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Y: The Last Man is a bland and unremarkable adaptation

  • "As television series go, Y: The Last Man is bland and unremarkable, an almost completely forgettable thought experiment that doesn’t bother interrogating the most interesting questions it poses in any substantial way," says Lacy Baugher Milas of Eliza Clark's FX on Hulu adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s post-apocalyptic comic series. "It struggles to balance its story across its multiple main characters and seems weirdly incurious about the wider ramifications of the world it’s created," says Milas. "And you can decide for yourselves whether its biggest problem is its truly bizarre pacing or the fact that it repeatedly eschews embracing complex problems in the name of presenting straightforward narrative binaries. While there’s nothing especially groundbreaking about Y: The Last Man, there’s nothing truly awful either. It’s pretty much exactly the show you expect it to be, right down to its puzzle box conspiracy theories and pedestrian idea of post-apocalyptic politics. (Though Amber Tamblyn’s turn as an over-the-top conservative activist and former First Daughter who’s obsessed with saving male 'genetic material' from fertility clinics is living-her-best-life good.) Y: The Last Man is perfectly serviceable sci-fi fare that won’t move the needle too much in either direction in terms of generating controversy or inspiring awe. And that’s a shame. Because in the year 2021, in the world we live in right now, after a half-dozen other shows have really pushed the envelope in this genre, this series is uniquely positioned to be something great. That it settles for dull and uninspired breaks my heart."


    • Y: The Last Man improves so much over the course of its first six episodes that its potential feels limitless: "If audiences can weather its apocalypse, the show might well become something special by the time rebuilding commences," says Judy Berman. She adds that it takes five to six episodes for Y to begin "to counterbalance all the necessary, if needlessly plodding, exposition and world-building with more stimulating explorations of character and themes both gender-related and not. As President, how do you allocate extremely limited resources in an ongoing emergency? Is it more important to bury the dead or to feed the living or to preserve the most crucial artifacts of human civilization or to investigate what actually happened to kill off all the XY creatures? What would it be like to start your day as a person of maximum privilege—a straight, white, American man with a congresswoman for a mother—and end it as the world’s smallest, most vulnerable minority? What would an XX-only Earth look like? Would a planet governed and populated solely by fish be any better off, in the immediate aftermath of a plague or in the long run, than one where bicycles hold almost all of the power?"
    • Y: The Last Man feels provocative and compelling, but not as fun as it should be: "FX on Hulu’s long-awaited adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s comic classic Y: The Last Man is such an album of apocalyptic greatest hits that the comparisons will likely range from The Stand to The Walking Dead to 28 Days Later to The Strain to Revolution to Jericho," says Daniel Fienberg. "The most persistent comparisons, for me at least, were to a more uncomfortable version of dystopia, namely a real world colored by COVID and climate change, threaded with indelible memories of September 11, 2001. Perhaps that’s why showrunner Eliza Clark’s take on the beloved property (which was published from 2002 to 2008) captures and at times even enhances so much of what was rich and resonant about Y: The Last Man and effectively delivers to many of its adored characters, while falling short in one key area. The comic doesn’t lack for darkness and gravity, yet it’s primarily a fun yarn. Through six episodes sent to critics, a lot of the fun has gone missing in the TV show. The series is often provocative, generally compelling and almost never quite as entertaining as it should be. Don’t get me wrong: It’s entirely reasonable for a TV series about the sudden and gruesome death of half the world’s population to be dour and depressing. But that just isn’t the tone of the comic. And as Netflix’s recent Sweet Tooth adaptation proved, it’s fully possible to find a wide array of emotional colors and even levity in a postapocalyptic wasteland."
    • Y: The Last Man feels like yesterday's news in the wake of The Walking Dead and a slew of other post-apocalyptic series: "The main problem is that, at least through the six episodes given to critics, Clark and her collaborators only periodically seem interested in how their unique premise would impact the world in ways that are different from The Walking Dead, The Stand, or other recent shows dealing with abrupt catastrophes that wipe out large swaths of the population," says Alan Sepinwall. "It’s apocalypse-by-numbers, with a good cast — see also Olivia Thirlby as Yorick’s paramedic sister Hero, and Amber Tamblyn as Kimberly, the conservative pundit daughter of the newly-deceased president — and the occasional interesting set piece, but most of it is generic at best. (It also doesn’t feel like ideal timing that the first three episodes of this show — several of them taking place in a ruined version of lower Manhattan where aircraft are colliding with buildings — are being released on Hulu two days after the 20th anniversary of 9/11. And one sequence where Yorick has to brave a flooded subway station to rescue Ampersand looks pretty similar to recent news coverage of what New Yorkers faced after Hurricane Ida.)"
