Y: The Last Man, based on a DC Comics series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, sets up an intriguing idea: What happens when suddenly the only people left on Earth are biological women? Both the comic and the series, where showrunner Eliza Clark (Extant) has assembled a production with a female writing staff and women in top positions on the crew, aim to look at the implications of a world without biological males, and the struggles that the women that are still alive will have re-establishing that society.
Opening Shot: A shot of a farm, and dozens of dead animals. More shots from around the world, with the bodies of men strewn al over. In New York, cars, trucks and taxis remain wherever they stopped.
The Gist: As we see the devastation, bodies all over the street, a man in a gas mask marks something with a can of spray paint. A monkey climbs into a cab, where the driver is dead, and grabs a pen. The man takes off his mask and we find out that the monkey is his; he exchanges a treat for the pen. A graphic says “Three Weeks Later.”
We flash back to “The Day Before.” That man, Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), is trying to teach a kid how to escape from a straight jacket while hanging upside down. It doesn’t quite work, and the kid says that he’s ending the lessons because his parents are sending him to magic camp. Yorick meets his sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby) outside of an AA meeting that she’s been court-ordered to go to after a DUI; she’s there with her friend Sam Jordan (Elliot Fletcher), but gladly steps out.
He wants to borrow some money so he can make a nice dinner for his girlfriend Beth DeVille (Juliana Canfield); he wants to propose. Hero tells her brother that he needs to get his act together, that he can’t make a living doing magic. Later, when he does propose and says he wants to go to Australia with her when she moves there for school, Beth backs off, saying that he’s going to restrict her from “meeting people.”
Hero’s life isn’t exactly simple; she’s a paramedic who is having an affair with her partner Mike (Daniel di Tomasso). He says he told his wife about them, but after they sleep together in the back of their ambulance, she finds out that’s not the case. In the ensuing fight, she seemingly knocks Mike down and he starts bleeding to death.
In Oklahoma, a woman puts together a bomb trigger for her boyfriend, who’s meeting some white supremacists to sell them on her work. She goes for a jog and triggers the bomb with her phone. It turns out that she works for a para-governmental agency as Agent 355 (Ashley Romans), and her next undercover job is as a Secret Service agent, protecting President Cunningham (Paul Gross).
The President is hosting a birthday party for his wife, but has to contend with former ally, Senator Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) — Yorkick and Hero’s mother — who is ready to run against him in the next election. His assistant, Nora Brady (Marin Ireland) is overworked and pulled between duty and family, and his daughter Kimberly (Amber Tamblyn) is a Meghan McCain-style media star. For her part, Jennifer has to contend with her husband asking for a divorce.
The next day, all of these women will experience, in one way or another, the sudden mass death of every mammal with a Y chromosome, as they all fall suddenly ill and gush blood. It starts the night before with rats and dogs, and soon spreads to humans. No one is spared… except for Yorick and his pet monkey, who wake up the next day not realizing what happened.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Any apocalyptic show, especially ones based on comic book series, gets compared to The Walking Dead. And this one compresses that show’s multi-series universe into one complex series. This also has a bit of a feel of another mass casualty series, The Leftovers.
Our Take: In addition to the intriguing story of a society that’s driven by women, Y: The Last Man is also a story of how that society adapts after a mass casualty event, and the power and resiliency of the women that are left to figure how to reconfigure society. There are still places where men dominate, as we see when Sen. Brown sits in a meeting with the President and higher-ups in the military; when the mass event hits, 90% of the people in the room die. At a certain point, the senator will be elevated to president (you don’t get Diane Lane to play a mere senator, do you?), and how she shepherds the U.S. through this change will be interesting to watch.
Other issues will be examined, like how someone like Sam, a trans man, navigates the world. He survived because, as a trans man, he doesn’t have a Y chromosome. His story will definitely explore the whole idea of gender, and how people separate it from its biological origins. There will be gender-fluid people who die and those who don’t, and trans women that die because they have a Y chromosome. We’re hoping that Sam gets more play here — we don’t see a lot of him in the first episode — because that’s a deep story reservoir to mine.
Of course, the mystery behind Yorick’s survival will be the main thrust of the first season. Giving us the scene three weeks after the event and seeing that he’s still alive really didn’t help the dramatic propulsion of the first episode; we know what’s coming and we know that Yorick will come out the other end alive. That made the setups of all the stories drag a bit. But as the season goes along, we’re looking forward to seeing the frantic search for answers, and how Yorick and his magical DNA can restart society.
Sex and Skin: Nothing overt in the first episode.
Parting Shot: Yorick wakes up on his couch, with his monkey flinging Cheetos at him. He calls for Beth, finds out phones are dead, then looks out his window to see the devastation.
Sleeper Star: We’re Marin Ireland fans going back to Sneaky Pete, and we’re wondering how her character Nora will cope with the deaths of her husband and son while keeping her daughter protected. But we’ll also see how she grows now that she’s not under the thumb of patriarchal dickwads like her old boss. We also like Jess Salgueiro as Christine Flores, who works on Sen. Brown’s staff and barely seems to have her act together.
Most Pilot-y Line: Some boring dude tells the Senator during the birthday party, “We’re thinking of built-ins for the den. Laure knows a guy on the Cape that makes them out of old World War II vessels.” Wow, that would bore the hell out of anyone, much less a senator who still thinks she’s a DC outsider.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Y: The Last Man suffers from a slow-moving first episode, but the story it sets up is intriguing and full of story possibilities.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.