If you can get through the glib diversity of the first half of this new show the fertile mania of the last minutes suggest it will be worth it. Years and Years could become a dystopian roller coaster with an unpredictable and fun story arc.
Years and Years by Dr Who’s Russell T Davis aired its first episode on the BBC in the UK on Tuesday night. . It starts out bang up to the moment with some edited in voice overs of news stories from that day, including the death of Doris Day. With a big cast of a too perfectly engineered diverse Britain there is a feeling that a strawman of a progressive UK is being set up for a fall. The characters are a blended family of different races, orientations, national origins, ages and abilities muddling along together. The political backdrop is a contemporary Brexit and Trump infused cocktail of discontent and a fracturing establishment. Russell Tovey twinkles true to type as the likeably nerdy but hot gay guy. Emma Thompson simmers in the background as an emergent Faragian politician who gets away with saying the objectionable in such a shockingly blunt way that it masquerades as honesty.
There is little time to get to care about the characters before a cheesy and distracting montage fast forwards through time to the final days of a second Trump term cut with images of passing political events, birthdays and marriages, all set to a dreadful anthemic soundtrack.
Just when thoughts start to turn wistfully to time travel via a TARDIS careening through a wormhole Years and Years lands in a future that looks more interestingly Black Mirror. The destination of the characters starts to unfold in an intriguing way. The earlier political and cultural debates have flowered into seemingly logical but exaggerated conclusions. Politically a belligerent and homophobic Russia has forced Ukrainian asylum seekers into the UK. An expansionist China is gobbling up land. A late second term Trump is throwing aside all remaining shackles of diplomacy. Culturally the transgender debate has evolved into a transhuman aspiration to cast aside the physical body for a fully digital replica. Fake news has raced out of control to the point where all facts are debatable. Conspiracy theories about the earth being flat or that germs are the propaganda of the pharmaceutical industry abound.
All these issues play out a little too conveniently in the lives of the key characters. The first episode fails to build much empathy for them but the evolving social absurdity and introduction of impending nuclear annihilation does a good job of thirst building. A sudden sex scene between Tovey and an asylum seeker tries to do the same thing but it is gratuitously headline seeking whilst being un-rewardingly coy. You hear the sizzle but don’t see the sausage.
Years and Years does a good job of tapping into that very 2019 feeling of going down the wrong tracks at an ever increasing speed. The pick-up in pace has a clunky but absurd fun too it. The first half nod at a progressively diverse society felt fake but as things become fragile its cracking up seems to have a deliberate meaning. Tell us more Russell and Russell.