Y: The Last Man is an FX on Hulu show based on a post-apocalyptic comic series written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Pia Guerra. The comic follows the story of Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, the only two cis males to survive a global event that killed everything with a Y chromosome. At this year’s New York Comic Con, I was fortunate enough to sit down with the cast and crew and talk about how the show differs from the source material, what it’s like filming a post-apocalyptic series during current events, and more.
Fans of the Y: The Last Man comics were probably a little surprised to tune into the show and realize just how much the adaptation differs from the original. While the comics focused on Yorick and his adventures, the television show explores the consequences of the worldwide catastrophe and how a society would rebuild from such a horrible thing.
A story like that likely felt a little too close to home for the cast and crew, who like many other Hollywood productions struggled to put out a show in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, often dealing with shutdowns while filming and even being stuck in Canada due to travel restrictions.
“It affected us enormously,” said executive producer Nina Jacobson. “[…] Experiencing being in the States, especially coming from Canada, where we were shooting […] to see how people respond to a crisis, and to see how we as Americans respond and how divided, how conflicted, the lack of trust, the sense of betrayal by the government, the lack of trust in systems of power – that was so striking that I don’t think we would have known to incorporate that [before].”
Jacobson continued, “We never imagined that it was going to be Kumbaya and everybody is just one big happy family of getting along all the time. I mean, that’s not what the adaptation ever was. It was always about the way in which a crisis can both divide and unite us. But I think that the insights that we got from seeing really how we respond and how hard it is for people to actually support each other as opposed to destroying each other was something that was very much integrated as when we came back, that had a big impact on all of our scripts.”
“It was hard not to see parallels,” added executive producer Mari Jo Winkler-Ioffreda. “[…] It made us dig a little deeper and really go deep into those systems and maybe the failure of those systems. […] It’s ultimately optimistic in terms of people changing and systems changing, but it got dark [for us] a few times in terms of just the [weight] of the pandemic, for sure.”
Diana Bang, who plays Dr. Allison Mann, said, “Living in a pandemic kind of really helped feel the things that I was reading in a deeper way. That was really helpful. I tried to use whatever I was going through and throw it into the script.”
“There’s a lot of things that you’re gonna see really parallel,” said Ashley Romans, who plays Agent 355, “especially when you get to the ultimate and penultimate episode of the season. You’re gonna be like, ‘When was this written? This was written two weeks ago.'”
Romans continued, “This show I think serves as a really great case study in the human condition, and the reasons people make up for why bad things happen, and what we latch onto when traumatic things happen. Like you see Nora, who latches onto her daughter and her role as a mother, and Kimberly, who latches onto that as well. And what these connections mean to us, and also the roles we’re required to play in our everyday lives. Like 355, [she’s a] weapon, that’s her function. That’s all she really knows how to be until she realizes there’s something inside of her that wants to be big.”
In shifting the focus of Y: The Last Man from Yorick, the only cis male left alive (that we know of so far!), the narrative moves to focus on those who were left behind. And in the twenty-odd years since this comic was first published, society has made great strides in understanding the spectrum of gender and sexuality. This was a primary goal of the largely-female production team, particularly showrunner Eliza Clark.
“One of the things that was important to me in adapting the book was that we update the sort of conversation about gender,” said Clark. She later said, “I didn’t want to center a cis man in a story of a world without Y chromosomes.”
Said Bang, “[Eli] is very interested in escaping the binary, kind of going beyond sort of the scientist trope and making Dr. Allison Mann not someone who comes in just kind of unfeeling and ‘science science science’, but more someone who is passionate, who’s charismatic, who is a full human being. And I think in that way, having her perspective really helped, just in terms of my character. But definitely, the show is much more gender diverse, and I think that is one of the big differences between the source material.”
That approach to the story also gives Y: The Last Man the avenue to explore the concept of gender, for example in the character of Sam (Elliot Fletcher), a trans man. Sam is one of the few main characters created specifically for the show, as the comic mentioned that trans men would have survived the event but didn’t really go into detail or introduce any so that we could see what it was like for them. And Sam is in a particularly unique situation in that he’s currently with a group of women who really, really hate men.
“It’s hard,” said Fletcher, “just because it’s incredibly isolating. I think, prior to the event, there was a sense of Sam where he sort of liked to disappear and now he is the standout in a negative way. And so it’s hard, and only having one person to attach to, who is clearly sort of losing herself… […] So it’s definitely hard, but we’ll see some major things for him change in the next couple of episodes.”
It’s clear from Sam’s journey that a world without men does not instantly become this feminist utopia. Far from it.
“It’s my point of view, and the point of view of the show,” said Clark, “that it’s not good that everybody with a Y chromosome dies – that that is actually horrific and sad and that the world actually does need all of us.”
As Y: The Last Man explores, there are still a fair number of industries that are largely male-dominated, and all of the men disappearing would cause these industries to grind to a halt. So while exploring the emotional impact of suddenly losing your husband, your brother, your son, you also have to deal with the societal impact.
