Y: The Last Man was a miraculous series, presenting a truly unique take on dystopian fiction in the days before everyone and their mother was writing dystopian fiction in a bid to sell the next Walking Dead or Hunger Games to the teaming masses. Brian K. Vaughan took the piss out of all the Atomic Age tropes about “the last man on Earth” and, with Pia Guerra’s art providing the visuals, explored the question of just how the world would be changed if almost everything with a y chromosome just spontaneously died. After years in developmental hell (it was being prepared as a Shia LaBeouf vehicle at one point) Y: The Last Man has finally come to television as a Hulu on FX exclusive and it is, unfortunately, a mixed bag, at best.
The first episode introduces most of the core cast from the original books, as they go through their last day before the Event that will change the world forever. Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) is an amateur escape artist trying to go pro, who lives on the largess of his mother, US House Representative Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane). Hero Brown (Olivia Thirlby), Jennifer’s first child, is an EMT and a recovering alcoholic, who is having an affair with her partner. Then there’s Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) who works for the mysterious Culper Ring – an elite task force that answer directly to the President.
Strangely enough, despite being the title character, Yorick barely appears in the first three episodes and more attention is paid to his mother and her efforts to keep the American government running after she finds herself appointed President after everyone else in the chain of command is determined to be dead or unavailable. This is something of a boon, as it’s always a joy to see Diane Lane in action and it does address one of the few weaknesses of the comics’ early chapters; the government seems to be way too well prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. (It should also be noted that Jennifer Brown becoming President is also a change from the books.)
Another notable improvement is the early episodes’ focus on Hero Brown, whose activities after her first appearance in the books remained a mystery until she emerged as part of a cult. It appears that the series will be showing how Hero (presented as far more together and strong-willed than her brother) reaches that point. Olivia Thirlby (Anderson in Dredd) does a fantastic job of establishing Hero as a complicated and relatable, if not entirely likeable character.
Much has been written about the efforts of the series to account for trans men in the reality of Y: The Last Man – a subject that was barely touched upon in the original comics and not always handled well. The series gives Hero a companion, performance artist Sam (Elliot Fletcher), who tries to keep Hero sober amid the chaos. Sam is a welcome introduction to the cast, but fans of the comic are probably wondering how long Sam will survive given some of what comes next in the book’s story.
The biggest problem fans of the books may have is that there is so little of Yorick and Agent 355 in the first few episodes. Thankfully, Ashley Romans and Ben Schnetzer are fantastic and true to form even if their roles are reduced and there’s no sign yet of Dr. Allison Mann, who completed the power trio of the team in the books. Reportedly the later episodes are more focused on their dynamic and the third episode ends with them being sent to find Dr. Mann.
Ignoring the source material, the show’s largest problem may be that some of its new additions seem to have been transplanted from another series and have no apparent purpose other than justifying Diane Lane’s continued presence in the show. This is particularly true of the series’ new villain, Kimberly Campbell Cunningham (Amber Tamblyn) who might as well be called Karen KayKayKay. The daughter of the former President and a best-selling author who built her brand on how feminist women were turning American boys into sissies, she finds herself feeling accurately useless in the wake of her family’s death and turns her influence against President Brown. Few would ever say Brian K. Vaughan was subtle in his politics, but he did avoid creating villains more appropriate to Captain Planet than DC Comics.
Less aggravating, but similarly distracting is a subplot centering around the new character of Nora Brady (Marin Ireland) – a policy wonk left without a job after President Brown proves more concerned with matters besides spin. Her arc in which she struggles to survive and raise her daughter is engaging enough, but could have been fit into any other post-apocalyptical story.
Pacing problems aside, the direction of Y: The Last Man is excellent and the design elements well-executed. Of particular note is the CGI used to create Ampersand the monkey, after the showrunners decided not to use a trained animal. The show looks fantastic, though it looks little different from any other apocalypse story so far.
Based on the first three episodes, Y: The Last Man appears to be a serviceable series, though it will likely aggravate those fans of the books hoping for a more direct adaptation of the original story. The elements are there, but some of the additions rankle in how they distract away from worked so well in the book. Still, while it might be too early to say it is good, the series as it stands is good enough