• New SBS series 'Years and Years' highlights the anxieties many of us face about the future. (SBS)
This exceptional six-part series delivers a chilling, futuristic tale that taps into collective worldwide rage and chaos. ‘Years and Years’ is unlike anything ever seen on television but captures exactly what the world currently feels like. And it’s essential viewing.
Tanya Modini

31 Oct 2019 - 3:21 PM  UPDATED 11 Nov 2019 - 11:07 AM

Set in Britain, Years and Years kicks off on one night in 2019 and follows the Lyons, a nice, middle-class family from Manchester, until 2034. As each episode jumps ahead a few more years, we watch their lives unfold over the tumultuous, and at times terrifying next 15 years while simultaneously becoming more and more anxious and uneasy about our own futures.

In the beginning, the Lyons let the ever-increasing horror of world events, omnipresent via the 24-hour news cycle, wash over them as they continue to move through their pleasant lives and deal with the usual family issues. That is until world problems that have been brewing for years but usually only happen to others, gradually seep in from the fringes of society and land directly on their doorstep, making their comfortable middle-class world most uncomfortable.

The re-election of Trump, accelerating chaos around climate change, the escalating refugee crisis, the technological revolution, including the rise of transhumanism, and extremist politics combine to relentlessly ratchet up the tension until the safety of the Lyons’ world snaps, changing it forever.

In this not too futuristic world, things have been allowed to spiral out of control in plain sight. Progressive change is repealed, people become more oppressed, as the ever-advancing fear, control and ‘fake news’ are broadcast on screens throughout the world – without too much effort from anyone to challenge it along the way.

“Democracy was a very nice idea for a while, but now it’s worn out.”

Contributing to the chaos is Vivienne Rook, a right-wing, clueless, wealthy celebrity businesswoman with a lust for power who turns her hand to populist politics (sound familiar?), and is played to chilling perfection by Emma Thompson.

“What’s clever about Vivienne … is that she presents as a down to earth, ordinary, working woman who just wants the best for everybody and feels passionately about ordinary people and ordinary issues. Of course, she’s not that at all, she’s something a great deal more sinister and is someone who wants power”, says Thompson. 


Although middle-class, the Lyons family is gloriously diverse in many other ways. Played by a superb ensemble cast including T’Nia Miller (Dr Who), Russell Tovey (Being Human, Pride), Ruth Madeley (Don’t Take My Baby) and Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax), each character represents an issue, a marginalised group that stands to be affected by the regressive, new-order fascism that has taken hold of the world. Diverse gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity and physical abilities are front and centre but presented as perfectly matter-of-fact within the family.

Unique identity

Showrunner Russell T. Davies (Queer As Folk, Doctor Who) delivers a fascinating and slick script, blending sci-fi and drama infused with comedy that makes the terrifying bits all the more terrifying. He manages to deliver a cautionary Orwellian tale, dense with predictions about a horrifying, out of control world gone completely mad in the guise of an entertaining family drama that doesn’t feel too preachy.

Davies says, “It’s a look at the future, but you feel it. It could be sterile or it could be angry or it could be preachy or it could be cold, but this is how we all experience it. We’re all experiencing Trump. This is how we’re all experiencing Brexit, here. It’s via your family and your friends and the chats you have. This is the experience of history.” 

Composer Murray Gold, a long-time collaborator with Davies, and who teamed up with him for the 2005 revival of Dr Who, has produced an extraordinary and sensorially arousing soundtrack that amplifies the visual chaos. The repetitious use of the main theme song, Into the Future, as society accelerates towards possible disintegration, is brilliantly unnerving, and underlines the unique identity of this series. Clever editing techniques enhance the dread with rapid on-screen sensory stimulation mimicking the noisy, rapid pace of everyday existence within the growing world turmoil.

You won’t know what to worry about first, but it’s the familiar feel of the chaos and turmoil in Years and Years that is most disturbing. Overall the series asks the question – do we just continue to roll with all of this, be complicit, or do we resist? Years and Years may well be an ominous and timely call to action for all of us.

Years and Years airs on SBS on Wednesdays at 9:30pm. Watch episodes one and two at SBS On Demand now.


More from The Guide
Halloween Horrors at SBS On Demand
A selection of spooky, unsettling and horrifying features to stream on SBS On Demand this Halloween.
The Playlist 109 - Ron Howard talks 'Pavarotti', and what he's been watching

Ron Howard calls into the The Playlist studio from the Rome Film Festival, to talk about his new documentary, 'Pavarotti', about the life and loves of Luciano Pavarotti. Elsewhere he tells Fiona about what he has been watching (in what little time he has to spare whilst making three movies simultaneously), and why, as a director, he feels compelled to make a conscious effort to mix up his movie choices. 


We've got a new basketball pre-game show, 'SBS Courtside'
With the NBL and NBA seasons upon us, get all the action in our new pre-game basketball show (Twice a week on SBS VICELAND & SBS On Demand).
SBS secures 10 AACTA Awards nominations
It was an outstanding result for SBS as the 2019 AACTA Awards nominations for excellence on Australian screen were announced. The broadcaster scored ten nods across nine categories.
SBS World Movies Weekly Highlights: 28 October - 3 November
This week's highlights on SBS World Movies include Hayao Miyazaki's 2009 favourite Ponyo, Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder in 2015 biopic Experimenter, 2016 Indian film Aligarh (concerning the true story of a professor sacked following charges of homosexuality), Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim in 2013's The Past (from A Separation writer-director Asghar Farhadi), Mathieu Amalric in the feelgood French hit Sink or Swim, and more.
Laugh your way through the weekend with our Comedy Collection at SBS On Demand
With life often far too serious, we could always use a good laugh. No kidding, SBS On Demand’s Comedy Collection is here to help.
Kirsten Dunst's critically acclaimed 'On Becoming a God in Central Florida' is coming to SBS
“All those stinker-thinkers who tried to tell me this whole thing was a scam? They’re about to see what a winner looks like.”
‘Struggle Street’ is back to shine a light on Australia's rural battlers
The landmark series premieres on Wednesday 9 October at 8.30pm with a focus on the Riverina region of New South Wales.
‘Wisting’ is Nordic noir with a US twist
When an American serial killer turns up in Norway, it’s a crime-solving culture clash as both countries put their best cops on a case that’s cold in more ways than one.
Meet the hicks, skids and hockey players of 'Letterkenny'
Brush up on your Canadian and crack open a six-pack of Puppers; it’s time to visit Letterkenny (SBS VIceland and SBS On Demand).