyons family matriarch, grandma Muriel (Anne Reid). “But you just can’t find it any more.” Sorry what’s that now? There’s no chocolate? How the hell has this been allowed to happen? Even more pressingly what is going on with the booze? At last some good news, there’s new synthetic alcohol, which supposedly gets you drunk, but without the hangover. It certainly gets you drunk enough to dance around a fire to Chumbawamba. But in this worst of dystopian worlds it doesn’t work, the hangover remains and no technology will ever be invented that will erase the shame of dancing round a fire to Chumbawamba.
All in all, there’s plenty not to look forward to from the rest of the series, but Russell T Davies has more than enough heart in the Lyons family to keep us gripped without things ever turning too bleak. There’s still hope and humour in there, you can still get a meal deal at a garage, northerners still hate southerners and we Brits can still get drunk with the best of them. We are still just humans after all, trying our best to muddle through each day and have a laugh along the way. The future is not set in stone, the drunk uncle may still lose his teeth on the dancefloor in the end.
Years And Years continues next Tuesday 28 May, 9pm, BBC One.