“Years and Years” goes by in the blink of an eye

Alex Holmes

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Trump and Boris and Brexit, oh my! The world is a chaotic and scary place these days, and the HBO show “Years and Years” is here to heal your wounds and provide comfort. Just kidding. If you thought “Black Mirror” hit a little bit too close to home, this show is going to rock your world. 

Starting in 2019, each episode skips forward several years to show us the political, economic, and technological changes we’re in for in the near future. Everything that happens has a scarily plausible vibe that can make the show a disturbing but can’t-avert-your-eyes watch.

The show is more disturbing than “Black Mirror” because it’s more grounded, but “Years and Years” depressiveness is broken up by moments of levity and a strong emotional core. Unlike “Black Mirror’s” anthology format, “Years and Years” writer and creator Russel T. Davies follows the middle class Lyons family, who are caught amidst the turbulent waves of Brexit, a Trump re-election, and more as they attempt to carve out a stable living in Manchester.

A true ensemble, the Lyons consist of Stephen (Rory Kinnear), a financial advisor, who is married to Celeste (T’Nia Miller), an accountant. They have two children, Bethany (Lydia West) and Ruby (Jade Alleyne). Stephen has three siblings: Daniel (Russell Tovey), a housing officer, Edith (Jessica Hynes), a political activist, and Rosie (Ruth Madeley), a single mother with spina bifida. The family matriarch is Muriel (Anne Reid), the Lyons siblings’ grandmother.

While the first episode may seem overwhelming at first, the cast and crew have done an admirable job at making every character distinguishable. The best scenes are when the entire family has gathered, either in person or via technology. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in these characters and their lives, which makes the show greater than the sum of its parts. It isn’t only a pitch-black prediction of the future; it is a complex tale of a family gripped by strife at each and every turn.

Emma Thompson joins the cast as a recurring character named Vivienne Rook. She is a medley of all of today’s nationalist leaders, evoking a more witty version of Trump. Her rise to power is charted over the course of the show’s six episodes, each an hour long. Thompson brings a vivacious evil to each of Rook’s scarily rousing appearances. 

The rest of the cast turns in fine work, particularly Kinnear, Miller, Tovey, and Reid. Stephen, Kinnear’s character, goes into a downward spiral of successively more depressing scenarios that creates one of the most compelling character arcs on the show. Miller plays the long-suffering, discontent wife of Stephen perfectly, and Tovey is all fire and passion in each of his scenes. The real star is Reid, who plays Muriel, the grandmother. She leaves the viewer on the balls of their feet, wryly unpredictable in every situation. Her comedic sensibilities are spot-on, and one emotionally charged scene in the last episode that acts as a vehicle for the writers to inject their own opinions into the story becomes much more than a gimmick and knocks on the door of transcendent.

“Years and Years” has one big draw, and that is watching our potential future. Parts of it play almost like an alternate timeline, that may or may not become ours if we aren’t careful. Watching the world destroy itself is terrifying, but, much the same way humans love true crime stories, you can’t look away. The show doesn’t skimp on the headlines, providing plenty of absurd but real events that make it riveting. I would share a few examples here, but some of the shock would be lost if I did. I will always remember that horrific first episode and I don’t want to ruin that for any first time viewers. To pique your interest just a little though, at one point, we see that after Trump’s second term, Mike Pence becomes president.

Along with the superb cast and intellectually stimulating script, “Years and Years” boasts strong technical work. While the look of the show may not be too different from most streaming shows (shot digitally with little or no crazy camerawork), the score and editing really up the ante in the artistic department. An electronic-sounding main theme that accompanies jumps forward in time keeps you glued to the screen, and rapid montages, the bread and butter of the show’s predictions, are edited for maximum clarity and entertainment.

Firmly sticking the landing, “Years and Years” is one of the most exciting shows on television, even if it is only a six-part limited series. Its creators have combined the best of science fiction, political drama, and family trauma to weave an ultimately inspiring web of epic proportions. “Years and Years” is probably the best new show you’ve never heard of.