First look UK TV review: Y: The Last Man
Ivan Radford | On 22, Sep 2021
New episodes of Y: The Last Man arrive weekly on Wednesdays.
What would the world be like without any men? That’s the brilliant hook at the heart of Y: The Last Man, the graphic novel series by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra first published back in 2015. But while that might sound like a flippant, fanciful hypothetical, the series’ strength is that it imagines what the world would be like without men after society has already been built up around them – it’s a what-if that doesn’t shy away from the horror of a patriarchal system being immediately dismantled, from all the male-biased occupations that are suddenly left empty to the chaos caused by power vacuums opening up, not to mention the longer-term prospect of the human race not being able to continue. Y: The Last Man, the TV series, doesn’t shy away from that chaos, and the opening episodes play out as horror as much as they do post-apocalyptic sci-fi.
While the graphic novel opens with the sudden, gory demise of everything with a Y chromosome, the series gives us the chance to get to know the world before the outbreak of this mysterious disease, which does the double job of letting us see key characters in a normal situation and ramping up the dread about what’s going to happen. That’s just the start of a string of changes made by showrunner Eliza Clark in bringing the books to the screen.
Where our protagonist Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) and his girlfriend, Beth (Juliana Canfield), were in different countries in the books, here they are both in New York – as is Yorick’s sister, Hero (Olivia Thirlby), who gets a dark backstory that fleshes out her as a character and makes it clear what she’s capable of. Also given much more substance is Agent 355 (Ashley Romans), who is sent to find Hero and winds up crossing paths with Yorick. Doing the sending? That’s Diane Lane’s Congresswoman Brown, who, after a string of losses to the White House administration, winds up being the de facto President.
All these alterations serve the same, smart purpose – making it clear that Yorick isn’t the centre of this universe, even though he is the last surviving man of the title. It’s a shift in focus that benefits him too, allowing him not to be the heroic type and, crucially, be aware of that fact – which means that Ben Schnetzer gets the chance to play slightly useless without being annoying, a big step for a character who’s an amateur magician named Yorick. It also means that we’re more invested in those around him, which draws us into the narrative over the first three, fast-paced episodes – giving room for Lane’s politician to be practical and compassionate and Ashley Romans’ agent, in particular, to shine as the enigmatic but endearingly focused MVP.
Over the initial episodes, the broad setup for Season 1 is deftly established – the hunt to reach a geneticist who might be able to help work out a cure for the mysterious disease. But there’s more than just a quest against the odds on the cards, and the show’s gradually expanding scope introduces more antagonist forces than your typical post-apocalyptic fare – including the former President’s daughter, Kirsty (Amber Tamblyn), and other Republican relatives of deceased politicians, who don’t want their side of the political spectrum to be ignored.
But there’s no doubt that the spirit of the source material remain intact, from the presence of Yorick’s capuchin monkey, Ampersand, and some jaw-dropping sequences involving planes and rats to several striking shots that echo some of the original graphic novel’s illustrations. The result is a gripping and absorbing piece of world-building that’s bleak but never less than entertaining.
Y: The Last Man is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.