Ben Schnetzer stars as Yorick Brown, an amateur escape artist and now the last known cisgender man in the world CREDIT: FX Networks
What would the world be like if all the men were wiped out at a stroke? I know – most likely a lot better. Of course, there’s taking the bins out and putting up the occasional wonky picture, and, err... But imagine! No leaving the toilet seat up. No ludicrous pettifogging over how best to stack the dishwasher. Probably a lot less killing. I am a man (technically) and even I can barely think of a downside.
Y: The Last Man, however, a new giga-busting drama on Disney+ that posits the same question, can think of nothing but downsides. When a mysterious disease suddenly attacks everything with a Y chromosome, the world is left in a proper pickle. The President of the United States has a brief nosebleed and then – spleurgh – he’s toast. The chiefs of staff deliquesce around him like strawberry movies in a microwave.
The world goes full Hieronymus Bosch in mere minutes, as planes fall out of the sky and panicking rats stream from choleric gutters. This is no The Leftovers, where a third of the population just vanished and it was still pretty hellish. Here, the godforsaken men spume blood from every orifice like a leaky bucket.
All the godforsaken men bar one. You’ll have gleaned from the title that one man, Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer,) somehow survives. And so does his capuchin monkey, Ampersand. It so happens that Yorick’s mum Jennifer (Diane Lane) was a senior congresswoman who, owing to the President’s literal meltdown and a couple of other deaths on the path of ascension, finds herself, President.
Meanwhile, her daughter, who has just killed her lover in an ambulance for no apparent reason, is on the lam. It is that kind of series – you need to not so much suspend your disbelief as lock it away in a safety deposit box and come back in a year’s time.
Helping along the way is episode one of Y: The Last Man to paper over the implausibility of the plot; it simply batters you round the head with chaos so all-encompassing that the ad breaks feel like therapy. The apocalypse, when it comes, is horrific.
There is a lot of hideous footage shown on TV these days – most of the news, George Galloway in a catsuit, some of the stuff on Homes Under the Hammer – and I don’t consider myself lily-livered, but my god, the makers of Y: The Last Man really went for it here. It was the young boys dying, then the animals, then the men, in that order, that got me. If you thought Disney+ was where you went for family-friendly fodder and some idle Mouseketeer, well, sorry, but Mickey’s just carked it.
Diane Lane is Jennifer Brown, Yorick's mother, and de facto President of the United States CREDIT: FX Networks
After the deluge there follows a much more believable rebuilding, as the women sensibly, methodically, female-ly, get stuff done. There are echoes, that are deliberate I assume, of the global government’s response to the Covid pandemic, with the inference being that it would have been a lot better if women had been running the show, like in New Zealand. Partisan factions try to use the cataclysm for political ends, like everywhere.
Diane Lane as the de facto President is as good as ever, noble and kind but never West Wing preachy in her rectitude. Initially, I thought that Yorick, the sole surviving bloke, was the most irritating new character on TV. He’s sullen, self-centered, entitled, an amateur escape artist; he’s the President’s son, named after a dead clown and he wanders around with a monkey. But a few episodes in it becomes apparent that writer Eliza Clark, who adapted the story from a series of graphic novels, is trying to make Yorick not just an anti-hero but an un-hero.
Yorick has been thrust into a position of unique prominence; he’s uniquely incapable of dealing with it and he knows it. The buddy road-trip that’s just begun with the secret agent known only as 355 (Ashley Romans), as they try to get Yorick to the one female geneticist who might be able to work out why his Y didn’t die (I did say it was that kind of show) looks promising.
Ultimately though, this is TV machine-tooled for the times we live in. It is trying to build a “world” populated with multiple characters whose interlocking stories can run and run. It looks like a Marvel movie and it shares those films’ amalgam of astonishing narrative efficacy and yet total fatuousness. It has political points to make but lacks the conviction to make them with anything other than nods or winks. Personally, I am still so scarred by visions of melting men that I want to watch the rest as some kind of recompense. I’m not sure, however, that all viewers will make it past – or want to make it past – the early horrors.