Add “Y: The Last Man” to the long list of comics-turned-series since “The Walking Dead” became a smash hit that have yearned to emulate its post-apocalyptic appeal. Like most of the others, this beyond-grim drama falls short, at least initially, despite a strong cast headed by Diane Lane as the US’ new leader.
Unlike “Walking Dead,” which essentially skipped over the outset of the zombie outbreak, “Y” rather ghoulishly wades into it, counting down to that moment when the entire male population (everything with a Y chromosome) abruptly and inexplicably dies, leaving behind a world consisting of women, with notable exceptions.
There’s a touch of “The Leftovers” in the arbitrary nature of events, followed by the crumbling of the social order and frantic attempts to maintain it. Much of that falls to survivors lead by congresswoman Jennifer Brown (Lane), who stands tall amid the global chaos and isn’t spared from partisan politics even during these extraordinary circumstances.
Brown’s resources include a nameless government agent (Ashley Romans) who is both deadly and ruthless, but even when the government begins to coalesce, she’s hardly out of the woods in terms of cascading crises.
In a sense, you almost have to get past the first few episodes for “Y” to settle into its dramatic arc, following multiple plots that include the lone cisgender male survivor, Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), who must hide his identity. Yorick also has a pet monkey that’s male, and both have “future lab rat” written all over them.
Such science-fiction series generally begin somewhere after everything has gone to hell, so at first the show appears to deserve credit for trying something different by building up to the equivalent of the nuclear blast or lethal plague that suddenly changes everything.
The wholesale deaths, however, and associated grief of those left behind cast a pall over the series, which with a few exceptions struggles to develop the kind of characters that made “Walking Dead” pop originally.
Don’t expect any immediate answers, either, about the “why” of the “last man,” as the concept — based on Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s DC comic — lurches forward in a way that feels relentlessly bleak and depressing. While no one would expect the dystopian concept to yield feel-good TV, watching society break down this way, at this moment, has a glutton-for-punishment quality without outlandish wrinkles like zombie gore to introduce a sense of escapism.
In addition to the overwhelmingly female cast, all the directors and most of the key crew members are women, working under showrunner Eliza Clark, a playwright whose TV credits include TNT’s “Animal Kingdom.”
Ultimately, though, the series feels handcuffed by the device that sets the narrative in motion. Despite his potential importance to understanding what happened and humanity’s future, when discovered by someone Yorick says, “I’m just a guy. I’m not special.”
While not for lack of trying, nor is “Y: The Last Man.”
“Y: The Last Man” premieres Sept. 13 on FX on Hulu.
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