Y: The Last Man Series Premiere Review: Brave New WorldMary Littlejohn at . Updated at .
It's slightly surreal to watch a show about a global catastrophe during, well, a global catastrophe.
But Y: The Last Man Season 1 Episode 1 begins with such promise that it's impossible not to be hooked.
It's the show you didn't know you needed - a post-apocalyptic drama populated almost exclusively with strong, competent, complex women.
Y: The Last Man is based on a series of comic books by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Sixty issues were published, concluding in 2008.
(Full disclosure -- I have not read the comics. I am unspoiled and intend to judge the show based on its merits, not how true it stays to the source material).
Development on the television series began in 2015, and it finally began filming in late 2020. It seems prescient that it was filmed during the pandemic, for this is truly a show of its time.
Notably, each episode of Y: The Last Man Season 1 was written and directed by women, with showrunner Eliza Clark at the helm.
Episode 1 introduces us to some of the women we will follow throughout the season, along with the men and boys in their lives. The build-up is tense, but it's important to see who these women were in the context of their old lives to appreciate how they will evolve and adapt.
In an inspired casting choice, Canadian icon Paul Gross (Due South, Slings, and Arrows) plays the misogynist Republican POTUS, Ted Campbell, oozing with patronizing slickness before he succumbs to his violent end.
President Campbell: I like you, Jennifer. I want us to be friends again.
Jennifer: We will be, in about two and a half years.
This show can be difficult to watch at times, not just for the sheer scale of the Event, but for the moments of humanity.
In the penultimate scene of Episode 1, a plane crashes (offscreen) into central New York while a random mother screams for help, clutches her dead son (the actor is unlisted, but she deserves a shoutout for making me cry both times I watched this episode).
There is no holding back in terms of what it portrays -- complete and utter devastation.
The actors here are all spot-on and a huge part of what makes this show work. Y: The Last Man is such a high concept that could easily descend into melodrama, but all the characters -- regardless of gender, politics, mental state, social status -- are portrayed with dignity and care.
Diane Lane is the indomitable Congresswoman turned President, Jennifer Brown. Lane exudes power and fortitude with all the nuances of vulnerability, passion, intelligence, and sensibility.
I think it's going to get worse -- maybe a lot -- before it gets better.President Brown
Lane's Democratic leader is a fitting foil is the Conservative President's daughter, Kimberly Campbell Cunningham, played by Amber Tamblyn.
Kimberly is a "boy mom" who loses her husband and children in the catastrophe. Tamblyn is a revelation in this role. Kimberly could easily have been played as a one-note villain, but Tamblyn gives her a calculated cleverness concealed with politeness and friendly back rubs.
We all know women like this -- the perfectly well-put-together mom who also has her own lifestyle brand and believes her boys can do no wrong.
She makes her internalized misogyny palatable, even appealing, to other women who want what she has.
We are raising our boys to fight their instincts, to be ashamed of them. We're teaching our boys to be afraid to become men.Kimberley
One of the most true-to-life scenes in Episode 1 shows Kimberly getting her Spanx on while simultaneously trying to reel in her boys as they run around. Her oblivious husband sits while his wife does the parenting.
This is the life of a highly successful, multi-tasking working mom and it's gratifying to see "behind the scenes."
Ben Schnetzer is Yorick, the goofy, guileless son of Jennifer Brown, striving to be a professional escape artist. He can't pay his rent, but he loves his girlfriend and his pet monkey, Ampersand.
Schnetzer's portrayal is vulnerable and sympathetic. Our "last man" is not a heroic sort -- he's immature, a little entitled, and just wants a normal life.
Suyin: Why aren't you dead?
Yorick: That is a great question and I wish I knew.
Yes, the Chosen One here is a white American male (some tropes never die), but he's refreshingly inconsequential -- at least, until the Event occurs, rendering him the sole human survivor with a Y chromosome.
Yorick's sister is Hero, who is anything but (both are named after characters from Shakespeare's plays -- Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, respectively).
Yorick: My dad taught Shakespeare.
Agent 355: They named you after a dead clown.
Hero works as an EMT, attends AA meetings, and has an affair with her married co-worker, who she accidentally kills during a violent argument. Olivia Thirlby accurately captures Hero's internal struggle between rage and compassion.
Y: The Last Man Season 1 Episode 2 shows us the immediate fallout of the Event, a terrifying world on the brink of collapse, and the work to maintain the infrastructure as male-dominated sectors and supply chains crumble.
