Give the last HBO drama six hours of your time and it will tell the story of the twenty-first century.
This is the promise made by "Years and Years," which airs on cabler from June 24, after a race for BBC One in the UK. The first episode begins in May 2019, and subsequent plots advance deep into the 2020s, enough to reveal that our future history seems less of a bow to progress than a swirl of entropy. And while Emma Thompson steals scenes as an ambitious nationalist politician whose audacity and facility with celebrity mechanisms could generate comparisons for both Brit Boris Johnson and at least one known American figure, that's not her story. To his credit, "Years and Years" – among the most engaging and thrilling series to air this year – keeps its opening narrow even as the world continues to push its way in. This is, above all, the story of a family whose simplicity makes them a powerful vehicle for telling the future.
The Lyons family is a relatively united group that tends towards the upper middle class; in the absence of his estranged father, his older brother, Stephen (Rory Kinnear), a banker, performs the role of patriarch. Others among this well-designed group include his wife, Celeste (Taylor Miller), his brother Daniel (Russell Tovey, as well as he was on screen), and sisters Edith (Jessica Hynes) and Rosie (Ruth Madeley) ; Grandmother Muriel (Anne Reid), indifferent to change, sits on the shores of history as a reminder of a past less and less recognizable. Each brother interacts with the growing political change in ways that, in normal times, seem completely everyday: Daniel works in homes for the government, Edith is a career activist and Rosie counts on assistance as a woman with a disability. Stephen seems to think little of politics, if at all.
But politics has an inelegant way of putting itself at the forefront of life, at least at this moment and at the moments "years and years" it anticipates. Daniel, married and stable, falls in love with a Ukrainian refugee who escapes from homophobic torture; Edith, protesting on an artificial island built by the Chinese, is caught in a nuclear attack that threatens to significantly shorten her life expectancy. Rosie is trapped in the burnt rhetoric of Vivienne Rook (Thompson), a person we see in the first four episodes only as a media-covered figure whose lack of an inner life makes her attractive. whole picture and rhetorical and soothing noise. And Stephen and Celeste face, first, their daughter's desire to become "transhuman," merging her physical form with technology and then economic vicissitudes that destroy her fixed lives and reveal elements of mistrust and contempt amid the debris.
Almost every element here is transmitted with verve and imagination; although "years and years" were not science fiction, for example, the details of the young Bethany (Lydia West) becoming a living technique made my skin crawl with its viscerality. Rook, the politician, is played by Thompson in a somber, clipped accent of Northern English and with an effervescent will to say anything that keeps the camera on. Thompson underscores the fact that his types of politicians are not gentle but are infinitely attractive and even funny with the cameras, so they are willing to lay out the basic premises by which we live our lives. Both Daniel's novel and Stephen and Celeste's wedding elements fall into the cliché (Daniel Baldry's unfortunate Viktor, played by Maxim Baldry, may be the most endured man on the planet until the end of the race), but they tend to recompose themselves . give us the characters and not just the situation. A scene of mass terror involving Daniel and Viktor in the depths of the show gains its power, for example, by the fear of Daniel's normally hopeful face, his perception that the world really wants to catch him, or that he was not made for these times. Writing for character and performance takes us there, even if a minor show used the shock of dystopic horror.
And the writing of Russell T. Davies here is consistently elegant and, better, resonant. The key question of our times, one so massive that it needs to be divided into several smaller ones, is how the individual must or can react to live through ever faster changes. The TV made a few previous attempts: there is "Westworld" on HBO, which operates in the field of allegory to illuminate how we become surreal even when the family reality disappears. And "Black Mirror" has been working for years in stories in which protagonists face technological changes that have the ability to illuminate familiar traits in us or to separate us in the process of moving.
Years and Years does something different, something that does not seem illegitimate to stand against the work done by the novels. "Years and Years," I did not remember other shows on the air, but from recent novels by Rachel Cusk, Olivia Laing, John Lanchester, David Mitchell, and Ali Smith. , all of which shaped the journey of our time into the future of how it really exists for normal and non-special characters, as a continuous and flawless present, in which even unimaginable chaos must be borne, given the nature of alternative.
All of these books deserve to be cited together because they share a crucial trait: their authors, like Davies, the creator of "Years and Years," are British. (So then, the creator of "Black Mirror", Charlie Brooker, and the co-creator of "Westworld", Jonathan Nolan.) The British live in the memory of what it once was; they are citizens of a power that now exists in memory and ritual, but no longer as the defining force on the world stage. No wonder they are so good at telling stories that describe changes in historical currents not as apocalypses that call for the rise of heroes but as rising tides that, given their intractable power, should simply be borne. Most of the character's journeys, here, bring them each day from hell on earth (Rosie, curiously, is living, a confirmed Tower defender at every turn); they all convey through the simple and powerful acting cumulative exhaustion of living through history without a showy awareness that this is really what is happening. After all, for these unhappy people, like the rest of us, it is not the story they are living but simply life.
In our world, Brexit threatens to accelerate the pace of isolation and change in the UK; in the world "Years and Years," portrays that acceleration is aided by Rook and global financial chaos, leading to a nation of fearful and distrustful people struggling to survive and maintain the states of mind they had before the world collapsed. But what the program does best is to portray what does not change; even after the nuclear aggression and embrace of far-right nationalism and the apparent fall of Europe, the Lyons still gather for birthdays and celebrations. However, this does not mean warming or a "Waltons" message about family power, even under restricted circumstances. It is a message conveyed by a show whose brief summary hides its main ambitions: The comfort of tradition is all we have to grasp as the great narrative of our time unfolds. And they may not be enough.
"Years and Years". HBO. June 24. Six episodes (four selected for review).
Fused: Emma Thompson, Anne Reid, Rory Kinnear, Russell Tovey, Ruth Madeley, Jessica Hynes, Tia Nia Miller, Lydia West, Jade Alleyne, Callum Woolford, Jett Moses, Aaron Ansari, Aiden Li, Dino Fetscher, Maxim Baldry
Executive Producers: Nicola Shindler, Michaela Fereday and Russell T. Davies