Y: The Last Man: a playful comic book caper in which every man is dead

·3-min read

Hard to like a TV show with a terrible name, isn’t it? But still, Y: The Last Man (Wednesday, Disney+) is here. It is based on a comic-book series, and you can tell. You can tell because: one of the main people in it is called Yorick. His sister? His sister is called Hero. And they’re all running around in a post-apocalyptic world where every living creature with a Y chromosome has suddenly bled out of its eyes and died – and yes, that does include the president! – and we have been plunged into the beginning of the end. Look up into the gun-metal sky, Yorick, where a helicopter hovers ominously. A lot of meaningful graffiti has seemingly popped up overnight. We’re in a sci-fi disaster, people, there’s no doubt about it. Oh, look: Yorick’s best friend is a monkey. I already know, at some point in this series, someone is going to get really good at using a bow and arrow.

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Whenever I write about a new sci-fi series I get emails calling me “a moron idiot”, so I am treading tentatively here, but: on first blush, this stupidly named series about every lad on Earth catching the ultimate L is actually very good. It gets there in a number of subtle ways: not dwelling too much on the actual incident, for starters; instead, accelerating a few days while everyone who’s left watches cities and economies crumble as the bodies pile high, giving luxurious scene time to seemingly less-central characters and actually letting them be characters instead of empty tropes to populate a generic dystopia.

And it is shot and soundtracked beautifully. Diane Lane is in excellent regal-but-with-human-concerns form as the unexpected new crisis president; Ashley Romans, as Agent 355, is delightfully impossible to suss out; Olivia Thirlby’s Hero is really having a day. In Ben Schnetzer’s Yorick, Y: The Last Man has an intriguing final cis male character – he’s goofy and earnest, without having had any single element of his life together when society was normal, but is suddenly thrown into a disaster scenario with only his years as an amateur escapologist and a cheeky monkey sidekick to save him. This should be an absurd bolt of cartoonishness that derails the entire thing; instead, it pulls it all together.

Y: The Last Man reminds me of those few good episodes of Heroes they did in 2006 before they started doing Irish accents, in that, yes, the central conceit is very much “comic-book fancy”, but telling good, human stories against a backdrop of unbelievable sci-fi architecture makes for something utterly gripping. Big-budget sci-fi series tend to go one of two ways, I find, and please don’t email in to correct me – the first episode is a load of coded MacGuffintalk (“Madame President, we have to get the Theigned One to the Obelisk.” “No!” “It’s the only way”) or becomes one of those strange abruptly-cancelled-after-two-series things that the few thousand people who watched it petition about every single day until they die. On early viewing, Y: The Last Man threatens to do something interesting down the middle: tell an actual story, and tell it with just the right level of horror and humour and humanity. Still, “Yorick”. Come on.

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