Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A devastating plague has wiped out most of the Earth’s population, and the key to our survival lies in the hands of an unlikely and ill-equipped group of survivors. Now, make that plague one that kills everything with a Y chromosome and make the group consist of the last cisgender human man on earth, his pet monkey (also male), his insecure yet lethal bodyguard and the rogue lesbian geneticist who might be able to save humanity’s future. Now that’s an idea. This is the set up for Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s seminal indie comic, “Y: The Last Man” (2002–08), and while the long-awaited TV adaptation keeps this engrossing premise, it adds elements that turn one of the best post-apocalyptic stories of the last two decades into a miserable snooze fest of a show.
I don’t want this to be too harsh considering the show’s circumstances. An adaptation of “Y” has been in the works since 2007 when New Line Cinema acquired the film rights and after years of development hell: With multiple scripts, a switch in format from movie to show, several cast changes and a revolving door of showrunners, this project had all the markings of a catastrophe. Yet when the dust had settled, the final cast and crew did their best to promote and spread it. They showed a clear passion and energy for the show that hinted it may not be as bad as most feared it would be after 14 years, and it shows in the final product for better and for worse. Everyone is here clearly trying to make a good show, they’re just trying too hard.
There are three distinct plotlines this season, each with their own strengths and fatal flaws. First is the journey of the titular last man, Yorick (yes, as in the skull from Hamlet. It makes sense, trust me). This is a standard apocalyptic road trip story, and by far the closest to the original comic, but it lacks any kind of levity or self-awareness. It’s draped in self-seriousness and muted colors to the point where the tone overshadows the admittedly solid cast. Ben Schnetzer as Yorick, Ashley Romans as Agent 355 and Diana Bang as Dr. Allison Mann are all good and their chemistry steadily improves throughout the season, but that’s the only bright spot in this mess of a story. It lacks a central drive and any sense of fun or surreality that made the original comic so endearing and different. It echoes the fundamental problem that this show doesn’t seem to understand: More story doesn’t always make a better story.
Next up is Hero (Olivia Thirlby), Yorick’s wayward sister, and her transgender friend Sam (Elliot Fletcher). Now, Sam’s inclusion is an obvious and admirable attempt to fix the lack of important transgender characters in the original comic, and Fletcher puts in the work to try and make his character relatable. And yet, it all feels pointless. The show portrays Sam with only two traits: He’s trans and he’s loyal to Hero. That’s it. And Hero herself is probably the least likeable character in the show, despite Thirlby’s best efforts. The attempts that the writing makes at having her be a sympathetic character with a difficult past only result in annoyance and frustration from the audience. Even when the pair meets Nora Brady (Marin Ireland) and Roxanne (Missi Pyle) with her cult of avenging women, little momentum is added, in fact it only makes this story feel more soap opera-y. The ideas here are interesting, but again, there’s too much bad writing to outweigh the otherwise good performances.
Last, and least, we have what’s left of the U.S. government holed up in the Pentagon being led by newly appointed President Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), Yorick and Hero’s mother. Despite clear efforts from Diane Lane as President Brown and Amber Tamblyn as Kimberly Campbell Cunningham (daughter of the now-deceased conservative president), nothing about this story feels important. What was once a throwaway reference and cut-back in the original story has been expanded into a full third of the show with no real goal other than to make half-baked attempts at commentary on modern politics. All the allusions to current political figures and battles (drink every time someone calls someone a Nazi or Snowflake) just make the whole thing feel more tiresome, all culminating in a far too predictable and unsatisfying endgame.
I did my best to judge this show on its own merits, and even then it constantly failed. As a result of constant setbacks in production, the strong performances and clear passion behind the camera are just completely overruled by bad writing, useless additions to the story and lack of focus. If it wasn’t for the source material, I would have already forgotten this generic and formless adaptation existed. Truth be told, I may have already started.