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‘Y: The Last Man’ goes viral in new sci-fi pandemic series


Welcome to your apocalypse du jour.

A gory virus kills off a huge swath of the human race, leaving a devastated population struggling to survive in “Y: The Last Man,” premiering Monday, Sept. 13, on FX on Hulu.

The twist here is that the pandemic kills only the men. All of them — with the exception of Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer). 

To its credit, the series makes some much-needed updates, including adding a significant trans character (Elliot Fletcher) and some minor ones, as well as at least one incident — in the four episodes I viewed — where Yorick does pretend he’s on the hunt for more testosterone. This “Y” also refers to more topical issues, including anti-vaxxers and online radicalization.

Yorick, an amateur escape artist and a bit of a whiner, has mysteriously managed to survive, along with his pet monkey (the event that took out every other male mammal on Earth). Yorick is no one’s idea of an ideal specimen, but his US Senator mother, Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), happens to have become the de facto president of the United States. She dispatches Yorick to Boston, under the protection of her secret service agent (Ashley Romans), in search of a geneticist who can help them figure out … Y.

Ben Schnetzer as Yorick, wearing a sweater and looking surprised.
Ben Schnetzer plays Yorick in “Y: The Last Man,” a new sci-fi series on FX on Hulu.

When Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra published the “Y” comic in 2002, the world was a different place. Today, a plot that turns on hiding your identity as the world’s only Y-chromosomed man begs the question: Why not just pass yourself off as transgender? 

Beyond its gender-predicated plot, “Y” will feel pretty familiar to anyone who’s dipped a toe in the plentiful (some might say relentless) dystopian TV and film offerings of the past decade. The pilot takes its time working up to the pivotal event, introducing us to the storylines of the Browns — including Yorick’s flailing sister, Hero (Olivia Thirlby) — plus Romans’ Agent 355, who’s not actually secret service but an elite spy and Amber Tamblyn as the conservative First Daughter, Kimberly. But as soon as the face-bleeding begins and the men drop dead, it’s a post-apocalyptic greatest hits. Scavenged cities, marauding gangs … you know the drill. That the gangs are entirely female might have been a radical plot point way back when, but after the badass women of “The Walking Dead” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” and so many others, the gender flip doesn’t resound the way it once might have.

Photo showing Elliot Flechter, wearing an orange wool cap, and Olivia Thirlby in a scene from "Y: The Last Man."
Elliot Fletcher (left) and Olivia Thirlby in a scene from “Y: The Last Man.”

Despite the ways in which “Y” the comic doesn’t really hold up, what made it stand out was its wit. Vaughan and Guerra have writing credits on the new series, but the irreverence of the original seems to have been scrubbed in favor of a more somber approach. Maybe they didn’t want to tread where “The Last Man on Earth” had gone.

But do we really need more misery porn in our dystopia? Don’t we get enough of that in real life? The most arresting entries in the humanity-wipeout genre, in recent years, have been the ones that had the guts to get weird, like HBO’s “The Leftovers” and “Watchmen.” 

Photo showing Diane Lane wearing a business suit as Yorick's mother,
Diane Lane plays Senator Jennifer Brown, Yorick’s mother, who becomes the de facto President of the US.

Perhaps “Y” has simply had too many chefs. It’s been in development since roughly 2007. In bringing such a long-anticipated project to fruition, showrunner Eliza Clarke hasn’t made any huge missteps, but she’s squandered the source material’s unique blend of ingredients: a killer plague and killer timing. 


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