A live-action adaptation of Y: The Last Man has been a long time coming. For 13 years, various studios have failed to bring Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s acclaimed graphic novel series to life.
Fans, then, could have been forgiven for thinking a movie or TV adaptation would never happen. But now, with the show having spent years in development hell, fans will finally see Vaughan and Guerra’s vision realized on the small screen.
Set in the aftermath of a catastrophic event that has wiped out every mammal with a Y chromosome, Y: The Last Man follows Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), the last cisgender male human on Earth.
Accompanied by his pet capuchin monkey Ampersand, Yorick traverses a post-apocalyptic world with a predominantly female human population – led by Yorick’s mother and newly-appointed US President Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) – that is struggling to restore society and deal with the loss of their loved ones.
Developed by Eliza Clark (The Killing, Animal Kingdom), Y: The Last Man’s TV series attempts to honor the source material and update its near 20-year-old story for modern-day audiences. While it succeeds at both, Y: The Last Man isn’t without its issues, and the end result is a show that just about deserves your attention.
What’s immediately telling about Y: The Last Man is that its protracted development cycle enabled its TV adaptation to truly capture the sheer scale of the story’s worldwide catastrophe. There’s a cinematic quality to the series’ visuals which wouldn’t have been possible (for a TV series at least) if it had been made five or 10 years ago.
Bigger TV production budgets have allowed showrunners to expand the scope of their fictional worlds, and Y: The Last Man has certainly benefited. Its multi-street sets ground the show in realism, while its movie-quality CGI helps to authentically bring animated characters like Ampersand to life.
The magnitude of the show extends to its world-building, too. Y: The Last Man is primarily set in the US, but the impact of its cataclysmic event is global, which helps viewers to comprehend the worldwide reach of such a horrifying incident. This contrasts with other post-apocalyptic shows, such as AMC’s main The Walking Dead series, a TV show set solely in the US.
Unlike the comics, which introduce Y: The Last Man’s catastrophe in its first few pages, the TV adaptation opts to spin its devastating event out over the course of its first episode – a narrative play that’s executed with mixed results.
Saving the reveal of the planet-wide tragedy until its harrowing final few scenes, Y: The Last Man uses much of its first entry to establish its main characters, alongside their relationships, personalities and motivations.
And it does a good job of doing so. The Brown family – Yorick, Jennifer and Hero (Olivia Thrilby) – are shown to be a dysfunctional family with relatable problems. Nora Brady (Marin Ireland) is a Presidential advisor with an uneven work-life balance, while the mysterious Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) is a cold-blooded US operative who never has time to settle in one place.
As a TV show, Y: The Last Man needs extra time to introduce its characters to audiences unfamiliar with the comics, which its premiere provides. Helpful though that is, the first episode feels like a slow burn – and subsequent entries are sometimes similarly sluggish.
There’s an argument for the show’s leisurely pace. The deliberate slow march towards the first episode’s climax, for example, helps to build tension and suspense for the global tragedy to come. And, when it arrives, the show does a great job of capturing the scope of the panic, chaos and immediate trauma felt by the survivors. It’s a highly emotive few minutes of television, packed with dystopian flair, that does justice to the show’s comic counterpart.
In some instances, though, the show would benefit from a quicker pace. A common criticism of post-apocalyptic TV series, like The Walking Dead, is that they’re too ponderous, with parts of (or even entire) episodes feeling like filler. Y: The Last Man suffers from such issues, especially in its second and third entries, with some scenes doing little to move the plot forward.
Not only that, but Y: The Last Man makes for a bleak watch – that’s understandable, given the crux of the plot. But, as the real world goes through its own pandemic, we could use some more lighthearted escapism, and Y: The Last Man is a bit too serious to provide that.
And that’s a shame, as the TV adaptation does provide some humorous moments. A scene in the first episode, in which Yorick and Hero mock each other, offers an amusing insight into their flailing sibling relationship. Another sequence, in episode 2, puts Yorick in a funny if compromising situation with the owners of a launderette.
Both scenes evoke the original comics’ dry and witty humor, and offer a welcome change of pace from the show’s overall melancholic tone. It’s just a pity that the show uses such instances sparingly, when more wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Away from its pacing and humor issues, Y: The Last Man does get other elements right.
For one, it handles the comics’ core themes and exploration of societal issues with appropriate levels of sensitivity. Gender identity, in particular, is a big component of the source material, so handling this aspect of the comic correctly was vitally important.
Thankfully, the show’s writers do so with finesse. The series focuses on LGBTQ+ citizens (and their rights) as much as their cisgender counterparts, and its exploration of the discrimination they continue to face in a dystopian world makes for some of the show’s most heart-wrenching scenes.
The series’ main characters, too, have been well cast. Lane feels tailor-made for the role of Jennifer Brown, while Schnetzer portrays Yorick with a likeable charm, despite the character’s man-child persona and constant pining for his girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield).
It’s Romans’ Agent 355, though, who steals the show. A commanding presence on screen, Romans does a stellar job of embodying her character’s cryptic persona and moral complexities. In a fictional world where few people are keeping it together, Agent 355 does so – and Romans’ portrayal goes a long way to showing how effective her character is in such a uniquely distressing situation.
What we think
Y: The Last Man is a solid if unspectacular adaptation of a beloved graphic novel series. The show does a good job of highlighting real-life problems concerning gender equality, misogyny and discrimination, and its premise and story make for intriguing viewing.
However, in an era where post-apocalyptic shows have never seemed more popular, Y: The Last Man lacks that crucial entertainment factor that makes it a truly captivating watch. It never really makes the most of its central traumatic event, nor does it find that uplifting or heartwarming ingredient that a show like Netflix’s Sweet Tooth has.
There are enough episodic cliffhanger endings, and twists and turns, throughout to keep viewers satisfied and coming back for more, and Y: The Last Man fans will be pleased that a live-action adaptation has finally seen the light of day.
Was it worth the wait? Based on its first three episodes, just about – and if Y: The Last Man’s subsequent entries are faster-paced, more action-oriented and, at times, more amusing, it could be a great show. If, however, it fails to deliver in these respects, Y’s persistent pacing and post-apocalyptic clichés may come back to haunt it.
Episodes 1-3 of Y: The Last Man will launch exclusively on Disney+ in the UK on 22nd September. New episodes will be available to stream every Wednesday.