Every man and male animal in the world dies suddenly — except Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) and his monkey Ampersand. As the world is thrown into chaos and US Senator Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) tries to bring order as acting POTUS, Yorrick finds himself protected by Agent 355 (Ashley Romans).

Streaming on: Disney+

Episodes viewed: 3 of 10

The premise of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s epic, deeply emotional comic series — what if every male on the planet suddenly dropped dead? — may sound like wish fulfilment for some, but it is especially nightmarish in the realistic sheen of this TV adaptation. Government is devastated; power and transport cease to function; bodies and crashed vehicles are everywhere. And yet one man survives the chaos, one guy to carry the legacy of every person ever to carry a Y-chromosome. That the survivor is Ben Schnetzer’s feckless romantic Yorick, our ostensible hero, might be the cruellest blow of all to the now defunct male-kind.

Y: The Last Man

You may be marvelling that someone conceived a story where there is only one male on the planet and he is still the centre of the narrative — but if so, showrunner Eliza Clark has your back. Schnetzer is not the top-billed star, and while he is a likeable, slacker presence, he is only one part of the ensemble. Clark has boosted the roles of supporting characters like the tough, ladylike Senator Brown (Diane Lane), a determined politician who has just attacked the President (Paul Gross) as the story starts, only to find herself succeeding to his role. Yorick’s paramedic sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby) gets a more fully developed backstory, involving legal troubles and an affair with a co-worker, that may set her on a dark path. Even Agent 355 (Ashley Romans), a spy for a covert US agency whose middle name might plausibly be ‘Mystery’ (though we do not even know her first name), gets a little more context for her unfailing competence.

This is a smartly cast and strongly written start.

These women get their chance to become heroes, or villains, in the vacuum created by the death of everyone with a Y-chromosome (trans men survive the plague). Yorick, however, just wants to find his girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield) and live happily ever after. It would not be a wild exaggeration to say that he and his pet monkey largely play the damsel-in-distress here, even to the point of being caught in a coy moment of nudity by strangers. Agent 355 is the strong protector who might, maybe, save him from a world where he is now an endangered species.

Disasters are practically standard in our visions of the future right now: from The Walking Dead to Snowpiercer, the outlook is bleak, so that Y: The Last Man won’t feel quite as fresh as it might have done when film development began in 2007, or even when TV development began in 2014. As a result, the show can feel familiar, with the same demented political priorities drawn from reality — a politician who worries about a candidate’s stance on abortion after the androcide — and a similar visual palette, all blue-filtered greys and murk. Some of the new elements, like an implausible plague and one whopping great character coincidence, don’t help. But what ultimately set Vaughan and Guerra’s book apart is its sense of hope, the fact that Yorick’s determined optimism begins to spread to those around him. It remains to be seen if this show will achieve that same tragic beauty, but this is a smartly cast and strongly written start.

This is an inevitably traumatic introduction to the comic-book series’ world, but here well-drawn characters and propulsive storytelling hint that brighter days will come — if this lot can just survive the immediate post-apocalypse.

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