Dystopia is a word commonly used to describe an imaginary society or state bound by injustice, autocracy and suppression. The concept has found its way into film and television with remarkable ease. TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, or Altered Carbon characterize this. In the last decade, projections of an undesirable future have been used to focus on the current problems and fears of today. Increasingly, such global concerns as technological progress, climate change, and political crisis have become and remained eternal fuel for artistic interpretation. This is true of Years and Years, a timely representation of today’s global reality.
The outcome of the BBC and HBO collaboration mirrors a frightening tomorrow, which the viewer can yet recognize as both hazy and distinctly familiar.
Meet the Lyons
Years and Years, a six-part drama based in Manchester, follows the life of the Lyons family from 2019 to 2034. The story is a uchronia, an imaginary time period where Donald Trump wins a second term. Against the background of emergent and authoritative British regime, powered by Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson), the narration charts both historical and personal struggles. The Lyons family is made up of two sisters and two brothers, with their grandmother, children and nephews.
Over the course of fifteen years, all the characters deal with political instability, which brings different kind of urgencies.
From the refugee camp officer (Russell Tovey) who tackles his lover’s deportation, to the financial adviser (Rory Kinnear) hit by a banking crisis. From the activist (Jessica Hynes) who witnesses a nuclear strike between the USA and China, to the new Rook supporter (Ruth Madeley). Although the storylines seem quite distant from each other, they all converge in a common scenic space, in which technology plays an important role.
In the same way as Black Mirror depicts a dystopia, where AI development or social media addiction cause harm, Years and Years shows the viewer a future where hi-tech tools can be frightening. Yet, both TV shows are able to tell a universal story by pointing out inner struggles and the deep connection between the individual and the wider framework.
Despite the big historical changes, it still gives space to the intimacy of the characters. The Lyons family sees its bubble blow up, episode by episode, but never gives up.
An inclusive representation
Given this perspective, Years and Years does not only represent a likely future, but also the diversity of today’s society. In the Lyons family, the viewer finds different generations, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
For instance, when the viewer first meets Rosie Lyons, confined to a wheelchair because of spina-bifida, they won’t find any fragile character. Rosie shows a fierce personality and even her sexual drive is not hidden.
Dystopia as catharsis
The creator Russell T. Davies, author of the revival of Doctor Who (2005), didn’t only produce a family drama. Years and Years is a timely representation of events and trauma that could really happen and somehow rings true.
The material for dystopia is already here: from populist-extremist tendencies to the climate crisis, from collapsed economies to refugees’ emergency. The series warns the viewer about all the risks at hand. It works as a collective catharsis by showing them on a screen.
With a driving rhythm that underlines the tension, Davies builds up a powerful series that mirrors today’s society. In so doing, he couldn’t “write more than six lines without putting in a gag“.
Unlike Black Mirror, Years and Years is a timely representation of all the things that could go wrong. But it never fails to raise a laugh — even in a dystopia.