"Y: THE LAST MAN" ON HULU
"The Walking Dead" kicked off a whole Peak TV trend of shows set during global apocalyptic events, and they all come with a similar set of complications. By their very nature, TV shows have to follow the stories of individual characters, whom we get to know and care about over the course of multiple episodes. That's what keeps drawing us into long-form narratives over the course of not just several weeks, but months or even years.
But shows like "Walking Dead" and now "Y: The Last Man" -- an adaptation of a comic book by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra -- have the additional challenge of establishing an entire world in crisis. A lot of the appeal of these kinds of stories lies not in just showing us how big societal changes have impacted a few individuals, but all of the various ripple effects that the writers have creatively teased out from the central premise.
This story in particular centers around a tantalizing apocalyptic gimmick: a mysterious global cataclysm suddenly caused every mammal with a Y chromosome to die. It's the sort of set-up that immediately presents a number of compelling avenues to explore: In what ways would the world be different if there were suddenly no men? How would things remain the same?
So "Y: The Last Man" becomes a balancing act. We have to both get a sense of how the disappearance of all the males (with a few minor exceptions we'll get to) impacts the world at large, but also stay invested in a few key individuals and their personal journeys. To achieve this, the show has made some savvy alterations to the original narrative, but I'm still not quite sure it's enough. So far, the show is more ambitious and interesting than essential, and through the first 3 episodes, it struggled at times to make me care about its central line-up of personalities.
So here's the big catch: it turns out, two male mammals HAVE somehow survived whatever killed all the other dudes. They are shiftless and irresponsible wannabe musician Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) and his pet monkey, Ampersand. And there's another twist, too: Yorick is the son of a powerful senator (Diane Lane) who assumes the office of president after all of the men ahead of her in the line of succession bleed out.
The comic book spends an awful lot of time with Yorick wandering around the female-dominated wasteland that was formerly the United States before he meets back up with his mom. The show, on the other hand, economically brings them together right away, so as to create a more forceful and driving Season 1 narrative. This was a smart idea, and gives the series an opportunity to step away from the chaos of a literally crumbling civilization so we can get our bearings and get to know the key players. (Teaming Yorick with the extremely capable Agent 355, played by a steely and composed Ashley Romans, was another smart move, as it makes it at least semi-believable that he'd survive these adventures.)
But this also means the first three episodes are largely spent in a few central locations, largely neglecting the world outside of the central corridors of power. In its early stages, "Y: The Last Man" resembles "House of Cards" more than "The Walking Dead," which feels somewhat less than ideal. That's not to say the focus needs to be on more action beats. But the appeal of the story is posing the question "How would a post-civilization United States populated entirely by women function? What sort of collectives and communities would form? Would the fact that natural procreation is no longer possible cause most people to give up on rebuilding? What are other unexpected ways survivors might react?" So far, these questions have all taken a backseat.
In spite of this, truthfully, I think the biggest challenge for something like "Y" is not even narrative, but thematic. After 11 seasons of "Walking Dead," not to mention all the other post-apocalyptic survival-horror shows and films, we've had a lot of TV time to contemplate the resilience of the human spirit, and how people somehow manage to keep going and keep thriving despite increasingly brutal, impossible conditions. I'm not sure I can bring myself to watch another show that revolves around a group of exhausted, injured survivors making supply runs and huddling together in a shed, giving pep talks, no matter how tantalizing the larger premise. The "Y: The Last Man" comics were notable for their imagination and creativity, really exploring this thoughtful world that sprung up from this unimaginable tragedy. That, to me, feels like more of a selling point than what we're getting so far. But, hey, it's early yet.
Title: "Y: The Last Man"
Where to Watch: Hulu
Running time: 45-60 minutes each
Episodes: 3 so far (1 season)
Genre: Post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama