Having recently aired across the pond on BBC One, the acclaimed new limited series Years and Years, created by Russell T Davies (A Very English Scandal), is making its stateside debut on HBO. A satirical sci-fi melodrama, the show picks up with a family in 2019 and follows them over the course of the next fifteen years as the political landscape changes drastically.
In terms of story, this show bites off a lot, and for the most part, it is able to handle it. The series juggles multiple storylines and subplots, but manages to pull this off without feeling frustrating because the chaos fits with the show’s central themes of the world descending into madness. In each episode, we get to see a bit of each storyline, but some episodes will focus more on one family member than the others.
The character Daniel, a government housing officer who forms a bond with one of the refugees at his job, is undeniably the most interesting in the series. Perhaps the reason that his portion of the story is so effective is that it contains some of the most politically-charged and emotionally-compelling moments in the show, especially in episodes three and four. In a series that seems specifically designed to provoke conversation, this is sure to be the most lingering part.
Other members of the family, such as couple Stephen and Celeste or the rebellious Edith, also have interesting arcs, although most of the things that make their stories compelling are tied into the greater context of the world in which the show is set. For example, a financial crisis that occurs in episode two has significant impact on the lives of the characters and will be sympathetic to anyone who has lived through a similar event in real life.
The only member of the family whose story feels underwhelming is Rosie, a single mother who has spina bifida. Although the potential is there for her storyline to provide interesting commentary on the changing structures of families in modern society, that is never really explored outside of the first episode. Instead, she seems relegated to being a supporting player in other peoples’ storylines. Perhaps more will be explored in the final two episodes, but for a majority of the series, this seems to be the only real weak link.
Another narrative thread that runs through the series, and the only one that doesn’t directly focus on a member of the central Lyons family, involves a controversial politician portrayed by Emma Thompson. You can see how Rook was written as a composite character of real-world politicians, chief among them being Theresa May and Donald Trump (although Trump is a significant player in this alternate world too).
Thompson is at her best playing the over-the-top businesswoman-turned-politician, infusing the role with plenty of charm and wit. It is hard to imagine anyone else in the role because she does it so well, serving as the glue that holds all of the different pieces of the series in place. Other members of the cast, including Rory Kinnear and Russell Tovey, give solid performances, but none steals the show quite as much as Thompson.
In terms of execution, the show is quite impressive. Being one of the more grounded and personal sci-fi series on television, there isn’t really much with which they could swing and miss. However, there is one storyline that explores new technological developments and transhumanism, and the way in which that is approached is very effective.
Additionally, the series is edited in a way that is very impactful. Every episode, there is a montage that allows the episode to jump forward a few years, with the montage filling in the gaps on the ways in which the political landscape changes during the time jump. These sequences are quite exciting and accomplish their goal of delivering impactful political commentary in a short period of time.
Years and Years has to be one of the most captivating melodramas on television right now, and that is because it uses its premise to be so much more. Although the first four episodes aren’t perfect, they are still very entertaining and succeed in serving as thought-provoking discussion pieces. Make sure to check this show out if you get the chance.
Years and Years debuts on HBO on June 24 at 9/8c and airs subsequent Mondays at the same time. (Four out of six episodes reviewed.)