Years and Years: ‘The Risk Society’ Melodrama
by Dillan-James Carter
Years and Years, the new six-part drama by Russell T Davies, follows the Lyon family through the next decade: from 2019 to the 2030’s. The family will see society drastically change as well as their personal relationships. ‘Fake news’ is ever present, nationalism on the rise and Trump’s second term is wreaking havoc around the globe; everything is setting the scene for the family as they live through the chaotic time. The family encounters the new problems that have arisen with modern life: Daniel (Russell Tovey) is a housing officer for the influx of refugees from the newly annexed Ukraine, Rosie (Ruth Madeley) is an optimistic mother of two, dating in a world where sex robots exist, Stephen (Rory Kinnear) a banker and father dealing with his daughter coming out as transhuman, Edith (Jessica Haynes) a fatalistic political activist about the future in which the environment is beyond repair. Davies didn’t manage to take the Tardis off-set after leaving Doctor Who in 2010, but his view of the future seems undeniably prescient. This bleak prediction of a society spiralling out of control due to forces set in motion years earlier, harkens to the work of sociologists Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens on the ‘risk society’ and its troubling ability to predict the future.
The ‘risk society’ is defined by its focus on the future, and deals with the insecurities left by the modernization process. The development of science, technology and the industry saw a societal shift bringing many benefits for the people - but also human-made risks. The society we live in now is reeling as a result of hazards which started to take shape in the past: from clear cause-and-effect results of our harm to the environment , to more nuanced issues like the economy which is globally reliant and as such fragile to issues existing on a national level. The disillusionment of the people towards the state has become one of the most present issues in the western world, with the election of Trump and the Brexit vote resulting from the inability of national governments to keep up with the unwieldy risks hiding in all facets of modern life. With all these risks set in motion, Years and Years acts like a prophetic vision of the ‘risk society’ becoming ever more threatening.
The brilliance of Years and Years is that it plays on our doubts regarding the future and challenges the common assumption that the it can only get better. Although the general mood of the drama isn’t entirely melancholic, as the lives of Lyons are full of humour and family sentimentality making them feel like a real and relatable family, we must not forget that the show happens within the backdrop of an insecure world which captures the zeitgeist of our present situation. Beck and Giddens may have not written Years and Years, but they most definitely saw it coming.