Years and Years
Years and Years (BBC One)
When Russell T Davies revived Doctor Who in 2005, he was determined to paint an upbeat vision of the future. ‘You lot, you spend all your time thinking about dying,’ the Doctor told Rose Tyler during a visit to the year five billion. ‘But you never take time to imagine the impossible. That maybe you survive.’
Well, a lot has happened in the last 14 years, and much of it appears to have taken its toll on Davies’ sunny disposition. Hence Years and Years, a punchy, polemical new six-part drama following one family over the course of a tumultuous decade-and-a-half, starting in the present day.
From the opening scene, in which a populist right-wing provocateur – played by Dame Emma Thompson, no less – dropped the f-bomb on Question Time, it was obvious Davies has something to get off his chest, and over the next hour no hot button – from Trump, Isis and the refugee crisis to the banks, #fakenews and Brexit – was left un-pushed.
Technology and identity politics also converged in the form of teenage Bethany (Lydia West), who struggles to communicate in non-emoji form (in this version of the near-future, you can project those annoying Snapchat filters onto your actual face), and announced her wish to ‘escape the flesh’ and become a fully digital ‘transhuman’.
Thankfully, Davies’ faith in humanity hasn’t quite been extinguished yet. Indeed, the squabbling, laughing, loving Lyons clan, through whose eyes we experience all this sturm und drang, are written with his trademark warmth and wit, and given life by a fantastic cast, including Rory Kinnear, T’Nia Miller and Russell Tovey. And then there’s the wonderful Anne Reid as no-nonsense matriarch Muriel: the sort of woman who dismisses tsunamis as a modern affectation, and who carries on making the tea, even as the US President is detonating a nuclear bomb in the South China Sea.
But even Davies’ naturally Tiggerish effervescence can’t dispel the script’s sickening sense that we’ve taken a stumble into the dark – that, in the words of Stephen (Kinnear): ‘Whatever we had, we punctured it. And now it’s all collapsing.’
And this time, we can’t rely on the Doctor to save us.
The Virtues (Channel 4)
If Years and Years didn’t make you hug your kids a bit tighter before bed, then this gut-wrenching new drama from Shane Meadows surely will. Stephen Graham (late of that Line of Duty exit) is simply devastating as Joseph, a hollowed out shell of a man forced to watch his ex-wife and son jet off to a new life in Australia, before returning to his native Ireland to confront the demons of a childhood in care. Start engraving those BAFTAs now.
The third and final run of Stefan Golaszewski’s beautifully bittersweet comedy – about a long-suffering widow and her dreadful family – promises to bring closure to the most hesitant, will-they-won’t-they romance since The Fast Show’s Ted and Ralph. So far, things are looking quietly hopeful for Cathy (BAFTA-nominatedLesley Manville) and Michael (Peter Mullan), but if you can’t wait to find out if they get their happy ending, all six episodes are on iPlayer now.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 16, 2019
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