Thursday, 27 June 2019

Make Time For Years And Years

Russel T. Davies has usually been the wet firecracker of television writers. Despite this, he has given
Emma Thompson headlines a superb cast
in the BBC/HBO series Years and Years.
(image via iNews
viewers possibly the best science fiction on television in 2019 with his six-part miniseries Years And Years.

Over the course of more than 20 years writing for television, Davies has built a reputation as a capable writer who crafts diverse and emotionally compelling characters, builds suspense and tension effectively, and then pulls the rug out from under viewers through trite and banal endings.

This tendency was the signature aspect of his work on Doctor Who. As we have noted before, deus ex machina is his stock in trade. In the penultimate episode of DW’s Season 2 (The Sound of Drums), The Master is built up into an imposing and compelling adversary, but in the finale he’s defeated by people thinking happy thoughts. In Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks, the entirety of the plot of the two-part episode is undone in seconds through largely incomprehensible means.

His new six-episode series premiered on HBO on Monday night, shortly after completing its initial run on the BBC. True to his oeuvre, Davies’ sixth and final hour-long episode of Years And Years might not stick the landing, but the previous five episodes are compelling enough to make up for that.

The series chronicles the intertwined stories of a multi-generational family living in and near Manchester over the course of 15 years starting in 2019.

The four middle-aged siblings; Stephen, Daniel, Rosie and Edith Lyons, their grandmother, their spouses and their children provide viewers with different vantage points of a rapidly changing future that is marked with chaos and uncertainty. Woven throughout the series are the rise and ramifications of a far-right political figure Vivienne Rook, which give viewers cause for reflection on current populist political movements.

There’s a soap-opera nature to the series that occasionally feels improbable, but that same aspect
Russel T. Davies can't deliver a good
ending, but for once that doesn't
spoil the overall greatness of a show.
(image via BBC)
makes it easy to suspend disbelief about technological speculation while being pulled into the emotional lives of compellingly flawed characters. When banks fail and brownouts become the norm, you both see and feel the impact on consumers and homeowners. When medical technology advances and health care is privatized, you see and feel what it means for both the person affected and those close to them.

Some of the brilliance of the series is not even what it shows explicitly, but in what is implied in throw-away lines. Bananas are extinct? It’s not safe for U.K. citizens to visit the U.S. anymore? The Tower of Pisa is no longer leaning? There are so many details to appreciate.

The final episode is a disappointment in exceptionally predictable ways. Bad guys are defeated in a particularly trite (and improbable) ending that undermines some of the emotional weight of the series, though at least Davies has the courage to imply that the systemic issues that led to fascism have not been overcome completely.

Years And Years is a series that is more than the sum of its parts. No single episode deserves a Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form Hugo, but the whole should be seriously considered in the Long Form category. The continuous march of technology (and those who control it) – and the creeping rise of fascism – are examined in an engaging way by the birdseye view of years and years of development over the course of all the episodes.

Does Years And Years bear all the hallmarks of Russell T. Davies’ writing? In both the best and worst ways, it does. It may also be his masterwork. Years And Years deserves very serious consideration for a Hugo.

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