“New York City runs out of food in three days if it doesn’t get deliveries,” Eliza Clark says. We’re talking about the catastrophe at the center of the showrunner’s new series, Y: The Last Man, which sees a mysterious event wipe out every creature on Earth with a Y chromosome.
“To add to that,” she continues, “only five percent of truck drivers are women. So it’s a dire circumstance. There’s nuclear weapons, there’s dams and infrastructure, and our infrastructure is crumbling right now, in the world we live in currently. And so when an event like this takes place, and you have workplaces that are dominated by cisgender men, you have a real problem.”
In Y: The Last Man – based on Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s much-loved comic book series of the same name – planes fall from the sky, cars collide, and the majority of the US government drops dead. Amid the chaos, survivors must step up and safeguard humanity’s future.
While the series revolves around a global event, its focus narrows to a few characters, mainly the Brown family. Yorick Brown is the last cisgender man alive, stranded in New York with only his pet monkey Ampersand for company. His sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby), a first responder in The Before Times, goes into hiding, while their mother Jennifer (Diane Lane), a former congresswoman, finds herself as the President of the United States.
Despite the title, Clark is unequivocal that Yorick is not, in fact, the last man on Earth. “I wanted to make it clear, very early and often, that Yorick is not the last man, there are plenty of men that survived,” she says. “He’s the last person with a Y chromosome. And I think the richness of the gender diversity that exists in our world – it’s the beauty of who we are as people, and I wanted to explore that.
“I also think human beings like to put things into binaries, and they like to create categories… I think escaping that way of thinking is a way to revolutionize the world. And that is something that I was interested in exploring in a world that had come completely undone and had to remake itself.”
Yorick might be humanity’s last hope, but nothing about his life has prepared him for that responsibility. Before the tragedy, he was an amateur escape artist, planning a future with his girlfriend Beth – who pumps the brakes by turning down his marriage proposal.
“He’s at that crossroads when you’re in your late 20s, where his girlfriend, who he’s been with for a long time, to whom he’s very devoted, she’s about to leave to go do her post-grad,” Ben Schnetzer, who plays Yorick, explains. “He’s reconciling his place in the world and his place within his family, and reconciling maybe that he doesn’t meet the level of ambition that his mother has, or that his father who’s a well-respected and charismatic professor has.”
He adds: “He’s a little bit lost. But he’s definitely very dedicated to his girlfriend. That’s a real pillar for Yorick. He’s a boyfriend first, and he’s everything else second.”
The disaster splits Yorick and Beth apart, and, at first, he doesn’t know if she even survived the initial cataclysm. If things weren’t bad enough, he soon experiences the unwelcome revelation that he’s the last person with a Y chromosome alive. “He’s a very unlikely candidate for the role that he plays in the story,” Schnetzer says.
Yorick’s shortcomings are part of the appeal, Schnetzer explains. “There is a lot of maturing that he has to do as a young adult. And there are times where he can be petulant, and he can be bratty, and he can be totally self-involved and disconnected,” the actor says. “And we wanted to give him a lot of room to grow. It’s much more compelling as someone approaching a role to step in the shoes of a flawed individual and an individual who has a lot of doubts and a lot of insecurities and who is very imperfect, and to take them on this journey, and to give them a lot of room to grow and a lot of room for self-discovery.”
Also at the epicenter of the unfolding disaster is Ashley Romans’ Agent 355, a level-headed, capable, and pragmatic presence in the White House as things begin to break down. She’s part of a shadowy, high-level organization known as the Culper Ring, and is working undercover as a Secret Service agent when everything goes wrong.
“This character is full of contradictions, full of colors, she wants to be seen and disappear,” Romans says. “And that’s just the nature of who she is. And she’s also a person who really identifies with her job in what she does in the world. And when that all crumbles, she, as other people do, too – they’re searching for a new purpose, a new identity. And I think she really finds that when she meets Yorick. She says, ‘This is what I can do. This is my purpose. This is how I can function.’ So when you see Agent 355, you will feel like you don’t know her, but you also know everything about her. And that’s the experience you want.”
