I don’t know about you, but I’m not really a fan of the future we’ve found ourselves in. As a child at the end of Generation X, the year 2020 seemed impossibly far away for much of my life. Now it’s just a date a few months from now, with none of the jet packs or moon bases or meals-in-a-pill we thought we might get.
Unfortunately, it’s not like my generation is moving forward empty-handed: there’s rampant climate change, plunging biodiversity, and a worldwide resurgence of reactionary ideas. All together, it strongly suggests that while history does not repeat, it sure can rhyme. If simply reading that doesn’t already have you lying down and searching for a paper bag—or if is no longer a strong enough dystopian dose of what we’ve got in store—then have I got a show for you. It’s called , and it’s a new six-part depiction of dystopia from the man who resurrected , Russell T. Davies.
is a co-production between the BBC and HBO, so I apologize for being late to the party. The series first aired in the UK back in May and then became available in the US last month. Set in England and starting in 2019, the show from there ostensibly follows the lives of the multigenerational Lyons family across the next decade.
There’s Stephen (Rory Kinear, who played the porcinophilic prime minister in ) and Celeste (T’Nia Miller), the well-to-do parents of daughters Bethany (Lydia West) and Ruby (Jade Alleyne). Stephen’s brother Daniel (Russell Tovey) is a local government housing officer and husband to Ralph (Dino Fetscher). Lyons’ sister Rosie (Ruth Madeley) is a single mother about to give birth to her second child, with the fourth sibling Edith (Jessica Hynes, whom you may remember from ) off-camera halfway around the world, fighting injustice. Overseeing them all is Muriel Lyons (Anne Reid), family matriarch and grandmother.
But as Rosie gets ready to bring the newest member of the Lyons family into the world, we see the only non-Lyons main character take birth. Vivienne Rook, a blunt businesswoman played by Emma Thompson, appears on an evening talk show and makes waves, saying she “doesn’t give a fuck” about peace in the Middle East. Daniel soon cradles his new nephew and delivers a monologue about the state of the world that made me feel very seen, and suddenly we jump five years into the future.
You think 2019 is bad? Wait until you see 2024.
I’m not going to lie; things don’t look good. Brexit may not even be among the Top 5 concerns for the Lyons family. An isolationist America is gearing up for conflict with China over an artificial island off the coast of Vietnam, and with just a few days left in his second term, Donald Trump has his finger on the button. Viv Rook now leads the Four Star Party and wants to be a force in British politics, and Thompson’s sometimes scenery-chewing performance as the brashy blonde lands just on the right side of the line to stand up the hairs on the back of your neck. All the while, Great Britain is struggling to house an influx of Ukrainian refugees, bringing housing officer Daniel together with Victor Goraya (Maxim Baldry), his new beau.
If it sounds like I’ve given a lot of the plot away, fear not—the above barely scratches the first episode. Each installment of jumps us forward a year, and viewers see the characters age in place as they grin, bear it, and get on with their lives in a rapidly changing world (perhaps much in the way each of us is probably getting on with life in our own ever-changing one).
Like his fictional Trump, Davies isn’t afraid to push buttons. He made his name with the edgy-for-1999 and brought some of those themes into science fiction with in 2006. In he delivers plenty for reactionaries to react against. Human rights, mass migration, transhumanism, a collapsing climate, and the rise of authoritarianism are themes played often to extremes. Sometimes it’s cut with humor, but as often as not the talented cast plays it for real.
And it works, for me at least. It made me laugh. It made me gasp with delight and also exasperation. It made me cry, and it certainly made me think. It’s not always easy-going, but then a lot of great TV these days proves to be hard to watch. If the tone and tenor of critically acclaimed series like and proved too dark for you, be warned before queuing up
And to make one more comparison with —which is also great British dystopic TV—we’re treated to many thoughtful depictions of near-future tech in . And unlike that anthology series, Davies gets to use the full length of a miniseries to explore his visions of dark future tech evolution in subtle and repeating ways. Technology like Señor (an Alexa-like AI) ages along with the characters and gains more ability but also sentience. And stuff dismissed as odd biohacking in our world grows up hereshows transhuman implants going from botched back alley jobs to the stuff of Neuralink‘s dreams.
“My favorite is happening already, and that’s WhatsApp, especially the family group. It’s transforming family life, right in front of my eyes,” Davies said in the show’s press materials. “Technology has made us closer, and I’ve shown this with the Lyons family. They’re an extraordinarily close-knit bunch, because they all talk to each other, all the time, and I’ve dramatized that fully.”
If you want cheering up because of the state of the world out there, spending six hours with the Lyons as it gets even worse might be just the thing you need. All six episodes of are now available to stream over at HBO Go.