Continuing our review of high profile series that debuted over the summer, Awards Daily TV looks at BBC / HBO’s Years and Years.
Russell T Davies is well known for his sci-fi work with bringing back Doctor Who. Recently with A Very English Scandal, he has shown some eye towards political commentary as well. With BBC / HBO’s Years and Years, he combines major political, social and technological issues by going into the future and seeing the events of 2019 (and beyond) intensified. To do this, Davies asks us to follow the extended Lyons family as our avenue into the political landscape with occasional appearances by controversial political newcomer Vivian Rook (Emma Thompson).
The Lyons family are adult siblings and their spouses/partners and children united by their grandmother for get-togethers on her birthday. This is very much an ensemble piece for the family as we drop in on them randomly, and what becomes clear about them is what figure they represent: the activist, the rich man, the youth obsessed with technology, etc. This structure allows us to see where various segments of our society are headed, but it also keeps them at arm’s length from the viewers. They feel like archetypes more than fully-rounded characters. Motivations can be hard to define and events seem to change quickly, both in the social issues and what the characters want to accomplish.
Even Vivian Rook, a wealthy political novice who makes politically incorrect statements (re: Donald Trump), is unclear as a character. Thompson isn’t actually in the series that much, and what she is saying about society and what she wants to do with it is left very opaque beyond that she doesn’t like the current system. That’s likely the point, of course. She serves here as a bit of a political clown, disrupting and damaging the world in the long run. Still, she feels less shocking on screen with Trump as President and Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Compared to real life, she’s really not that hard to swallow.
What really works in the series beyond the archetype characters are many of the technological changes of the future. They look less fictional, more of a certainty in our future. That makes for some interesting ideas about what new issues we could face as a society. These not only look and sound realistic but are integrated into the world so seamlessly that you almost forget they haven’t happened yet. The issues raised are numerous, including some we are already fighting about. The series tries to address them all, which makes for a slightly muddled message than intended. Still, it all seems sadly possible.
Years and Years stands a better chance with its international feel because it is a BBC production shown here on HBO. Additionally, Russell T Davies received recognized last year with A Very English Scandal. Strangely, the series seems to have come and gone with little conversation. It also has to contend with competition from series loved by critics and the Emmys–Chernobyl, When They See Us, Fosse/Verdon, and The Act as well as the new critically loved miniseries Unbelievable and Mrs. Fletcher. There is probably not enough room for this series. The cast will have have trouble standing out because of being such an ensemble that no one actor will likely get any special attention. Emma Thompson as the biggest “name” really doesn’t have the screen time to make her a contender even in the supporting category. Perhaps if the impeachment inquiry creates more heat or if the upcoming election in Britain ends up causing some controversy the series could return to the larger conversation.
The Television Academy, I think, will also be a problem. While not as many miniseries have come out that are getting a lot of attention, we still have a long way to go and several more to see. Plus, as stated before, both Unbelievable and Mrs. Fletcher are already overshadowing it. Its best bet lies with the Creative Arts Emmys for production design or costumes. For that to happen, critics will have to bring it back at year end and in next year’s guild awards to carry all the way to next summer’s voting.