“Y: The Last Man” follows the postapocalyptic journey of Yorick, the last cisgendered human male on planet Earth and his monkey Ampersand. When an unknown virus wipes out everyone with a Y chromosome, those left behind must scramble to keep the infrastructure of their society from collapsing. Literally overnight, cisgendered women become the dominate force on the planet. Much like on OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” the FX on Hulu series has placed women in nearly every leadership role behind the camera. Women directed, wrote, filmed and produced each episode. Led by Eliza Clark, perhaps best known for her superb writing on “Killing Eve,” the show is a bloody, violent political thriller that’s steeped in despair.
When “Y: The Last Man” first hit comic bookshelves in September 2002, America was one year removed from the apocalyptic 9/11. Nearly 3,000 lives, the skyline-defining Twin Towers and a sense of security perished in a cloud of ash that lingered for weeks after planes finally returned to the sky. For the next six years, Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra’s Eisner-winning work gripped the comic book community. Vaughn and Guerra asked the big questions. How would a world of women manage a cataclysmic event? Could a world that kept women out of so many inner and upper circles survive without the knowledge held in those confines? How would a divided government come together to heal a nation?
Fans of early seasons of “The Walking Dead” and “The Strain” will find a lot to enjoy. The six-episode first season is dark and gory, the action sequences are fun as hell, and the early budding romances are intriguing. Diane Lane makes an intriguing president trying her best to hold a nation together, and Ben Schnetzer brings a wonderful petulance to Yorick.
But in the nearly 20 years since the publication of that first book, a lot has changed. Too many things have also stayed the same. In the wake of a pandemic that feels apocalyptic in the way it’s changed the shape of everyday life, it can be difficult to spend hours living in a dystopian nightmare where sons, fathers, friends and lovers must be mourned all at once.
This is particularly difficult in “Y: The Last Man.” Despite featuring a lead character named Yorick — the dead court jester from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” known for being a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy — the humor is decidedly lacking. Without the brevity of escape and joy, the journey becomes a slog.
The series makes substantial changes from the source material, including the smart decision to flesh out a myriad of one-dimensional female characters. The fanatical cult members become survivors turned extremists. The Republican women obsessed with their husbands, become grieving daughters lost when the North star they were told to follow vanishes.
Unfortunately, this series doesn’t do enough to modernize questions from the original text. A binary world never existed, but for many years the majority moved as if the only gender options were male or female. “Y: The Last Man” introduces trans men to the story where the comic book did not. Characters discuss the facts of how Y chromosomes don’t present solely in cisgendered men. While this progression toward inclusion is better than none, it leaves trans, innersex and nonbinary individuals in the margins as topics of discussion and not living human beings.
The one trans character the show follows consistently — Sam Jordan, played captivatingly by Elliot Flethcher — is relegated to the supportive boyfriend, and a target of violence for women confused by the sudden appearance of men. While including gender non-conforming and trans individuals into a story specifically about gender marks a good first step, it’s only the first step.
“Y: The Last Man” premieres on FX on Hulu on Monday, September 13.