Welcome To The Future
BBC One’s latest dystopian future, Years and Years, is a little bit Black Mirror, a little bit Doctor Who and a whole lot of trademark Russell T. Davies. From immigrants and extreme politicians through to homosexuals, transexuals and flat-earthers, Years and Years depicts an incredibly diverse yet incredibly bleak future that feels much busier than it perhaps should. Given the sheer amount of exposition dumped throughout the episode and the not-so-subtle political messages, Years and Years is a show that’ll likely ruffle more than a few feathers despite a deliciously dark storyline at the heart of this one.
We begin the series in the near-future with a woman named Vivienne Rook causing a ruckus on national TV by swearing in the middle of Question Time. With Twitter trends and text messages flying around, amidst this socially charged chaos a woman named Rosie heads to the hospital, on the verge of giving birth. Joining her there is Danny, a man we follow for much of this first episode.
After an introduction to a very diverse group of characters, we jump forward several years, with interspersed news bulletins showing the big events happening in the world. President Trump maintains his iron grip over America with a second term and relations with the Chinese begin to bubble over following a dispute with an artificial island in the South Pacific.
Between horrifying Snapchat filters and Alexa upgrades all-but-normal in households, a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine displaces millions and sees Britain begin taking in refugees, much to the displeasure of some members of the public. After a particularly amusing exchange with a woman on the anti-immigration side, Danny meets a refugee and they immediately hit it off together, despite Danny being married.
There’s a few other relationship issues explored this episode too, with young teen Bethany determined to become a trans-human offering an interesting slice of future digitalisation for us to ponder along with a particularly amusing segment involving Keith The Robot which we won’t spoil here.
All of this leads nicely to the bleak, final act of the episode which changes things up and injects some dark tension into the series. While it’s nowhere near the same dread-inducing level of Chernobyl, the realistic dialogue is ultimately what makes this piece so effective. With Vivienne Rook forming her own political party and slowly gaining support, the televisions suddenly cut out with an emergency broadcast warning.
Around the world, sirens begin blaring. America have fired a nuclear weapon. On Trump’s last day in office, he fires a missile toward the South Pacific Island which sends shockwaves across the planet. As the British family we’ve been following all talk over one another and succumb to panic, wondering quite what this means for everyone, Danny takes off, leaving his husband at the house to visit the Ukranian refugee from earlier in the episode. While the two engage in a desperate bout of sex, the rest of the refugees outside dance and swing their effigies of Trump around. The episode then ends with one final shot of a poster for Vivienne Rook.
Years and Years is a pretty busy drama and given the sheer number of characters introduced early on, it can be a little difficult to keep track of all the subplots and relationship issues swarming through the hour-long episode. However, the final 20 minutes or so really kick things into high gear and it’s worth sticking around to experience this. For those familiar with Doctor Who (which Russell T. Davies originally wrote when it first rebooted back in 2012) there was a memorable episode there called Turn Left. The hopelessness and bleak future painted in that episode really rubs off on Years and Years which is partly the reason this works as well as it does.
It won’t be for everyone and some of the political messages are far from subtle but this is trademark Russell T. Davies through and through. His witty dialogue and, in particular, moments where characters overlap their lines, feel realistically depicted with the panic-stricken end certainly making this a show likely to be talked about for a while. Whether it can keep up this level of intrigue now all the characters have been established is another matter but for now, Years and Years is a drama worth checking out if you can stomach the bleakness of our potential future. It’s no Black Mirror or Chernobyl that’s for sure, but it is interesting and bleak enough to keep you wanting more and for that alone, Years and Years gets off to a great start.