“Eli and the writers’ room did a ton of research of the logistical outcomes of an event like this happening in real life,” said Juliana Canfield, who plays Beth. “And when I realized that New York City, our beautiful island, would last I think three days without our truck system for transporting food, that really gave me pause. […] I just think that in many ways that the global economy and the global world we live in offers positive outcomes but also it makes something like this happening feel very daunting. We have no means of really living locally or surviving in an actual community.”
Canfield went on to liken Beth’s role in Y: The Last Man to something like The Hunger Games, primarily the income inequality. “There’s something kind of like Katniss Everdeen about the situation, and the huge disparity between those who have access to anything and those who don’t.”
Not to mention, I think we have all witnessed, in various countries, how often people eagerly vote against their own best interests. We are shaped by the society around us, and that kind of conditioning doesn’t go away overnight.
“As a woman,” said Jacobson, “[Eliza] and we were interested in the fact that women can still uphold patriarchal systems of power. It is not like the patriarchy dies when everyone with a Y chromosome dies. The patriarchy is a very, very resilient system of power […] and to have I think that ability to kind of understand how that all can occur without it being, ‘Oh, if it were women, they would just do this,’ which I think is much easier to sort of simplify when you’re looking at it from a different perspective. But as a woman, I thought Eli and our team of writers, who are a blend of different kinds of people, brought that level of nuance that might have otherwise been lost.”
“The whole first season is about how these people are clinging to the identities they had before,” said Clark. “Kimberly, [Amber Tamblyn’s] character, is like a really great example of that. She wants everybody in the world to go back to what it was before, and she’s closely aligned with patriarchy, and all of her power comes from her proximity to men.”
Said Tamblyn, “Eli’s world created this whole new space for Kimberly to really become the representation of [those white women who voted for Trump] and for that to be a real exploration that is hopefully really conflicting for the viewer. Because you empathize for her, and you feel terrible for her, and you understand where she’s coming from when she’s asking Christine like, ‘Can I have your baby? I’ll take care of your baby.’ It’s very Hand That Rocks the Cradle. But also while completely terrifying you. Which I think is what all really great villains in TV do.”
“White women who are like her don’t think that they [are conniving],” Tamblyn added. “And that’s part of the beauty of it. Kimberly doesn’t think she is. She doesn’t see herself as part of the problem.”
When asked what working on the show taught him about how to avoid such a catastrophe from happening in real life, Ben Schnetzer, who plays Yorick (the titular last man), emphasized the green initiative championed by the Y: The Last Man production team. “It’s the first production that I’ve done that had such ambitious green guidelines. And it was so much easier than I think anyone thinks it is. Just having compost bins, recycling bins, PPE recycling bins, landfill bins – just making sure everything is clearly marked, having some eco kind of set monitors to just like, if you don’t know if something is recycling or landfill, they’ll just tell you. Having water refill stations so that people don’t have to – you know, on a movie set, there’s a million and one plastic bottles that people run through. […] Having a plastic-free set, that was really inspiring and really nice to see that the endeavor doesn’t have to be inherently wasteful. It can be quite resourceful.”
Fletcher and Olivia Thirlby (Hero) are perhaps the best members to tackle the differences from the comics, as Fletcher’s character on Y: The Last Man was invented for the show, and that alters the journey for Thirlby’s character somewhat.
“I love this version of Hero,” said Thirlby, “because she’s a lot more fleshed out and a lot more dynamic. In the comics, we basically meet her when she’s joined the Amazons. That’s the first time we meet her, more or less. As opposed to, on the series, it’s really about her entire journey leading up to that point. So as an actor, as a storyteller, it’s really exciting to say not just, ‘Oh, this is someone who joined a cult,’ but what does it take for a person who is, you know, independent and rebellious to get to a point where they’re really compelled by a group mentality.”
“Honestly,” said Fletcher, “I sort of have a privilege of not being in the source material, just because there is so much freedom with Sam. But […] the way Eli has incorporated Sam into the story is so particular, and she’s so specific about what she wants, but she also gives us a ton of freedom to sort of build on our own relationship and build on our relationships prior to the event. So I love it. I love not being part of the comic book. Just because I can kind of do whatever feels right for Sam, and that’s really important to me.”
Romans, meanwhile, said that one of her favorite changes from the source material is something that we haven’t seen yet, so she couldn’t even really tease it for us. “One of the things that I really love is an origin story that has nothing to do with my character, so I’m not gonna say it, and we’re not supposed to know yet.”
As for what we can expect from the rest of the series, Fletcher and Thirlby teased that episode 8, which airs October 18, would be a big episode for both of their characters. But in regards to the rest of the series, Thirlby would only say, “Buckle up,” whereas Fletcher gave a more optimistic (or more ominous?) summary of, “Find yourself.” Romans, on the other hand, gave us the tease, “Global confrontation.”
Y: The Last Man streams on FX on Hulu. New episodes premiere on Mondays.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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