Y: The Last Man season 1 review – a clumsy adaption with real potential

September 14, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 1
FX, Weekly TV
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It takes a while to get the exposition out of the way, but this adaptation of Y: The Last Man has plenty of potential.

This review of Y: The Last Man season 1 is spoiler-free and based on the first three episodes, all of which are available to stream right now.

Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s seminal graphic novel Y: The Last Man is what one might describe these days as “problematic”. It’s brilliant, don’t get me wrong, and frequently ranks near the top of those clickbait lists of books you have to read before you die and such, but it’s a difficult proposition to adapt in this climate. Gone are the days when you can just boil marginalized people down to their most obvious stereotypes. No longer can someone get away with killing off all men just to foreground the fanciful exploits of one rather mundane white one. Nobody probably intended the show – which was originally planned as a feature film in the 2010s – to be released right in the middle of a real-life global pandemic, but showrunner Eliza Clark and her various collaborators, none of whom are men, likely realized that it wasn’t going to go down well in 2021 without some changes.

Thus, changes. Not just to the source material’s events – it’s too early to tell how this series will present some of its weirder turns – but to the overall tone in general, which has a distinctly feminine attitude. We’re introduced to Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) and his CGI capuchin monkey Ampersand nice and early, but one of the first things we learn about him when we rewind three months to the exposition-dense pre-apocalypse is that he’s kind of a useless idiot. His sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby) chastises him about banking his whole future on a girl, Beth, who clearly can’t wait to get rid of him. When the sudden erasure of everyone with a Y chromosome causes planes to drop out of the sky and power systems to be left quite literally unmanned, the point isn’t that men ran the world, but that they never allowed women to help. And it’s a point made strongly by newly inaugurated President Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), Yorick’s mother, who is left not just with two missing children but the responsibility of an entire country suddenly looking to her and her Cabinet for guidance.

The drama within that Cabinet is the most interesting stuff in the first three episodes; Jennifer feels like more of a protagonist than Yorick, and Diane Lane is so up for the task that it’s sometimes a bit of a pain to return to him. Perhaps it’s because the strong anti-establishment rhetoric peddled by those who remain thoroughly confused about whatever nebulous event just wiped out half of the planet feels so topical these days. It’s a thankless task, being a politician, which is probably why so many truly terrible people are attracted to it. But without any men to make fun of, Y: The Last Man has to make its political maneuvering more involved, setting up conservative author Kimberly Campbell (Amber Tamblyn), daughter of the former president and mother to three young boys who, along with her husband, were expunged in “The Event”, as Jennifer’s foil.

This doesn’t sound all that interesting written down, but few things do. Returning to Yorick is a nice reminder of how much better all this is, though, since he’s shackled to a more typical post-apocalypse plot that is more action-heavy but less memorable. He’s paired up with the enigmatic Agent 355 (Ashley Romans), which helps, but he’s such a determinedly stupid layabout that he’s difficult to root for, always surrounded by much more competent and compelling people. His moronic fascination with Beth, especially in light of him suddenly being her one and only romantic option, reads as pathetic; his complete rejection of responsibility despite his newfound VIP status seems petulant. He’s mostly just a pain, a hanger-on to what is ostensibly his own story. If this version of Y: The Last Man has made one crucial change to the source material, it’s this reduction of Yorick from an all-important hero to an irritating dolt.

Luckily, the first three episodes largely background Yorick to give him time to rise to the occasion, establishing other subplots such as Jennifer’s politicking and Hero’s relationship with Sam (Elliot Fletcher), a compelling trans character, in the meanwhile. In these earliest portions, it’s hard to see how it’ll all fit together, not to mention all the stuff that’s coming, which if the source material is anything to go by is going to include more from 355’s employer, the Culper Ring, a mysterious government agency dating back to the American Revolution, as well as guest appearances from astronauts, geneticists, and Israeli intelligence agents. How that’ll all be reconciled with the more serious, authentic tone that has been displayed thus far is really anyone’s guess. But it’ll probably be fun finding out.

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1 thought on “Y: The Last Man season 1 review – a clumsy adaption with real potential

  • September 14, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    but what about the folks that have a “y” chromosome but seem to think they are really a pair of XX chromosomes? Are they still around? Asking for a friend.

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