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Friday, February 23, 2024

The Troubled Fate of 'Y: The Last Man'

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Perhaps it’s strange to focus on this as Dune—a big-screen book adaptation that director Denis Villeneueve has been working on practically since he was a teenager—hits theaters, but I can’t stop thinking about the abrupt ending of Y: The Last Man. Not the finale—that won’t drop until November 1—but the fact that the series itself is ending. FX on Hulu just announced that the show isn’t getting picked up for a second season, and if there is a more unfortunate and poetic end to a show, I don’t know what it is.


The story of Y: The Last Man goes back to the comics of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, which Vertigo published from 2002 to 2008. Back then, the series was a vaguely dystopian look at a world where every mammal with a Y chromosome mysteriously dies, leaving roughly half the population of Earth to pick up the pieces. By the time it wrapped, there was already a film adaptation in the works. That, however, would never come to pass, and by 2014 the rights for the series went back to Vaughan. FX picked them up in 2015 and by 2019 had ordered Y to series. That same year, the network split with the series’ original showrunners and eventually brought on Eliza Clark to take over. Its problems, though, weren’t over. In early 2020 the role of Yorick was recast, with Ben Schnetzer taking the lead role. Then Covid-19 stalled production and the network moved it from FX the cable network to the FX on Hulu streaming service.

Finally, after all those delays, the show launched in September. It wasn’t a critical darling, but it was solid—and it made certain to fix some of the blind spots around gender that the original comics had. But now, before it’s even finished its first season, it’s been canceled.

Word that Y wasn’t getting renewed for Season 2 started spreading over the weekend, with Clark taking to Twitter to express disappointment but vowing to take the show elsewhere, if possible. “We know that someone else is going to be very lucky to have this team and this story,” Clark wrote. “I have never experienced the remarkable solidarity of this many talented people. We are committed to finding Y its next home.” Actress Amber Tamblyn, who plays Kimberly Campbell Cunningham on the series, also tweeted support for the show and expressed hopes for another season.

FX reportedly chose not to continue with the show because its options to extend the contracts of some of the key cast were facing an expiration deadline, and execs didn’t want to shell out millions to extend them. The clock merely ran out. Y has never seemed to have great timing, and at this particular ending, it seems to have had the worst.

It’s a shame. In its first season, the show had promise, and Clark had a roadmap for a total of five seasons. There is, of course, the possibility that Y could go to another network or streamer—avid fandoms have saved shows before—but presuming it doesn't, this marks the end of a tumultuous, decade-plus-long road. Sci-fi and genre fiction often has a rough time getting where it needs to go (see: Dune, above), but for Y: The Last Man it seems particularly fraught for no other reason than the show was the rare property that addressed a lot of the socio-political issues faced by women and trans folks directly. It didn’t cover everything—it struggled in its first season to peel back the layers on the racial politics it seemed to hint at—but as Clark said in her Twitter statement, the show had “so much more left to tell.” Now it might never get to do so.

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