June 5, 2020

Years and Years on HBO vs. Leverage on Sundance Now

In my quest to find both escapist and thought-provoking things to watch, let me recommend two wildly different shows.

Years and Years, a joint television production between the BBC and HBO premiered in the U.S. June 2019. To be honest, I found it by accident perusing my HBO offerings just recently. The estimable Emma Thompson is Vivienne Rook, a businesswoman turned politician with outrageous and dangerous ideas that are gaining a foothold with the British public.

Warning: this series has some painful correlations with current news. Immigrants are herded into prisons where a communicable disease is running rampant. A financial debacle causes people to lose their jobs, money and homes.

Focus is on the Lyons family with siblings who include an anarchistic sister who suddenly comes home after time abroad, a gay brother who as a city manager falls in love with an incarcerated immigrant, the sassy youngest sister who is in a wheel chair due to spina bifida and a brother who is a seemingly strait-laced banker. Their children include a daughter who wants to download herself onto the cloud and a half-Chinese son who dresses like a girl.

Muriel Deacon, played by Anne Reid of Last Tango in Hallifax, is the matriarch who periodically invites the whole clan to her large home for family occasions.

The series received good reviews and award nominations, but it does challenge the viewer in quick time jumps, futuristic predictions and plot twists that are a little too close to the bone for today.

If, however, you want to see fine acting and experience a production that is certainly like no other, you may want to tune into the six-episode limited series currently streaming on HBO. Emma Thompson is a marvel as she turns herself into a female version of you-know-who and Boris Johnson.

On the opposite side of the entertainment spectrum is Leverage, an action crime drama series which aired on TNT from 2009 to 2012. Timothy Hutton is Nathan Ford, a straight-arrow insurance exec turned into a corporate Robin Hood after an insurance company denied paying for his son’s medical treatment.

Every episode features Ford and his team outwitting crooked politicians, greedy corporations, dirty cops and bad guys and gals of every persuasion.

Team members include Sophie Deveraux (Gina Bellman), a grifter who has accents and personas galore, Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), a hacker extraordinaire, Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), a martial arts specialist and Parker (Beth Riesgraf), cat burglar, pickpocket and safe cracker. Hutton also tries on different characters and accents as he and his team set up their invented scenario for the mark.

There is an over-arching story line as Ford battles alcoholism, runs into his ex-wife, does a romantic bob and weave with grifter Sophie and continually encounters arch-nemesis Sterling played by the devilish Mark Sheppard.

I find comfort in every episode as the Leverage team helps an underdog best the fat cats. Throw in a little humor and visual action and you have the perfect dessert after more serious streaming fare.

Tim Hutton is the 21st century Jim Rockford. If you know the reference, you are definitely analog.

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