NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Y: The Last Man” are present in this review
Television is officially oversaturated with post-apocalyptic sci-fi dramas. While we have some significant standouts like AMC’s The Walking Dead, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, TNT’s Snowpiercer and, more recently, Netflix’s Sweet Tooth still hanging on in the public consciousness, many post-apocalyptic dramas have since started to weaken and fall apart, because the genre is plain and simply played out at this point. That post-apocalyptic audience exhaustion became a lot worse once the COVID-19 pandemic descended hard upon the world in early 2020 as well, and it’s not difficult to see why. COVID-19 is a very real crisis that slapped a lot of people with the harsh realities that we must actually contend with when a catastrophe blindsides the world order, and even though most of the world is now slowly starting to recover from the long pandemic, that doesn’t change the fact that much of its mentally exhausted population is justifiably not in the mood for regular showcases of human misery on television, even if it’s fictional.
This genre burnout is noticeably working against FX’s long-in-development series adaptation of Y: The Last Man, the latest post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama show that’s inspired by a beloved novel or comic book series. In this case, it’s the latter, with Y: The Last Man being adapted from the DC Comics series of the same name by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, published under DC’s now-shuttered Vertigo imprint. This series has had a very painful stint in development hell to boot! Originally being planned as a movie in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, before several false starts led to it being re-tooled as a TV series pitch in 2015, Y: The Last Man was originally planning to air on FX last year, before COVID-19 clearly threw a wrench in those plans. The series nonetheless airs on FX here in Canada, but in its native U.S., Y: The Last Man ultimately ended up being moved to Hulu, via the streamer’s FX on Hulu section, with the show being planned to debut in other international markets via the Star section of Disney+ in the weeks ahead.
So, Y: The Last Man is now a streaming series (except here in Canada, I guess), and this is no doubt why it’s debuting its first three episodes simultaneously. This has become a popular tactic sometimes employed by competing streamers like Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+, as a way of pulling viewers into a high concept plotline for their blockbuster original shows, one that viewers will hopefully then want to regularly revisit after being hooked for the subsequent weekly episodes. This strategy by Hulu is perhaps also why Y: The Last Man’s first episode, “The Day Before”, is a dull, drawn-out exercise in tedious time-wasting. It seems like this episode was designed with the intention that it would complement at least one other episode on the same date, or so I hope, because otherwise, I have no idea why this episode is designed in the format that it is.
This is because, for whatever reason, Y: The Last Man sees fit to spend almost its entire first episode chronicling what happens immediately before its all-important apocalyptic event! On paper, I do get this approach. It’s meant to establish the lead characters and introduce us to personalities that are hopefully relatable in some way, so we can invest in them early, before the inevitable apocalypse begins putting them to the test as hardened survivors of the new world. In concept however, this doesn’t work very well. It just spotlights a bunch of character conflicts that don’t ultimately matter, because many of the characters involved with them are quickly killed off. What’s especially baffling here is the emphasis on heteronormative romances. This would basically be the equivalent of The Walking Dead’s first episode chronicling Rick Grimes’ trip to the stock market! There’s a reason that shows like The Walking Dead didn’t begin before their apocalypses happened!
Why would heteronormative romances be such a problem in this case? Well, that’s due to Y: The Last Man’s admittedly very cool hook; A mysterious mass death event that kills every living creature on Earth with a Y chromosome. This means that virtually all natural-born, cisgender men, trans women, or even female creatures, including humans, that are unlucky enough to be born with a Y chromosome for whatever reason, instantly die on one horrible, horrible day that immediately sends all of humanity into chaos. Yes, this is obviously very unrealistic, but it’s still a very cool idea, even if it’s probably easier to digest in a comic book than in a live-action TV series. Better still is that this hook is wonderfully rounded off by two males that survive for unknown reasons, those being human male protagonist, Yorick Brown, played by Ben Schnetzer, and Yorick’s pet monkey, Ampersand.
I assume that the series is planning to go somewhere big with this mystery surrounding why Yorick and Ampersand survived an event that killed every male and Y chromosome-possessing female on Earth. For now though, Yorick spends this entire episode as a loser escape artist whose girlfriend won’t marry him. Worse still is that Yorick’s mother, Congresswoman Jennifer Brown, played by Diane Lane, and Yorick’s sister, Hero Brown, played by Olivia Thirlby, are stuck in similarly uninteresting conflicts that involve heteronormative romances throughout this first episode, which are obviously made moot by the end. Even Hero seemingly and inexplicably killing her cheating lover by mistake doesn’t really matter in the end, because every man on Earth died that day anyway. It’s not like she’s going to realistically face consequences for that, even if it may affect her psychologically to some degree.
Now, on the bright side, Y: The Last Man is performed pretty well, right from the jump. Schnetzer is an awkward, big-dreaming slacker that does very well as an everyman whose value as seemingly the last living human man is set to skyrocket in the days ahead. Likewise, Lane’s inclusion gives Y: The Last Man a surprising degree of star power, and sure enough, her smart, determined Congresswoman character battling an impending divorce stands as a highlight personality. The same is true of Marin Ireland, another highlight performer in the role of the U.S. President’s press advisor, who is similarly intelligent, and similarly battling a dishonest public image, albeit with her family still well intact. Also in the mix on that similar note is Amber Tamblyn’s Kimberly Campbell Cunningham, daughter to the U.S. President, who peddles a book about cancel culture while struggling to wrangle her energetic sons and disengaged husband. Tamblyn is another lead actor that manages to be engaging, though she unfortunately gets forced to work with another non-conflict that’s quickly erased by the show’s inciting incident.
Perhaps some of this character work will come back into play later down the line. It wouldn’t be the first time that an anticipated series overcame a rocky start to become something much more entertaining and rewarding in later episodes, and potential later seasons. That hope is there, but it still doesn’t change the fact that Y: The Last Man stumbles out of the gate, with a first episode that depicts nothing of interest. Its limp dialogue is boring, and the fact that almost everything that happens in this episode is quickly erased by the apocalyptic event doesn’t help matters. At least you won’t have to wait, since the second and third episodes hopefully pick up the story more from here, but Y: The Last Man doesn’t exactly grab you at the outset. That’s very bad for yet another comic book-inspired post-apocalyptic drama that’s trying to stand out in an oversaturated genre that almost no one is in the mood for at this point.
“The Day Before” still gets some key things right at least. The performances most notably help to compensate for the currently uninteresting writing and characterization in this first episode, plus the production values and atmosphere behind Y: The Last Man are also pretty solid. I’ll even give credit that the actual mass death event that kicks off the show’s plot is legitimately horrifying, gradually depicting dead, bloodied male animals that the other characters react to with mere confusion and squeamishness, before every Y chromosome-possessing human and animal on Earth suddenly drops dead in a seizing mass of blood. Even with those advantages however, Y: The Last Man wastes its first episode by failing to make use of its hook, and thus failing to stand out in a genre that’s overcrowded and ill-timed. Maybe the next two episodes are better, but regardless, the head-scratching decision to spend so much time on pre-apocalypse details that viewers likely won’t care about is probably going to cost Y: The Last Man a lot of potential viewership that it really can’t afford to lose.
- Plenty of strong lead performances
- Solid atmosphere and production values
- Suitably horrifying apocalyptic event
- The entire runtime is wasted on meaningless romances and character conflicts
- Dull writing and uninteresting dialogue
- Feels too derivative of other post-apocalyptic TV dramas