Forget tomorrow, what does the year 2024 hold? What will the world look like in five years’ time? Or in a decade? When will the unrest that’s been circling political, societal and cultural spheres finally come to a head, and what shape will it take? Will Snapchat still be a thing, do sex robots have legs and where do virtual assistants like Alexa go next? These are all bum-clenchingly tense questions to ponder. But what if you could be catapulted into the near future to get a (fictional) peek at how thing might pan out?
We’re not talking about a Hunger Games, Handmaid’s Tale or even Blade Runner-style dystopian tragedy. No, consider Years and Years a disarming but hopeful window into an entirely plausible future as experienced by a warm, unassuming family in Manchester. Strap yourselves in for a wild ride that spans the next 15 years...
In the BBC’s compulsive new drama, we meet the Lyons in the present day. Border negotiations with Ireland are ongoing, Donald Trump is still banging on about building a wall and Rosie (Ruth Madeley), the youngest Lyons sibling, is being driven to the hospital by one of her neighbours because she’s about to go into labour.
Danny (Russell Tovey) is watching the news. He’s one of Rosie’s older brothers, works as a housing officer and somewhat happily lives with his impressionable boyfriend, Ralph (Dino Fetscher). It doesn’t take long to realise that Danny carries the weight of social consciousness on his shoulders and the speed at which the world is changing (for better and for worse) is tricky for him to get his head around.
On the telly, a relatively unknown entrepreneur called Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) is on some sort of political debate show, telling a panel audience that she doesn't "give a fuck" about Palestine or Israel. Her priorities are that her bins get collected, that the school down the road picks up their own rubbish and that people stop parking on pavements so that her elderly mother who walks with a stick can get around with ease. Real exaggerated, almost satirical Britain First vibes. The audience cheers at her thinly veiled appeal for public favour and though she sounds very familiar right now, at this point in time Vivienne Rook is no politician. But we’ll meet her again in a few years.
Danny’s attention is drawn away from the TV and Vivienne’s controversial spiel by a call from Rosie about going into labour and needing a hand with her firstborn son, Lee. Danny then gets in touch with Stephen (Rory Kinnear), the meek, peacekeeping eldest sibling who buggered off to London where he works from home as a financial advisor and lives with his successful, stylish and outspoken wife Celeste (T’Nia Miller), and their two daughters Bethany and Ruby. The second Lyons sister, Edith (Jessica Hynes) has a reputation of being the wild one who’s always off somewhere on the other side of the world "causing trouble", so she doesn’t make it to the hospital. But at the helm of the family is gran Muriel (Anne Reid), who is as sharp-tongued as she is adoring of her big, somewhat disparate family.
Everyone meets the new baby, Lincoln, whose birth anchors much of the episode. We fast-forward to his second birthday in 2021, where Danny and Ralph are engaged and Donald Trump has won another term in the White House. 2022 sees the UK prepare for our elections, continuing unrest in Ukraine and the death of Angela Merkel. Up pops Vivienne Rook on yet another news segment to say she's happy to see the back of her, and that Germany should be too. We then whizz all the way to 2024 where the world premiere of Guardians 4 can be watched from home on something called "vision", Snapchat filters are IRL holograms that literally mask your face, and the of-the-moment virtual assistant is called Senior.
Danny's work has found him overseeing a community of temporary accommodation for the influx of Ukrainian refugees. Stephen and Celeste's eldest daughter thinks that she's trans (not transgender but transhuman – she wants to become a digital entity rather than exist in her physical body), and Rosie is introduced to a domestic robot that comes with, erm, accessories that allow it to be used for sex.
Butterflies are long extinct, "sex imagery" classes are obligatory in schools for those above the age of 11 and Ralph is perhaps a little too curious about a website which claims to have "discovered" that germs don't exist – it's apparently all a ploy by money-hungry pharmaceutical companies. It sounds crazy, but not that crazy. This world sounds both distant and within our reach, which is probably what's so inviting yet ever so slightly bothersome about it. Thompson's erratic Vivienne Rook is going to cause political trouble, that's for sure. There's also a huge international threat looming on the horizon, and it's all at the mercy of future Trump's handling of particularly delicate overseas relations. You'd be right to be filled with dread at the thought of where this could all go in the 11 further years it promises to explore, but at the core of this incredibly smart series is a family that any of us could be part of. There's humour (god knows there'd have to be), affection and a sharp look at a reality that isn't beyond any of our imaginations.
Years and Years starts on BBC One on Tuesday 14th May