There is much to say about the protagonist of Y: The Last Man (Disney+ in the UK), had we but time and space. For the sake of practicality, let us confine commentary to this: having a whining slacker manbaby as the sole surviving male after a mysterious plague wipes out the rest of XY humanity and upon whom the future of everything depends feels … yeah, about right. Why not get this last undeserved heap of attention, resources and every other goddamned thing shovelled at your emblematically incompetent ass?
I should possibly have recused myself from watching the series until I was in a better mood. On the other hand, there’s something inescapably irritating about switching between looking at the television screen and a phoneful of real-life headlines and not being able to pick out much difference between the fictional dystopia and reality.
Based on the 2002 comic-book series by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra, the premise here is that a twentysomething tool named Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) is the last man standing after every other one simultaneously keels over with blood pouring from every orifice. The effects of an undiversified society become evident: the workforces responsible for keeping the power on, the supply chains moving and the clean water flowing are male-dominated and grind to a halt. The Republican government is wiped out and the designated survivor is Democratic congresswoman Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane and a blow-dry that should get separate billing).
The new president and the remaining female politicians and staff hunker in the Pentagon, trying to get the country back up and running while starving hordes gather in ever greater numbers at the gates. Brown gains a fearless bodyguard in the shape of Agent 355 (Ashley Romans, whose performance is so good and so deeply credible that she forms, I suspect inadvertently, the centre of gravity for the entire show), a member one of those off-book government agencies we nevertheless seem to hear so much about.
Meanwhile, Brown’s daughter Hero (Olivia Thirlby) and her transman friend Sam (Elliot Fletcher) – the convulsions the makers must have had trying to decide what to do when updating 2002 source material about a chromosome-based pandemic to take account of a gender-fluid world that is trying to abandon the binary system upon which the entire inciting event depends – are trying to find a way from New York to Washington DC. Jennifer and Hero are largely estranged, but when the chips are down we all want our mothers-with-access-to-government-and-military-capabilities, do we not?
The first episode is almost a complete waste of time. The androcide proper doesn’t kick in until the very end, and even after that the pacing is frequently lamentably slow. With such a setup – a woman-dominated world, and the chance to start from scratch – you feel that creator Eliza Clark should be pushing at an open door. Yet – at least in the episodes released for review – there seems to be no urge to lean into the possibilities. Instead, we linger on the standard TV apocalypse problems we’ve seen a million times before. How does one dispose of thousands of corpses before they rot? How are Hero and her doughty companion to get from A to B, negotiating emotional and physical wreckage and without modern comms to help them? How, in turn, will Yorick get to the geneticist who might be able to find whatever deoxyribonucleic quirk he has that can save the world? How will Jennifer fight off the challenge to her power from an enemy camp? Yes, this time it’s the former president’s daughter Kimberley (Amber Tamblyn, channelling Meghan McCain rather than the elemental sociopathy of Ivanka Trump) rather than a team of bikers turned cannibals, but the formula is the same.
Also – no spoilers – but if the coincidence upon which Yorick’s fate hangs is just that, rather than (as they rightly fear the populace would suspect, causally related) then everybody involved needs to take a very long, hard look at themselves indeed.
And yet. And yet. It is, simply as an apocalypse drama, good enough. And there are, as the series progresses, signs of hope that Yorick will be relegated further into the background, the female characters will come further to the fore, and that it will start to exploit some of the gyno-opportunities offered by the premise. It could just do with getting there a bit faster, that’s all. Before we’re outpaced by the world beyond, and the lights go out for real.