Back in the summer we saw BBC and Channel 4 go head-to-head in demonstrating their ability to hold a mirror up to society and show the British public what they think is happening in the Unitedly-divided-Kingdom of Great Britain.
BBC’s Years And Years is about a multi-cultural, multi-sexual, British middle class family struggling to manage their iPads and their iPhones and their i-Opinions in present-day England (London), before being fast-forwarded into a Trumpian dystopia, where the youngest member of the family (now 19) has to deal with the consequences of decisions made by the evil generations of the past, (who created medicines and planes and civil rights).
Because of these vile bastards, (who dared think it acceptable for everyone to have free healthcare and get about in cars), their callous and insensitive actions have left the innocent children of the future having to shower using only a single outdoor tap, situated at the end of the street, shared between the other million neighbours, (mostly immigrants), because there’s no water left in the sea…
As usual, the BBC is caught up in mummy-state, scaremongering, apocalyptic guff, created by go-to-man Russell T Davis, (the guy who made Doctor Who unfollowable), who’s written a programme which says nothing of value about what’s actually going on in real life.
On the other hand, Channel 4 turned to Shane Meadows and his show The Virtues, which centres around loss, isolation, the collapse of the family unit, and drug addiction.
Meadows doesn’t use chardonnays and nice houses and London as his visual aides to demonstrate the “plight of modern society”. Instead, he’s sensible, setting Virtues in the north, an area of the country that actually has been gutted by the skewered use of globalisation.
In The Virtues, Joseph (Stephen Graham) struggles to wrestle with past demons, including alcohol addiction, while his son prepares to leave with his ex-wife, for Australia.
The first episode sees Joseph come back from a hard days graft as a painter, then go to his ex-wife’s new home to have dinner with his son one final time before he’s taken to Australia. After dinner, while the family get some much-needed rest before their long trip, Jo goes on a booze and cocaine infused bender before waking up on his living room floor with a pat of vomit sitting on his shoulder.
The difference between Years And Years and The Virtues is that Virtues seems to be taking things like mental health problems and issues of detachment with an ounce of seriousness. Meadows uses the simple prop of a long pause to reflect the loneliness and showcases the everyday struggles of life by having his protagonist walk everywhere.
Davis, on the other hand, decides the view of the world is the patronising expression of Dame Emma Thompson, a bald African woman in an affluent city townhouse surrounded by white people, and two homosexual partners arguing about saving water by using the shower to wash ‘shitty hands’.
Davis’s ‘nuances’ of life include families debating about whether it’s acceptable to swear on TV over a glass of pinot blush, and having everyone texting on their phone the whole duration of the show. (Yeah Russell, that’s a real insight. I’ve never noticed people these days walking around with their heads down while getting repetitive strain disorder in their thumbs from continually swiping left).
Before I turned on Years and Years I was watching the news where Deputy Chair of The Writers’ Guild Of Great Britain Lisa Holdsworth was interviewed rabbiting on about how essential it is for TV to ‘perform its duty’ and insert as much about the plight of planet Gaia into its output as possible.
If this is the BBC’s desire then why aren’t they doing it?
I’ll tell you why. It’s because of the BBC’s need to sit down in “writer’s groups” and before they even have a premise, they make lists of everything they think should be put in an “all-inclusive smash hit show!” (animals, people (black and white), an electric car, a house, with solar panels, a woman, a homosexual).
There is a better way of writing. A more organic way. Demonstrated by Meadows who seems to have an inherent understanding of life far better than any of the ‘professional’ schedulers at the BBC.
Maybe the Beeb needs to loosen the top button of its collar, stop trying to be clever, sit back, adopt a bit of silence, reflection, and take time to really look and see what’s going on. Starting with itself.
Years and Years and The Virtues are available on DVD now.