REVIEW: Despite a generic intro, there is a brilliant story somewhere in ‘Y: The Last Man’

Boyce Rucker, Intern

FX’s adaptation of the “Y: The Last Man” comic series is one of the network’s most anticipated shows in recent years. The series was published by DC Comics’ mature Vertigo imprint and ran for 60 issues from 2002 to 2008. The comic’s critical acclaim may signal the show’s potential for strong impactful storytelling. While the first part of the three-episode premiere focuses too much on exposition to grip viewers right away, it still has the potential to highlight strong acting performances.

Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra’s “Y: The Last Man” chronicles a mass androcide that causes the near-extinction of all mammals on Earth that have a Y chromosome. Nevertheless, a young escape artist named Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) is the last cisgender male on earth, while his pet monkey Ampersand is the last remaining male mammal on earth. In the aftermath of the androcide, Yorick traverses the world to search for answers to his survival and reunite with his girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield). On his journey, Yorick is escorted by Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) on the orders of his mother, U.S. President Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane).

Ben Schnetzer plays York Brown in “Y: The Last Man” (2021). (Louise Friedberg/ FX Productions)

The first episode deviates from the comic greatly with the addition and exclusion of certain characters, but it provides more context to the events than the first comic issue did. The premiere introduces the cast that viewers will see recurring throughout the series and highlights character drama; but given the forthcoming crisis, the character drama doesn’t feel relevant to the overall plot of the series. Much of the first hour is wasted on developing side characters who aren’t particularly interesting and introducing unnecessary drama. To illustrate, the show ruins the first issue’s pivotal moment when Yorick has a phone conversation with Beth as she’s in Australia. He proposes to her, but then he is cut off from her and never receives an answer due to the androcide. The show takes that instance of subtle character development and reduces it to a forced argument and rejection that prevents viewers from emotionally investing in the couple.

The comic also delved into social topics such as gender inequality and the question of how society can continue to function without men present. The show tackles these ideas in the first three episodes, but not deep enough to be considered thought-provoking or original. Political tension finds its way into the show through scenes that depict an overtly misogynist U.S. president and a solely female administration in the aftermath of the androcide. The administration is able to manage under the apocalyptic conditions, but there is an allusion to power struggles that arise from conspiracy or political party conflicts.

Ben Schnetzer in “Y: The Last Man” (2021). (Louise Friedberg/ FX Productions)

A large difference between the first episode and the first issue is its pacing and content. Viewers and fans of the source material will realize that although the first issue’s 32 pages is a tightly-packed intro, it’s challenging to directly adapt it into an hour-length episode. The episode supplies more context and background to each character than issue one did, but it just isn’t compelling enough and comes off as filler to kill time for when the androcide takes place at the end.

As the cast’s top-billed member, Lane portrays Jennifer as a headstrong and intelligent leader. Although Yorick is the central character in the comics, the show treats him like a supporting character so far as he’s only present for a few scenes. Lane carries a commanding presence without making Jennifer into a standard one-dimensional politician. She expertly conveys vulnerability as she faces moral dilemmas as president, whether it be possibly being usurped by a presidential candidate by right, or keeping Yorick’s survival secret by any means necessary. But the character’s depth comes out when she’s shown being a mother to Schnetzer’s Yorick. The bond between the two lends a much-needed emotional weight to the series that makes each scene they share worth watching as she’s forced to make difficult decisions for his welfare. Even though Yorick is the comics’ protagonist, making Jennifer the show’s protagonist would be a decision that adds intriguing possibilities for the series to make it stand apart from the source material. 

While Lane excels as the lead of the show, Schnetzer’s Yorick deserves greater focus in the coming episodes. Schnetzer brings out all sides to Yorick, such as his snarky attitude, intelligence, fear and instances of warmth. Schnetzer’s performance is accurate and representative of how the character was written in the comics. Yorick is such a dynamic character because he can be the comic relief in several instances and be an emotional anchor for more critical or intense moments. Schnetzer demonstrates this aspect of Yorick greatly in the second episode, where one scene shows him held at gunpoint for stealing clothes. Schnetzer shows tremendous range as he embellishes the character with charisma that then becomes fear within a matter of minutes when he’s forced to beg for his life.

A popular still of Ben Schnetzer in “Y: The Last Man: (2021). (Louise Friedberg/ FX Productions)

Going back to 2007, the comic book has had tremendous difficulty in getting an adaptation. “Disturbia” director D.J. Caruso had initially signed on to direct it as a film with Shia Labeouf in mind for the lead role, but his creative vision conflicted with what the studio had in mind. In another instance, “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) director Louis Letterier expressed interest in a TV adaptation of the comic, but his vision never came to fruition. 

In 2015, it was announced that FX would develop a TV series. In 2018, there was a pilot filmed that starred Lane, Barry Kheogan as Yorick, and Lashana Lynch as Agent 355. Despite the traction of the show’s development, it faced another setback when its initial showrunners exited the series and the lead cast member left as well; this led to Eliza Clark becoming the showrunner and lead roles being recast. After a long path to development, “Y: The Last Man” has built plenty of anticipation for fans of the comic.

The coming episodes of “Y: The Last Man” may hopefully provide the unique brand of storytelling that the comics offer. The pilot’s familiarity and exposition could be a way to draw in new fans of the story, as the coming episodes may resemble the comic’s storytelling. The show does have potential in its casting, particularly Lane and Schnetzer, but ultimately needs stronger writing that can elevate the characters.