As long-gestating adaptations go, you don’t get much more drawn out than the development process for Y: The Last Man. Brian K Vaughn’s acclaimed comic book series was first released almost 20 years ago, and a live-action version has been attempted more than once with various actors and creative teams coming and going.
Now, at last, Y: The Last Man is here. Well, more or less – it started airing on FX in the US a few days ago, and UK fans can watch on Disney Plus from the 22nd. But what’s even more striking than that slightly unusual streaming release delay (what is this, 2017?) is that Y: The Last Man is not quite the show you might be expecting.
“But wait a minute,” I metaphorically hear you cry, “How do you even know what I’m expecting?” And that’s fair enough – though I did only say might. Perhaps a better way to put it is that the series is brought to life differently than I expected, forgoing the quippy global sci-fi thriller model in favour of something bleaker, more apocalyptic and more political.
I thought it was terrific – but again, it was different.
For those at the back who’ve not heard of the show before, this is probably the natural moment to give a little background to what the series (and the original comic) is about. Put simply, it imagines a world where a mystery phenomenon kills every mammal on Earth with a Y chromosome – except for a slacker escapologist named Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) and his pet monkey, Ampersand.
As the world falls into chaos (especially thanks to industries previously dominated by cisgender men, including nuclear power), Yorick is taken on a journey by the enigmatic Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) to find a scientist who might be able to work out why he survived – and whether that survival could be key to saving the human race.
Based on that preçis, it might be surprising that I was surprised it was a bleak story. But the original comic has a very particular focus, following Yorick and Agent 355 on their journey for the most part and finding a lot of humour (especially from Yorick himself) that offsets the trouble they’re in.
The TV show, meanwhile, takes things in a slightly different direction. The live-action Y: The Last Man is explicitly an ensemble piece that follows a wealth of different characters including the new President (Diane Lane, also Yorick’s mother), a Conservative commentator whose identity as a wife and mother are stripped away, an offbeat scientist, an increasingly desperate ex-Presidential aide, Yorick’s sister Hero and her best friend Sam, a trans man struggling with his identity in this new world and more.
The show also delves deeper into the real-world impact of all the cisgender men dying at once, with shades of Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead and Designated Survivor as the battered US Government tries to remain functional and the streets turn violent.
In making Yorick part of a larger whole, some light-touch and upbeat moments in Brian K Vaughn’s graphic novel were sanded off, but oddly I didn’t mind too much. The richer world created by the TV version is fascinating and engaging enough to make you see past the bleakness, even if it’s less of a rollicking adventure (at least, in the first three episodes) than the comic.
Overall, as I’ve said, Y: The Last Man wasn’t what I expected. But sometimes, that’s a good thing.