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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

REVIEW: The long awaited Y:The Last Man tries to cram too much in its first episodes.

The turbulence of Y: The Last Man’s production has been long and well-known. October 2015 saw the Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra adaption in the works for FX, with Vaughan, then involved with a producer. Michael Green was on board to write a script a year later, and in 2017 the script was handed in. John Landgraf went as far as in 2018 to say that FX felt pretty optimistic that it was going ahead – joining the wave of comic book adaptions that were hitting our screens ranging from Arrow to Loki – 2018 even saw it earn a pilot order after Green had departed American Gods.

However, things took a turn for the worse in 2019. Both Green and Aida Mashaka Croal, co-showrunners, exited the series through creative differences. Eventually, Eliza Clark joined the series as its showrunner – and on top of that, the show even underwent a title change, switching from Y to Y: The Last Man. And then it changed network – making the leap from FX to FX on Hulu (and yes, there’s a difference). After all that – fans might be forgiven for thinking that Y: The Last Man would ever show up – so it’s almost a miracle that the three episodes, now available to stream on Disney+ in the UK are actually here – and on top of that, they’re actually pretty good, although not without a few flaws – it’s not too far removed from the early growing pains that most new series have, displaying a sense of maturity that is often rare this early into a new series’ run.

Instantly reminiscent of HBO’s masterpiece The Leftovers (if not quite on the same level), Y: The Last Man pulls you into a world where all the men, apart from one – Ben Schnetzer’s Yorick Brown, are dead – and its survivors are left trying to put the pieces back together in the wake of an apocalyptic event. After a morbid introduction, the show flashes back to the night before the event to introduce the characters that will be with us for the course of this seven-episode series, Y: The Last Man may not immediately plunge us into the event itself but takes its time putting its characters in place. Yorick himself is a stage magician trying to make it big, a wannabe escape artist on the verge of hitting the big-time before he escapes death (ironically, it’s the escape artist that makes it) – and much of the episode spends its time split between these characters without the showcase on the inciting event that makes the show as unique as it is – taking this long to get to the premise makes the pilot almost feel like a prologue (much in the way that Preacher and Runaways’ first seasons were both extended prologues before the main comic run kicked in in their respective second seasons), and it’s easy to see why Hulu have gone the route of making the three episodes available at once to viewers – those who stick with it beyond the first will be plunged into a show with one of the more out-there premises on television.  This is an apocalypse unlike any on television before – tactfully handled given current real-world events thanks to the experienced, guiding hand of Eliza Clark.

There are echoes of plenty of post-apocalyptic shows here as the show remains largely faithful to the comic, in a move that will instantly appease fans. It can feel a bit clunky at times in its set-up – taking a while to get the characters to where they need to be. But there’s almost an element of Avengers: Infinity War and the resulting snap – ten times gorier – combined with the characters’ immediate return in WandaVision in all its intense horrifying-ness that it has on the real world, and it drops you into a world where planes fall out of the sky, the power grid is on the verge of collapse, and congresswoman Jennifer Brown has just found herself in charge of the United States. Welcome to the new normal.

The plot itself is a tad convoluted in its set-up purely due to the large ensemble cast that the show spends its time with, there feels like maybe one too many stories at play here. At the heart of them all is Diane Lane, effectively anchoring the show – who plays Yorick’s mother – with a renewed conviction that could see her become one of the most memorable genre TV Presidents, and is instantly the best character here with the most interesting storyline. She takes her job with reluctant authority, simply by being the highest-ranked government official left alive. It’s appropriately chaotic with flashes of realization that all the men are no more. On top of finding her children – Yorick and Hero (Olivia Thirley), there’s a lot that Jennifer is involved in and all of it is good from a storytelling perspective, and she’s also the most well-defined character at this point in proceedings too. She has the collectiveness about her and to her, the country has to take priority over even her own flesh and blood.

Amber Tamblyn is excellent and one of the other bright sparks about this series, playing conservative author Kimberly Campbell – as dislikeable as she is brilliant giving the presence of an early antagonist from the get-go. The emotional trauma that she’s experienced from the loss of her father (the previous President), and her sons gives the character a type of Nora Durst feel, with plenty of grief to go with it. It’s no wonder that it feels then, given these vastly different storylines – that there are multiple shows happening at once in Y: The Last Man often feels tonally disjointed and chaotic with individual strands struggling to merge into one cohesive narrative. 

 Ashley Romans’ Agent 355 comes with an introductory arc that is ripped straight out of something like Mission Impossible or Alias and Yorick is still there, almost lost in the shuffle early on – searching for his missing girlfriend, wandering around with his monkey companion – Ampersand.  There's so much going on and the show never seems to relax.

It's a show that struggles to find its balance. This is solely down to the fact that it has so many stories butting up against each other. It's not until the pace slows slightly in the third episode that the stories being to converge. Here there are hints that this show, if not yet, will get there eventually.

 There’s a conspiracy thread undercutting these first episodes that cuts a bit too close to home. There's a section of people who believe that the whole thing is a cover-up and the show factors that into the main storyline with a touch of unfortunate similarities to real-world events. One thing that’s very clear to pretty much everyone – and President Brown knows this, that it’s going to get much, much worse for everyone before – or if – it ever gets better.

 These three first episodes, mainly function as a way of explaining who the key characters are, putting the pieces together and dealing with the immediate ramifications of what a world that has suddenly lost those carrying the Y-chromosome might look like. And given the production issues with multiple showrunners, and multiple networks, attached before getting to this level, it’s great to see that it’s as fully formed as this, hitting the ground running with a fearlessly confident start that will almost certainly have me coming back for the rest of the series.

Contributed by Milo

                   Y: The Last Man is streaming now on Disney+ in the UK.

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