    • You almost have to get past the first few episodes for Y to settle into its dramatic arc: "Such science-fiction series generally begin somewhere after everything has gone to hell, so at first the show appears to deserve credit for trying something different by building up to the equivalent of the nuclear blast or lethal plague that suddenly changes everything," says Brian Lowry. "The wholesale deaths, however, and associated grief of those left behind cast a pall over the series, which with a few exceptions struggles to develop the kind of characters that made Walking Dead pop originally. Don't expect any immediate answers, either, about the 'why' of the 'last man,' as the concept -- based on Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's DC comic -- lurches forward in a way that feels relentlessly bleak and depressing. While no one would expect the dystopian concept to yield feel-good TV, watching society break down this way, at this moment, has a glutton-for-punishment quality without outlandish wrinkles like zombie gore to introduce a sense of escapism."
    • Y: The Last Man works in pieces, showcasing its potential in future seasons: "It’s been a long road for Yorick and the rest of the characters in Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s graphic novel Y: The Last Man," says Kristen Lopez. "Initially planned as a feature film in the 2010s, the source material pivoted to a television adaptation that is now airing at a freakishly prescient time. There’s much to admire with showrunner Eliza Clark’s series, from the numerous stellar acting turns to a fantastic group of directors and the compelling action they craft. But it’s obvious there’s also dueling desires to please not just newcomers, but fans of Vaughan and Guerra’s text, which makes for an unbalanced beginning." Lopez adds: “Y: The Last Man works in pieces and with the establishment of its first season it’s easy to see where things could be stronger as it goes on. Episode 3 is a great piece of television. Lane, Tamblyn, and Romans are stellar and worthy of anchoring this show on their own. If only there could be a stronger balance between the authenticity and the action, then we’d really be cooking."
    • A story like Y: The Last Man was always going to be perilous to adapt: The show "struggles occasionally to weave its many threads together, taking a bit too much time to unite characters and establish a plot beyond the catastrophic event," says Kelly Lawler. "As the episodes progress, the narrative moves more smoothly. But a story like Y was always going to be perilous to adapt. Clark and the writers have done a thoughtful job, bridging the post-9/11 themes of the comics to make it relevant in our current pandemic era. As the story goes deeper, it's easier to overlook some of the series' missteps. Y may not be perfect, but the series wears its ambition and effort on its sleeve, creating the most compelling dystopia since The Walking Dead was actually good."
    • Y: The Last Man's slow-developing story can be annoying, but it's also essential: "As post-apocalyptic series go, Y: The Last Man builds in a relatively staid fashion," says Melanie McFarland. "A less kindly evaluation would describe its progression as slow, even plodding at points. Compared to the nervous dread that defines the first hours of, say, The Walking Dead or Battlestar Galactica, the lead-in to the end of everything is much calmer. However, this dystopian drama isn't about the spectacle of chaos but how that chaos brings out the best and worst of those enduring it. You can say the same of any show about the end of the world, but here the reliance on character feels much more essential. No series works if the viewer doesn't find some portion of accuracy and honesty to connect with in its characters. Rather than drawing our focus to overwhelmingly visible, tangible signs of society's dissolution like flaming buildings and gore, Y: The Last Man invests all of its power in getting us to care about the people navigating the devastation. There are no zombies chasing down survivors, only other humans angling for power. That makes it a dystopian tale one piece of genetic material away from being real, which is both fascinating and frightening and perhaps worth experiencing as a simmer instead of a full burn."
    • Viewers who stick with Y: The Last Man will be rewarded: "There are layers to this story that we'll need far more than six episodes to fully unwind, but it's off to a great start already," says Adam Rosenberg. "My big piece of advice to both fans of the comic and newcomers is to stick with it. The first episode drags a little. So does the second one. But it doesn't take much longer than that for the most important threads to present themselves, and once it happens, each hour of TV starts to feel far too brief. I still can't quite believe that this long-in-the-making adaptation actually happened. But Y: The Last Man is finally here, and for all that's familiar to fans of the source in this TV version, it's a far different beast than the comic on which it's based. That is, by far, the best thing about it."
