james debate
james debate

Monday 24 June 2019

Created by Russell T. Davies
Network BBC
Starring Emma Thompson, Rory Kinnear, T'Nia Miller, Jessica Hynes
Genre Drama
Running Time 55-60 minutes

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If there is one silver lining to living through turbulent and disturbing times, it is the remarkable creative output that such troubles can inspire. Years and Years serves as a timely example of this.

Russell T. Davies is cultivating something of a reputation at the BBC, credited by many for his revitalization of Dr. Who, and more recently with last year's excellent A Very English Scandal. The latter ultimately garnered a slew of awards, not least of all a Debbie on this very blog. His latest project could well see him become the first writer to win back to back Debbies, and if so it would be well earned.

The premise behind Years and Years is disarmingly droll, following the Manchester-based Lyons family over a period of fifteen years, documenting their relationships, their career tribulations, and financial troubles. But the real story of Years and Years is in its extrapolation of future events based on the trends we see today, and its stark depiction of how those events impact on the lives of not only the Lyons, but the entire country.

Far from a ripple in the calm seas of the late 20th Century, Davies sees the current climate of instability as only the beginning of a much grander process. He maps out a world of glorious chaos which starts with a Donald Trump re-election in 2020 and the continued rise of fear-mongering populism in the UK. Without spoiling too much, each mini-shockwave gradually snowballs into military conflict and financial crisis, and much more beyond.

The brilliance in this series is twofold. First is in its darkly comic tone, with a combination of great writing and audacious production creating a sense of almost breathless panic as one event leads to another with seemingly no respite (in one instance in the final episode, to highly amusing effect).

The second is in how believable everything is (in the first few episodes at least), and in particular in showing the very real ways in which national and global events can impact real people on a personal level. It makes for watching that is, in the first four episodes in particular, often terrifying and extraordinarily evocative. Above all, Davies manages depict the impact of current events in a way that never seems overly ideological or stilted, and thus holds an impressive ability to reach a wide audience on these important topics without alienating driving a deeper divide.

One also has to give a shout out to the sheer quality of production from the visuals to the sound and music. The performances are as impressive as we have come to expect from a prestige BBC project, particularly Emma Thompson's terrifying Farage-esque politician, a performance that will surely earn a BAFTA nomination.

It's not a perfect series, as becomes apparent. The last few episodes take a surprising (albeit still hugely entertaining) turn into what can only be described as Dr. Whovian sci-fi thriller territory, and wraps up proceedings with a somewhat unearned ending that feels strangely at odds with the tone of the rest of the episodes. This can't help but feel something of a let down for a series whose (devastatingly effective) initial hook is in its adherence to grounded reality.

There are also times where it feels, such is the pace of the series, that some important topics are only lightly touched on. There are brief references to antibiotic resistance and deep fakes, likely major issues of tomorrow, which are only really discussed in the most superficial of terms. Similarly, while Years and Years does hint at the larger picture of the forces behind this seeming cascade of crises, it declines to give this anything beyond the most token of acknowledgement.

But for any flaws it has, Years and Years never ceases to be anything other than hugely entertaining. When its at its best, it ranks among the most incisive and remarkable commentaries of the day. This is lingering stuff that will stick with you after viewing, and its rough edges only serve to highlight the raw power of its vision. An essential series if ever there was one.

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