The credits rolling on the final episode of Game Of Thrones was thought by many to signify the end of the water-cooler TV era.
The HBO drama had transcended its fantasy genre to become the biggest series of all time and as a result viewers were more than happy to wait weeks, months and, eventually, even years, between episodes.
Now it’s over, you’d think there’d be no necessity to watch the actual telly anymore, right? If we miss something we can just catch it later on BBC iPlayer, right? Well, not exactly. Chernobyl’s recent success is proof that – if the entertainment is good – people are still willing to wait a week for it.
Then there’s Years and Years. The six-part BBC drama which centres around the Lyons clan in 2019, before taking us into the future to see what lies in store for them over the next 15 years.
It’s an interesting concept but, again, in a culture belonging to on-demand entertainment, why exactly have people felt the need to watch this during its first transmission? Why is it that I found myself eagerly awaiting it every Tuesday night? Why is it that, on each of those Tuesday nights, social media has been awash with people singing its praises?
Is it the superb writing from Russell T Davies – the genius who brought us Queer as Folk, A Very English Scandal and the Eccleston and Tennant eras of Doctor Who – that makes it unmissable? Perhaps. Is it the sublime performances from the remarkable cast? Anne Reid certainly deserves a BAFTA, that’s for sure.
All of these things are no doubt contributing factors, but the primary reason we’ve all been raving about Years and Years is the chilling picture it paints of our future. A future that’s not only possible, but one that’s probable.
In a similar vein to that of Black Mirror, Years and Years explores what the world could look like several years down the line. The horrifying, and most compelling thing is, with populist politicians getting into power, totalitarian rule a possibility and transhuman technology all the rage, Davies’ future isn’t too far removed from our present.
It’s the old ‘What If?’ scenario, only here it’s less ‘what If?’ and more ‘when?’. It’s harrowing and scary, but it’s totally relevant.
In fact, it’s the type of show that’ll have you questioning if there’s ever been a more relevant piece of entertainment. Stephen Lyons (Rory Kinnear) aptly asks his siblings in the fourth episode if they remember when the news used to be boring, and that in itself is the most relatable thing you’ll hear on television this year.
We long for the days when there wasn’t anything to write home about on the news bulletin, but that’s simply not possible given the political climate of the modern world – and that’s really what Years and Years is all about.
With populist politicians getting into power, totalitarian rule a possibility and transhuman technology all the rage, Davies’ future isn’t too far removed from our present.
Truth be told, we’ve no idea what the world will be like next year let alone in 15, which is why the BBC drama has been deemed unmissable by so many.
It gives us a taster of our future and it’s a scary one at that, but, much like the news of today, it’s hard to look away from. 20 years ago, viewers might have branded the notion of a populist politician like Viv Rook (Emma Thompson) becoming Prime Minister ridiculous, but today it’s more probable than possible.
With eventualities such as this one likely in our current climate, Years and Years highlights how things that we thought would’ve been impossible at one point in time are now more possible than ever and how the world needs to change to prevent these things from coming to pass.
Daniel’s (Russell Tovey) death, for example, might have left a lump in viewers’ throats all around the nation, but it’s a plot decision that was necessary.
Why? Because asylum seekers often suffer a similar fate, and what better way to reinforce the tragedy of this than by having someone whom viewers had fallen in love with meet their demise in this fashion? Disposing of one of your central protagonists early on was a bold move on Davies’ part, but – as heartbreaking as it was – it was absolutely the right call.
Mind you, Davies has never been afraid of making difficult choices in his projects, which is one of the many reasons he’s still one of the most authentic screenwriters there is.
It’s not just the politics that makes it so good either as, in addition to being a great piece of social commentary, Years and Years is magnificently written and the pacing lends itself to the weekly format incredibly well.
In addition to being a great piece of social commentary, Years and Years is magnificently written – and the pacing lends itself to the weekly format incredibly well.
What’s more, it’s very much a family drama at its core. The Lyons struggle with relationship woes and financial troubles – all of which are exacerbated by the political and economic climate in which they live. Sound familiar?
Yep, they’re just like the rest of us, and therein lies the show’s strength. We lived through these characters, we laughed with them, and loved them deeply, and they’re ultimately the reason we came back for more week after week.
The foreshadowing of our possible future is brilliant in concept, but had it been executed with characters without the qualities the Lyons possess, then it simply wouldn’t have worked.
I think the term ‘main event television’ gets thrown about a bit too much these days, but considering just how revolutionary Years and Years proved to be, there’s no other phrase that can really do it justice. It’s very much a product of 2019, and it’ll never be more relevant than it is now. Hence why everyone’s been talking about it the past couple of weeks, which is proof in itself that water-cooler telly is very much alive and well.
Years and Years is an allegory of sorts, warning us of what could be ahead if we don’t make more of an effort to change the world. The mini-series reaches a definitive conclusion tonight, but it isn’t something we’ll forget about anytime soon, and its harrowing depiction of the future — as well as the protagonists whom we cherished – will remain in our minds for, well, years and years to come.
Years and Years concludes tonight at 9pm on BBC One.
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