TV – Y: The Last Man

If Cowboy Bebop’s cancellation was a mercy killing, Y: The Last Man’s demise was tragically premature. After several years of development hell, this series—based on the comic book by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra—finally debuted on Hulu, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. A politically charged, post-apocalyptic science fiction series about a sudden and catastrophic pandemic, released during a pandemic, right after an attempted coup d’etat? This one may have been a little too “from-the-headlines” to lure audiences seeking entertaining escape. As such it came and went without fanfare, an unjust fate for an ambitious show that started well, steadily improved, and showcased an impressive roster of primarily female characters.

The shocking event that serves as Y: The Last Man’s inciting incident is a mysterious global plague that targets only men; indeed, in a single instant, the entire male population of the planet dies from an aggressive hemorrhagic disease. Well, except for one man, of course: Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), an unremarkable aspiring escape artist in his twenties whose only claim to fame is being the son of a Democratic congresswoman. By a twist of fate, in the wake of this catastrophe it’s Yorick’s mother Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) who ends up landing in the American presidency, which forces her to lead the much-hobbled government’s emergency response to the crisis. When she becomes aware that Yorick is alive, she quickly moves to keep it secret, concerned that the remnants of the Republican administration at the Pentagon—including conservative firebrand Kim Campbell (Amber Tamblyn), daughter of a deceased Trumpian populist—will turn Yorick into a political bargaining chip or publicize his survival as “evidence” of a conspiracy, to hamstring Brown’s administration. Yorick’s protection is entrusted to Sarah Burgin (Ashley Romans), a Secret Service agent acting on President Brown’s orders. Burgin’s mission is to deliver Yorick to a scientist who can help determine why he survived, but the many factions he encounters have other designs on him, and the apocalyptic landscape they’re forced to traverse is transformed in threatening new ways.

Opening bloodily with the beginning of the plague, Y: The Last Man starts with a bang, although it does have a bit of network-TV conventionality to its rhythms. Early on, it suffers somewhat from its relatively thin skiffy premise. It doesn’t help the hook that Yorick—an amateur Houdini with a pet monkey named Ampersand?—is kind of ridiculous at first. That changes as the story goes, with Schnetzer ultimately becoming a comedic asset as the cast develops around him, even as he is de-centered. Yorick may not be very interesting, but Sarah—or Agent 355, as she is actually, mysteriously called—definitely is, a resourceful badass with a penchant for sleepwalking, whose connection to a shady intelligence organization adds a layer of mystery to the mix. Romans is an intriguing presence, and her enigmatic personality may be the most captivating aspect of the show. The party Yorick and 355 form with adorable oddball geneticist Dr. Allison Mann (Diana Bang) quickly develops a winning dynamic, evolving into something I could easily imagine following over multiple seasons. Indeed, given the series didn’t get the chance to continue, imagining this created family’s further brave adventures is the closest thing to a resolution as it gets.

Slightly less interesting, but still effective, is the “B” story of Jennifer Brown, whose administration is beset by countless challenges. This milieu seems more dominant in the early episodes, and it initially struck me as an interesting counter-argument to Avengers: Infinity War, where Thanos’ snap had virtually no logistical or infrastructural repercussions on the world at large. Here, losing half the population causes mass chaos, complicated by the gender disparity. Brown’s efforts to solve these problems, despite a staff divided by political ideology, are contentious, and the dialogue has an internet squabbling quality that feels authentic, but may also be a bit much for those burned out by recent political realities.

These storylines are given additional context from a third one that ventures out more into the chaotic post-pandemic landscape. Yorick’s troublemaking sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby) and her friend Sam (Elliot Fletcher), a trans man, fall into the orbit of a superstore-based survivalist cult led by Roxanne (Missy Pyle), a fiery misandrist who systematically radicalizes her followers. This group also absorbs Nora Brady (Marin Ireland), a former Republican presidential advisor forced to flee Washington with her daughter. The unsung hero of the cast, Ireland delivers a cagey performance navigating the Kool-Aid-swilling landscape of Roxanne’s “Daughters of the Amazon,” a society that provides just one example of the ways the women outside the government power zone organize and cope in the aftermath.

There’s definitely a cluttered and erratic aspect to all these accumulated parts, but they gradually cohere into something thought-provoking and quite compelling. I definitely would have enjoyed seeing its adventures and intrigues explored further, and recommend it for its unique perspective and cumulative effect. Alas, poor Yorick’s first season is also his last.

Scroll to Top