Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Years and Years

I don't usually agree completely with NY Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg, but I took her advice this week and watched the first three episodes of HBO's new 6-episode series Years and Years, which follows the Manchester-based, multi-generational Lyons family from their fairly comfortable but problematic present into an increasingly dystopian near future.

Although the series starts in the present, the family members increasingly communicate with advanced audio-visual home devices that link them in what would seem to most of us as a somewhat futuristic way. In many respects, however, they are a normal British family with normal family problems - a family of two adult brothers, two adult sisters, their grandmother, and some children of their own. (The mother is dead, and the father apparently abandoned the family at some point and remarried, only to die in episode 3 from a scratch-induced infection, which there are no antibiotics left to heal). 

The grandmother, Muriel, who turns 90 in the first episode, is the family's link back to a seemingly more stable past. Her tears, when Her Majesty's Government becomes His Majesty's Government, are perhaps being shed not only for a beloved monarch,  but for an increasingly lost world - when "there were still butterlies." Stephen, the older brother, is some sort of well-off financier married to Celeste, an accountant. We can guess that their financially comfortable and complacent lifestyle will, predictably, be disrupted. In addition, one of their daughters feels herself not at home in her body, and aspires to become transhuman and digitalize herself. The younger brother, Daniel (Russell Tovey), starts out in a relationship (and then marriage) with a schoolteacher, but he then leaves him for Viktor, a Ukranian asylum-seeker he meets up with in the course of his work. Rosie, their younger sister, is a wheel-chaired single-mother of two, who seems to be just getting by. The other sister, Edith, whom we do not actually meet until the second episode, is a globe-trotting, radical environmental and political activist.

Meanwhile, as we move forward into the 2020s, life in the wider world is getting more and more precarious. As activist Edith warns, "the world keeps getting hotter and faster and madder." Russia invades Ukraine (triggering a Ukranian refugee crisis in Britain). China builds an artificial island in the South China Sea. And, while the Lyons family are gathered for their annual "Winter Feast" to celebrate grandma Muriel's birthday, U.S President Trump attacks the Chinese island with a nuclear missile - at the very end of his second term, just before handing over the presidency to Mike Pence. 

And at home a rich, "populist," non-politician, Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) rises to power in Britain!

Even as the future becomes more dystopian, it is obvious that this is all a parable about our painful, politically poisoned present. 

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