‘Y: The Last Man’ review: post-apocalyptic disaster series struggles to pack a punch

Eliza Clark's comic book adaptation is careful and considerate but fails to raise the stakes even as half the human race is wiped out

‘Doctor Mann?’ Oh my god, the universe is hilarious.” So says Yorick (Ben Schnetzer), the last cisgender man with a Y chromosome (alongside his pet monkey, Ampersand) left alive in the bleak post-apocalyptic world of Y: The Last Man. This world – born in a comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra in 2002, now matured into a glossy TV series helmed by playwright Eliza Clark – has pretty few laughs, all things considered. Yorick should probably make the most of it while he can.

Somewhere between The Walking Dead and The Leftovers, Y begins just before a freak incident that wipes out every living, breathing thing that has a Y chromosome. That’s humans, animals, the lot of them. From a distance, this looks like it simply gets rid of all men – but Clark and her team do compelling work to differentiate gender and DNA, giving great care to transgender characters. “We’ve found plenty of men,” one of the women calmly tells her team a few days after the disaster has struck. “Just none with a Y chromosome.”

The series finds its footing slowly, trudging through the spiralling panic at its own pace while checking in with a wide, mostly female-led cast. There’s senator-turned-US President Jennifer Brown (an impressive Diane Lane), the mysterious and intimidating Agent 355 (Ashley Romans), Jennifer’s paramedic daughter Hero (Olivia Thirlby), Kimberly (Amber Tamblyn), the daughter of one of Jennifer’s deceased political rivals, and, of course, there’s Yorick – who also happens to be Jennifer’s son.

It’s a constellation of relationships that finds each individual lost in their own way, yet tethered to this overwhelming – and so far inexplicable plague – in irreparable ways. Having so many leads dilutes the emotional impact, with the chaos of the unknown acting as a low-level threat that’s annoying more than devastating.

Jennifer and Yorick – Schnetzer plays the bumbling escape artist and reluctant “chosen one” with convincing insecurity – give Y its most compelling bond, a vulnerable and imperfect thing even before the end of the world, now threatened even further by the collapse of the human race as we know it. Political tension – as Kimberly wrestles with her Republican loyalties and her sudden lack of power under Jennifer’s tenure – bubbles in the first few episodes, yet Clark struggles to anchor it with high stakes. When half of the human race has been wiped out, notions of left and right, good and bad, feel somewhat less urgent.

The baffling incident that sets Y on its path clearly holds a dense, complex network of secrets and lies. It’s dark and certainly depressing out there as the new world finds its feet – this is no utopia with a dismantled patriarchy, or a haywire nightmare with desperate and hysterical women lost without their husbands. It’s something more sinister than that. Yorick might be the last man (with the lethal chromosomes, that is), but will Schnetzer, and the world and story around him, be enough to keep faith in his survival? It’s going to be a lot of hard work before we find out.

Y: The Last Man will be available to stream on Disney+ from September 22

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