Episode 2 is a brilliant showcase for Ashley Romans as Agent 355, the agent tasked with a mysterious mission she knows next to nothing about.
Agent 355 is an adept chameleon and a certified badass. She is intelligent, brutally honest, and the most emotionally equipped to deal with the ascending chaos.
Romans is fiercely charismatic with a commanding screen presence. Like her character, she gets it done.
Episode 2 also brings the plight of Sam to the forefront. As a trans man, he must now contend that he can no longer pass, and the validity of his existence will be constantly questioned.
Elliot Fletcher brings a good mix of sensitivity and desperation to the role of Sam. Sam and Hero's friendship is one of the most grounded and honest relationships on the show.
In terms of inclusivity, I feel that Y: The Last Man has raised the bar. (I'm also fully aware that I'm speaking as a white ciswoman).
I just found it so refreshing to have the President state offhandedly in no uncertain terms that trans men are men, as a matter of course.
Yorick: How many other men have you found?
President Brown: We've found plenty of men. None with a Y chromosome.
Paris Jefferson deserves a special mention for her elegant and devastating portrayal of First Lady Marla Campbell. Her scene with President Brown at the end of Episode 2 was poetic and insightful as they make some heartbreaking observations about motherhood.
Would she be pretty? Would she be thin? Would the world be kind to her -- or would it make her feel small?Marla Campbell
Y: The Last Man Season 1 Episode 3 continues with the theme of motherhood. President Brown and Yorick have been reunited. Their dynamic is beautiful and loving, and their scenes together are heartbreaking. She's in awe to have her son back, but he's terrified that he's not cut out for his fate
Their reunion is all too brief. President Brown has a country to run, and Yorick may be the key to solving the mystery of the Event, and his presence in DC is a danger to her.
Episode 3 gives us plenty of time with Nora as she navigates the new world with only her daughter, Mackenzie.
Without many words, Marin Ireland portrays Nora's grief, exhaustion, and numbness with profound clarity. She is a mother who is close to dead inside but has to go on for the sake of her daughter.
Overall, Y: The Last Man highlights the exhaustive state of being a mother.
These are mothers saddled with innumerable, constant, impossible choices regarding their children's well-being, often sacrificing their own mental wellness to protect their kids. There will undoubtedly be many viewers who relate to Nora's plight.
From another angle, this show also gives us a glimpse at what might be possible if women were actually running the world. Yes, it's a post-apocalyptic world, but it's so satisfying to see a diverse group of mature women making decisions together to maintain order and rebuild.
This aspect isn't exactly wish-fulfillment, but I'm just saying that it sure would be nice if such a thing could be achieved in the real world without having all the men die off.
The threat of an internal war looms by the end of Episode 3.
Regina Oliver, a fringe Republican, is alive in Israel. Kimberly uses aggressive tactics at first, then follows up with veiled threats. Kimberley may not know about Yorick, but she knows that there are secrets, and she's going to use them to her advantage.
The only frustrating aspect of the show is how America-centric it is.
With only one short scene in Tel Aviv and a few mentions of Russia, we have no idea how the rest of the world is reacting to the crisis. However, we are only three episodes in, so hopefully, the scope expands outward as the series progresses.
Post-apocalyptic drama is a tricky genre to get right, especially these days when the world feels so dystopic as it is.
One thing that set Y: The Last Man apart, for me, was that this is a post-apocalyptic world without the constant, looming threat of sexual violence. Frankly, this is huge.
There are plenty of other things for our characters to suffer through -- starvation, illness, revolution, war -- but it's still a weird sort of relief.
I know women perpetrate sexual violence against other women, but I hope that it is not used as a plot device or character builder as it so often is in other similar shows. The writers and directors have gained my trust enough that I expect them to be more creative with their choices.
The President has never been a woman on the internet.Jennifer Brown [read by Nora Brady]
Y: The Last Man is resonant as Hell in 2021, as the world continues to pull itself out of our collective COVID trauma.
We need this show right now, portraying the many types of resilience women can show in times of crisis and grief. The world is bleak and merciless and punishing, but that's just another day for many women.
This is high-concept speculative fiction, but it's still thrilling, harrowing, and deeply moving. I am here for it. I hope it lives up to the promise of these first three episodes.
Did you love it? Did you hate it? Were you hoping for more?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Mary Littlejohn Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She loves television, cinema, and theatre (especially musicals!), particularly when it champions inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.