    • Y: The Last Man is missing the humor and whimsy of its source material: "Eliza Clark serves as showrunner on this particular version of the end of the world, one that, and we know this will be a broken record, plays differently in 2021 than Guerra and Vaughan explicitly intended," says Brian Tallerico. "Ultimately, it’s a good time for a show about disease and divide, but while the real world feels like it’s added some weight to Y: The Last Man, it also has drained some of the humor and whimsy that helped distinguish the source. Clark and her writers set out to make drastic changes to the original from the beginning, including somewhat back-seating its title character for the first few episodes. Still, Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) is there in the premiere, awkwardly proposing to his girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield) and teaching magic with his pet monkey Ampersand. Meanwhile, his sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby) is sleeping with a married man and dealing with her own recovery issues. Their mother just so happens to be Congresswoman Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), who finds herself unexpectedly ascended to the office of President of the United States when everyone on Earth with a Y chromosome drops dead and she’s next in the line of succession. Well, everyone but Yorick. While the premiere largely takes place in an ordinary world, most of Y: The Last Man is a grim, post-apocalyptic tale."
    • One of the most interesting things about the first few episodes is how they zoom in on the show’s core cast at some of the rawest and perhaps most honest points in their lives: "Unlike apocalyptic narratives that skew more toward the supernatural or science fiction, Y: The Last Man presents a hypothetical situation that at least some of its characters (and mostly likely a good chunk of its audience) have considered to one degree or another previously," says Charles Pulliam-Moore. "When scores of men—and a far smaller number of women who, perhaps unknowingly, were living with Y chromosomes—suddenly begin dropping dead across the world, those left standing don’t understand the how or why of it all, but the gravity of what’s happening is clear to everyone. Individually, people are emotionally ruined by their personal losses of friends, family, and loved ones. Collectively, people are put in immediate peril that the story uses to set the scene for its vision of a world that may very well fall apart before there’s any hope of saving it."
    • Y: The Last Man is more about power than about gender: "While Yorick and Ampersand’s survival is the mystery driving Y’s plot, its interest — much like the comics it is based on — lies in fleshing out a world violently remade by sudden disaster. Unlike Vaughan and Guerra’s comics (the duo are executive producers on the show), the TV version of Y: The Last Man fleshes out that world slowly, walking back the comic’s international scope (at least initially) and squarely focusing on the fate of the United States before and after the cataclysm," says Joshua Rivera. "As changes made for screen adaptations go, this judgment call made by Y: The Last Man showrunner Eliza Clark and her team is an excellent one, streamlining the story arc covered by the first several issues, and digging into a rich supporting cast with a focus that the comic’s propulsive plotting did not allow for. The slower pace proves essential, as the comics series, which ran from September 2002 to March 2008, often took a gender-essentialist tack, often adhering to a rigid gender binary in story arcs that heavily depended on most of its characters being suspiciously invested in traditional gender roles. While it acknowledged gender and sexual diversity, it did so in a manner that was often superficial and sensational."
    • How Ivanka Trump inspired Amber Tamblyn's Y: The Last Man character
    • Y: The Last Man originally starred one of the monkeys from Friends, but she was replaced by a CGI monkey from Industrial Light & Magic
    • How the Y: The Last Man series changes the comics: "For the TV version, showrunner Eliza Clark made three major changes: The tone has been changed from 'aughts comic book' to 'high-production-value cable series,' secondary characters have been added to help update the show’s politics for the 2020s, and some characters’ backstories have been fleshed out in ways that make them more realistic," explains Matthew Dessem. 
    • Showrunner Eliza Clark was well-aware of the Herculean task ahead of her when she signed on for the adaptation: What would she say to fans of the original comic series? "I think one of the things that I love as a fan is that I don’t want to watch the thing that I love just be translated one-to-one, because then you know everything that’s going to happen next," says Clark. "But, one of things that’s so beautiful about the comic book is that it has this kind of meta quality, and it’s in conversation with other movies and books. I’ll just say, I think our adaptation is in conversation with the book in ways I think fans will notice, that people who aren’t fans of the book won’t necessarily, but I think is really fun. So I’m excited for people who love the book to see it; I’m one of those people." Clark adds: "I’ve loved this book for 10 years, and when it was brought up to me, I totally wanted to do Y: The Last Man. But I wanted to do it my way. I wanted to do my version of it, and FX was excited about that. So we reshot the entire pilot and I did get a couple of really amazing actors who had already signed on. But in lots of ways I think they’re two separate adaptations. So that was good for me, because I had a strong point of view about the material."
    • Clark on departing from the premise laid out on the title: “I think that the conversation about gender is more nuanced than the conversation than anything was about gender 20 years ago,” she says. “I think we made clear early and often in the show that chromosomes are not equal to gender, and that there are still many men that survived this event.”

    TOPICS: Y: The Last Man, FX on Hulu, Brian K. Vaughan, Eliza Clark, Pia Guerra

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