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Y: The Last Man web series review

Y: The Last Man on Hulu begins with visions of a world changed by a disaster. We witness images of dead bodies and spontaneous monuments to the fallen as we race around the world.

Y: The Last Man

Y: The Last Man Review

Y: The Last Man on Hulu begins with visions of a world changed by a disaster. We witness images of dead bodies and spontaneous monuments to the fallen as we race around the world.

We witness a man in a poncho and gas mask leaving graffitied messages on buildings, chasing a monkey through metropolitan streets littered with additional bodies, some of them still in the seats of the automobiles where they died, as an onscreen graphic tells us it’s “Three Weeks After” whatever happened.

Our hero — who removes his mask long enough to reveal himself as a young, bearded man named Yorick (Ben Schnetzer), a failed escape artist — narrowly avoids a new threat, gathers his simian companion, and weaves his way through streets that gradually reveal themselves to be in the shape of the letter Y.

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It’s a scary depiction of the apocalypse, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate what makes this apocalypse unique. In that sense, it’s a disappointingly accurate start for Y: The Last Man, a strong but frustrating programme that regularly struggles to embrace what makes it special.

Part of the issue is a matter of timing. The show is based on an outstanding comic book by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra that takes place in the aftermath of a disaster that kills off all cis males on the earth except Yorick and his monkey, Ampersand. The comic lasted from 2002 through 2008, and since then, there have been numerous attempts to adapt it for the cinema.

Even this FX adaptation has been in development since 2015, and has gone through several showrunners, with Animal Kingdom vet Eliza Clark in charge of the version that has finally made it to streaming.

Y was overshadowed by other post-apocalyptic series and films throughout its extended production period, most notably The Walking Dead (the comic of which premiered a year after Y), making this version feel a little dated.

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There’s also the matter of money. The Y comic followed Yorick, scientist Allison Mann (Diana Bang), and a covert spy known only by her codename, 355 (played here by Ashley Romans), as they investigated why Yorick survived this unusual plague and how to harness his immunity to repopulate the species.

It’s a road-trip comic that uses that format to explore various aspects of what life would be like in a world without males. Never-ending road trips are expensive to dramatise, as was the case with another recent basic-cable adaptation of a renowned adult comic, AMC’s weak take on Preacher.

Preacher avoided it by setting its heroes in a new location for the majority of each season, whereas Y hedges its bets by dividing its time between Yorick and 355’s adventures and what other characters — particularly Yorick’s mother Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), a congresswoman who becomes president when all the men in her line of succession die at the same time — are up to in more static locations. (Although the comic could rely on a bigger ensemble at times, it was at its finest when travelling with its core group.)

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But the main issue is that, at least in the six episodes shown to critics, Clark and her collaborators only appear to be interested in how their unique premise might impact the world in ways that are distinct from The Walking Dead, The Stand, or other recent shows dealing with sudden disasters that wipe out large swaths of the population(*).

It’s apocalypse by numbers, with a strong cast (including Olivia Thirlby as Yorick’s paramedic sister Hero and Amber Tamblyn as Kimberly, the conservative pundit daughter of the recently-deceased president) and the occasional exciting set piece, but the majority of it is generic at best.

The fact that the first three episodes of this drama — several of which take place in a wrecked version of lower Manhattan where planes collide with buildings — are being published on Hulu two days after the 20th anniversary of 9/11 does not feel like perfect timing. And one scene, in which Yorick must navigate a flooded subway station to save Ampersand, seems eerily similar to recent news coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida in New York.

Clark deviates the most from the source text in some of the most riveting portions. The subject of transgender persons isn’t addressed much in the comic, but Hero’s best friend and travelling companion is Sam (Elliot Fletcher), a trans man who is constantly met with confused or suspicious looks by the women around him.

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The negative is that having more trans males in the plot reduces the sense of danger whenever Yorick’s gas mask falls off among strangers — a cheaply renewable source of tension in the comic — because he may and does pretend to be trans himself.

However, Fletcher is excellent, and the questions posed by Sam’s presence are alive in a way that much of the play is not. Meanwhile, Tamblyn transforms Kimberly into considerably more than the right-wing cartoon evil she might be. And the Kimberly-Jennifer segment of the show is the one that most directly addresses the current state of the planet. (A cabinet member has been cited as saying, “Jesus wasn’t vaccinated.”)

But a lot of Y is just about basic survival and control struggles, portrayed in ways that could be repurposed for a half-dozen other series with few adjustments. Not only because Yorick and 355 are travelling (after a few episodes of arriving to and then hanging out in Washington, D.C.), but also because 355 is rightly frustrated that even in this terrifying new reality, the most privileged, entitled person is a heterosexual white guy.

Also, Ashley Romans may not be the most well-known member of the group, but she provides the greatest, most colourful performance of the series, in a part where she could easily come across as the buzzkill scold constantly getting in the hero’s way.

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The worst you can say about Y is that it can get a little boring at times. (Marin Ireland is caught in a thankless subplot as Kimberly’s father’s aide who ends up on the outside of the new administration looking in when the world shifts in the early going.)

If this same adaptation of the material had debuted a decade ago, it would have been hailed as a good-enough adaptation with opportunity for improvement and a fresh and exciting concept for television.

Now, although being solid and improving as the season progresses, it must compete not only with memories of the comic, but also with all the other series that have treaded similar ground. And the one feature that may set Y apart feels like an afterthought all too frequently.

On September 13th, FX will release the first three episodes of Y: The Last Man on Hulu, followed by more episodes one week at a time. I’ve seen the first six episodes out of a total of ten.

Y: The Last Man Official Trailer

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