Agent 355 is tasked with getting Yorick to a geneticist who might be able to uncover why he’s the sole survivor of his kind, and the two set out on their dangerous journey together. As you might expect, it’s not all smooth sailing.
“When it starts out, they’re really at odds,” Schnetzer says. “They’re really skeptical of each other. They’re suspicious of the other person, they butt heads a lot… 355 is tasked with this assignment to shepherd this, in her eyes, totally unworthy, unredeeming guy to safety and to answers. And Yorick is shackled with this babysitter, and having to go on what he thinks is a fool’s errand when he’d much rather go find his girlfriend and try and salvage what he thinks might be left of a life for himself.
“But instead, he needs to go on a journey for the greater good. And through that, these two really make a lot of discoveries about themselves, and forge a very enduring relationship… It’s a little bit like, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 – a little bit, but obviously, with a whole different set of dynamics.”
Romans also sees a lot of complexity in the duo’s bond. “Her relationship with Yorick is very complicated in the sense that he really brings out of her all the parts that she finds dangerous, specifically, her vulnerability,” she says. “In this world vulnerability is a liability. And she’s trying to control her feelings for this person who has been called to do something greater than themselves, because she’s also been called to do something greater than herself, as has everyone in the series so far. You’ll see Yorick change her, and you’ll see her change Yorick. And the relationship is complicated, because it’s sibling-ish. It’s kind of romantic-ish. But it doesn’t really fit into any type of label. It’s reflective of the world that they’re living in.”
Their mission couldn’t have higher stakes as the world struggles to come to terms with such a tragic upheaval, but while the future of life on Earth hangs in the balance, the scale of the devastation is made personal by the way each character processes their tremendous grief and bewilderment on-screen. And if the thought of diving into a disaster show after living through a real life catastrophe makes you uneasy, you shouldn’t be discouraged.
“The [show’s] point of view is ultimately optimistic about people’s ability to change,” Clark says. “And revolution is messy, and utopia probably is impossible, but tearing down things that don’t serve us, and that create inequality and create violence, you have to go through some messy, scary stuff, but it’s worth it because the world could be more just. The point of view of the show is not that ‘hell is other people.’ The point of view is that people have a lot of work to do, but we should try.”
Romans agrees that The Last Man is far from unrelenting despair. “The show does a great job of finding levity and humor and moments of truth, which is people want to feel joy, they want it, they’re going to fight for that,” she says. “These characters are not sitting in the grief, and they’re fighting through that, and you’re going to really enjoy – you’re going to have a good laugh, and a lot of episodes, you’re going to have a good cry. They won’t just get a cataclysmic event.”
Yorick provides a lot of that levity, still willing to find a funny side in the most dire of situations, which Schnetzer thinks is especially important in times of trouble. “Of the many things that this past year and a half has taught us, one of them is that humor really is a pillar of our existence in the darkest of times… That’s something that loses its way in tragedies or disaster movies,” he says. “And if anything, I’m like, no, that’s when the funny people really pop, when everything’s falling to shit around them… Hopefully the humor lifts things out a little bit and keeps things rich.”
Vaughan and Guerra’s tale first debuted in 2002, so you might already be familiar with the direction the story heads. There are, though, still surprises in store.
“I think if you’re a fan of the book, you will love the series,” Clark says. “I hope you do. I do as a fan. But I think it will also surprise you. And there will be things that you recognize from the comic book, that’s in conversation with stories that happen in the comic book, but are coming at it from a different way. So that you can be caught off guard by twists and turns.”
Schnetzer thinks newcomers will find a lot to like, too. “Hopefully, a whole new swathe of people who are not familiar with the graphic novel will become fans of this story,” he says. “But I think we do it justice. And again, in any adaptation, a conversation takes place between the source material and the adapter… There are creative liberties taken that I think only strengthen the adaptation. But fans of the source material, I think, will be pleased.”
Episodes 1 – 3 of Y: The Last Man will launch exclusively on Disney Plus in the UK on September 22. New episodes will be available to stream every Wednesday.
Until then, see our guide to the best shows on Disney Plus to fill out your watchlist.