In FX on Hulu’s adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man comic, global society collapses within moments of the onset of a mysterious event that kills almost every living mammal with a Y chromosome. Though Yorick—the world’s last living cisgender man—is one of Y’s primary protagonists, the series goes to great lengths to emphasize how he’s just one of the key components to its story about how humanity responds to the single most devastating catastrophe it’s ever faced.
Like the DC Comic (née Vertigo) it’s adapted from, the live-action Y: The Last Man is a story about people reeling from tectonic shifts ushered in by the apocalypse, and realizing how terrifying actual, fundamental change in one’s life can be when things go to hell. Even in the end times, our titular last man—Ben Schnetzer’s Yorick Brown—is shielded somewhat from the gravity of the situation as the first season unfolds, thanks to the carefree and charmed life he leads as the deadbeat son of a powerful politician (Senator Jennifer Brown, played by Diane Lane). But as the show begins to pull other characters like Yorick’s sister, Hero (Olivia Thirlby), and secretive Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) into the foreground, Y: The Last Man very quickly starts illustrating the myriad ways that people react to half of the population dying all at once.
One of the most interesting things about the first few episodes—three are now streaming—is how they zoom in on the show’s core cast at some of the rawest and perhaps most honest points in their lives. Unlike apocalyptic narratives that skew more toward the supernatural or science fiction, Y: The Last Man presents a hypothetical situation that at least some of its characters (and mostly likely a good chunk of its audience) have considered to one degree or another previously. When scores of men—and a far smaller number of women who, perhaps unknowingly, were living with Y chromosomes—suddenly begin dropping dead across the world, those left standing don’t understand the how or why of it all, but the gravity of what’s happening is clear to everyone. Individually, people are emotionally ruined by their personal losses of friends, family, and loved ones. Collectively, people are put in immediate peril that the story uses to set the scene for its vision of a world that may very well fall apart before there’s any hope of saving it.
From the chaos, Yorick and Hero’s mother Jennifer emerges as the United States’ newest President—the first woman to hold the office. She and former First Daughter Kimber Cunningham (Amber Tamblyn) share a political ambition that Y: The Last Man uses to illustrate some of the ways in which the catastrophe unexpectedly jumpstarts plans they’d already been considering. The two women’s ideological opposition to one another becomes one of the show’s main points of contention as they butt heads amid the never-ending deluge of problems the surviving government has to deal with. As arresting as many of the show’s early wide shots of streets littered with dead bodies and flooded subway stations are, it also creates a sustained atmosphere of mounting anxiety punctuated by outright emergencies.
Though Y: The Last Man does its fair share of dabbling in the idea of humans being their own worst enemies in an apocalypse scenario, it also stops at multiple points to spell out what sort of infrastructural dangers people would actually have to be worried about with a calamity of this scale. At the same time that the electrical grid is on the brink of failing, hunger is an immediate concern, as is the need to dispose of all the bodies which are contaminating the malfunctioning sewage and water systems. Y: The Last Man’s setting alone makes it one of the more morbidly fascinating dystopian series to dig into, specifically because of how some of the perils it puts on display feel uncannily similar to some recent real-world disasters.
While President Brown struggles to cope with the reality of the powers that come with sitting in the (makeshift) Oval Office (in the Pentagon), people on the ground like Hero, a paramedic and recovering alcoholic, and her friend Sam (Elliot Fletcher), a trans man, must fight just to make it to the next day. Even though Hero’s connections to her family become an important part of Y: The Last Man’s plot, the show takes time to flesh out her own personal backstory to both define her as an individual, but also to give you a sense of just how traumatizing the plague’s onset was for the “regular” people who were busy going about their messy lives before half of the population disappeared.
Though Y: The Last Man’s premise is still as straightforward as it was in the comics, which ended in 2008, showrunner Eliza Clark and the rest of the creative team spend time expanding on the original story’s ideas about gender and sex in order to create a world that takes into account the existence and importance of trans and intersex people. Sam, who was not present in the comics, emerges as one of the show’s most compelling characters. Thankfully he doesn’t exist simply to keep Hero from acting on her self-destructive impulses. In addition to other trans characters, Sam faces a specific set of challenges tied to his gender and health that are distinct from, but related to, those he had to contend with before the collapse. Transphobia, homophobia, racism, and misogyny all still exist within Y: The Last Man because the series is careful about differentiating between people who have Y chromosomes and patriarchal systems of power, which everyone is capable of participating in. Being able to understand that reality is what determines people’s ability to navigate this unstable new world.
In both the comics and FX’s series, Yorick and Agent 355—a member of an elite and shadowy governmental organization that answers directly to the president—embody the difference between people who were (relatively) ready to roll with these sort of punches and those who weren’t. Before the series brings them together as its stakes rise, you see just enough of both their lives to get a sense of how the event only made them more intense versions of the people they were before. Yorick’s grating immaturity and aimlessness are things that even the apocalypse can’t simply vanish away, and the same is true of 355's lethal practicality and knack for ingratiating herself to others. As the season progresses, the extremes people like Nora Brady (Marin Ireland)—former press advisor to the fallen Republican President—are pushed to bring out elements of their personalities they don’t expect as they must evolve.
Because so much of Y: of the Last Man feels grounded in a near-reality, it’s a little hard not to notice Ampersand, the little CGI Capuchin monkey Schnetzer’s tasked with pretending is scurrying somewhere nearby for much of the season. Ampersand being the last living animal with a Y chromosome was too important a factor for FX to even consider doing away with, and it’s easy to understand why the network went the animated route rather than bringing a live animal on set. But in moments where the camera gets close up on Ampersand—especially when he’s in his carrier—you’ll look at the creature, recognize it as a very sophisticated cartoon, and move along because the show’s characters have all agreed that they’re dealing with a living creature.
On a technical level, Y: The Last Man’s scope and scale are impressive, especially for a pandemic-era production. Throughout the first season, there are more than a few moments that will immediately beg comparisons to aspects of our ongoing, real world pandemic that’s killed over 4.6 million people across the globe. Those similarities, though, all stem from the idea of people truly not being prepared for a doomsday scenario rather than Y: The Last Man trying to make an explicit statement about the way we’ve reacted to covid-19.
Though Y: The Last Man more than gets itself on track to build to a gripping finale by the end of the six episodes that were made available for review, the show doesn’t beeline its way there. Between multiple jumps between characters’ perspectives, and a significant number of arcs that don’t initially intersect, Y: The Last Man drags a bit across a handful of episodes, but not so much that it becomes a chore to watch, particularly if you’re coming to it as a fan of the comic.
The first three episodes of Y: The Last Man are streaming now on FX on Hulu. They’ll drop weekly from here on out.
Wondering where our RSS feed went? You can pick the new up one here.