With the radical rise in page-to-screen adaptations over the past decade, it’s no surprise that Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s comics series Y: The Last Man was tapped for TV adaptation. It has an immediately grabby hook: What happens when every man in the world except one suddenly falls over dead? It has plenty of drama: As that last surviving man, Yorick, travels around the world, he meets an endless series of women who want to murder him, exploit him, or have sex with him. And it has plenty of material for a long-running series as well: The comics version of the story ran for 60 issues, eventually sprawling across decades and continents.
Showrunner Eliza Clark (Animal Kingdom), tapped to manage the show after a series of false starts and crew changes, could potentially spin that story into a never-ending series, with Yorick wandering the world, while the freshly expanded and updated cast around him tells their own complicated stories about women vying for power or security. But Clark says her ideal plan for the show would be more modest and controlled.
“Five or six seasons is what I’m thinking,” she tells Polygon. “Without giving anything away, the comic is a great template, but the show will have its own twists and turns. Generally speaking, I feel like television is best at about five seasons.”
The six episodes provided for critics showcase a story that starts just before the cataclysm, and initially focuses on the weeks immediately following in the United States: Who takes control and who wants it, and who Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) and his sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby) meet as they settle into the new normal. But Clark says her larger plan for the series would take in some of the comic’s scope.
“I definitely do [want the big time jumps],” she says. “I think that’s part of what’s so fun about the book, is that it gives you the opportunity to play with time, play with genre. I love the way Brian drops you into the world, and you have to figure out where you are. But I felt like the first season needed to be about who the characters were, and what they had become. I felt like sticking with them was important, so the audience could see those changes.”
Readers of the comics will see major changes in the story, which mostly come from taking a less gender-essentialist worldview than the original story. The female characters on the show are given more depth and complexity. Trans men are addressed in a more inclusive and sympathetic way. The story focus takes in American politics, not just the extrajudicial struggle for power.
“I was so interested in getting past that binary way of thinking,” Clark says. “I never wanted the story to feel like ‘Women are from Mars and men are from Venus.’ People are just so much more interesting than that, and the way women treat each other is really interesting to me. And the relationships women have to other women are fraught and complicated, and romantic, and beautiful.”
Fans of the comic have been particularly curious about how the show handles Ampersand, Yorick’s capuchin monkey companion, and the only other known male to survive into the new world. An unaired version of the pilot episode used a real monkey to portray Ampersand, but the version viewers will see onscreen is entirely a CGI creation. Having to rely on a digital creation initially worried Clark.
“The show has a very naturalistic, cinematic style,” she says. “You’re really close to people’s faces, and you’re seeing their skin, you’re seeing the roots of their hair, you’re seeing sweat dripping down their faces. So if suddenly there’s a cartoon monkey, like, no thank you! But we have an amazing visual-effects supervisor, and the people who made the monkey at ILM are amazing. I think the monkey looks incredible, and so real, and it means that Ben doesn’t have to do scenes with an animal where he can’t show his teeth, because that could get him in trouble. I think the CG solves a lot. The monkey is expensive, and I care deeply about him as a character, and making him look good. So it’s one of the challenges of the show, but I think it’s gonna work out.”
Y: The Last Man premieres on September 13 on FX and Hulu. We’ll have more from Eliza Clark, about the show’s adaptation choices and its take on American politics, after the premiere.