HBO’s Years and Years Unlocks Sci-Fi’s Ultimate Potential

Some of the science fiction flourishes in the brand-new HBO miniseries Years and Years are deft-but-familiar technological signifiers of a near future–a smart speaker called Senor has telephonic and IoT abilities far beyond those of Alexa, a teenager wears a holographic Snapchat filter mask to breakfast, self-heating school lunches have vat-grown meat entrees. But the drama, which follows the multigenerational Lyons household of Manchester, England, from the present to a totally plausible( and increasingly grim) tomorrow, is more clever and more chilling than any of the gadgets.

Television cataclysms tend to come with a bang–zombies, dragons, Discoveries. With Years and Times, novelist Russell T Davies is instead working down amid the whimpers. Except for one nuclear bomb, courtesy of President Trump in the last days of his second word, most of the show grapples with the day-to-day indignities of civilizational collapse. War in Eastern Europe transmits Ukrainian refugees streaming into England, and a Lyons brother autumns in love with one. A sister comes home from a life of globe-trotting political activism after having been exposed to the fallout from that nuke. That teenage daughter with the IRL filter-mask gets into a place of any problems with an illicit Russian cybermodification surgery. When the eldest friend and his wife go downtown one morning to be informed about why their online bank account has been 404 -not-found all darknes, they realize that the crowd they’ve been ambling past is actually the line at the door of the bank branch. The economy is collapsing, the run on the bank started without them, and this is what the end will look like. That, maybe, is the best logline I could throw from my armchair at Years and Years: “This is what it’ll look like.”

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