HBO’s new series Years And Years begins in the more-or-less present, with the Lyons, an aggressively diverse UK Family that’s trying – and mostly succeeding – to navigate life’s complexities. There’s the acerbically funny grandmother, the gay grandson and his illegal immigrant mate, the African wife of another grandson, the wheelchair-bound sister who nevertheless gets a lot of action, and of course plenty of mix and match kids. There’s even a “trans” teenager, though for her the term means “trans-human” — aka wannabe cyborg — leading to a funny scene where her parents aren’t sure whether to be relieved or even more alarmed. (Spoiler alert: “more alarmed” turns out to be justified.)
The acting is strong and the dialogue sharp, more than sufficiently for the series to find an audience if all the characters do is hang out and tease one another. But before the end of Episode 1 their world begins a descent into madness that (as of Episode 4) shows no sign of abating. Early plot twists include nuclear weapons, unmanageable waves of refugees, financial crisis, automation, the gig economy, and creeping (eventually galloping) fascism.
The vehicle for the drift to authoritarianism is Emma Thompson’s demon-genius Vivienne Rook, a politician with Donald Trump’s public persona but (apparently) a darker and better formed set of plans. She’s riveting from her first minute on screen.
What makes this complex and ambitious premise work is its verisimilitude. Most of the crises the Lyons pass through could indeed happen, in more-or-less the way they’re presented here (though the one involving Trump is, to his credit, unlikely based on his recent actions).
In other words, Years And Years is a theatrical presentation of the sound money/gold bug worldview, which is that by borrowing insane amounts of money at every level of every major society while allowing wealth inequality to explode and pointless/preventable wars to send millions of refugees pouring into places ill-equipped to handle them, we are creating a feedback loop in which financial and environmental stress leads to political instability which further amplifies financial fragility and so on, until chaos is the new normal and fiat currencies become just so many scraps of worthless paper.
It’s one thing to read words like “crisis” and “instability.” But it’s vastly more affecting to see a man with a million-dollar account be denied entry to his failed bank and realize that in the blink of an eye he’s poor. And then to see him juggling five gig economy jobs and still having to move his family into his mother’s house.
This is validation for stackers: If that guy had minimized his exposure to the banking system and turned his cash into gold and silver coins, he and his family would still be living in their posh London flat. And his marriage would have survived. And his son would have been able to avoid a harrowing and life-threatening trip through refugee hell to rescue his boyfriend.
As Years And Years progresses, it’s reasonable to expect more life lessons for viewers who wonder where current trends are leading and how to prepare.