FX on Hulu’s adaptation of “Y: The Last Man” is setting out to ask questions about gender and identity and, perhaps even more deeply, what parts of a person’s identity has been imposed by society?
The show, based on the graphic novels of the same title, is set in a world where an extinction-level event wiped out all of the individuals with Y chromosomes — except for two: the titular man, Yorick (played by Ben Schnetzer), and his monkey.
“Yorick’s maleness is not what sets him apart in this world — it’s his Y chromosome that sets him apart,” showrunner Eliza Clark pointed out during the show’s Television Critics Assn. press tour panel on Aug. 13. “Gender is diverse and chromosomes are not equal to gender. And so, in our world — in the world of the television show — every living mammal with a Y chromosome dies. Tragically, that includes many women; it includes non-binary people; it includes intersex people. … We are making a show that affirms that trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people are non-binary, and that is part of the richness of of the world we get to play with.”
So similarly, the survivors are just as diverse because, as FX chairman John Landgraf painstakingly explained, “There are women with two X chromosomes, men with an X and a Y chromosome … women with two Y chromosomes and there are men with two X chromosomes. So…there are numerous men in the show who have two X chromosomes; they’re important characters.”
Elliot Fletcher’s Sam Jordan is one such example of a male character who survived. He is not representative of a singular character in the comics but is an example of new stories being told in the series.
“In this world post the event, gender is somewhat irrelevant,” Fletcher said. “I think one of the hilarious things about this show is that post the event, Yorick can walk around without a mask on because he’s assumed to be trans, rather than pre-the event people are assumed to be cisgender. And so, I just think it flips the traditional idea of gender completely on its head, and so I was very comfortable joining a project that knew that ahead of time and committed to it fully.”
As executive producer Nina Jacobson put it, the team was excited to “blow up the binary.”
The “Y: The Last Man” graphic novels were first published in 2002, and in the almost two decades since then, the discussions around gender have evolved greatly, which led to these adjustments. However, Clark noted that many other elements, including gender equality, have not evolved that much in the time between the initial publication and her production.
“Basically what I learned is that our entire economy runs on trucks. So, if you’re living in a city, you know when to go to a grocery store that grocery store needs two deliveries a day to be stocked for the amount of people who are shopping [at] it, and they don’t have storage. I think 5% of truck drivers are women,” Clark said. “And so, this is definitely a world that has been decimated because cisgender men make up the vast majority of most industries, including our own. And so, I think in that way the world does look pretty similar to the book.”
Clark approached the source material as a “blueprint” and noted she was only out to “update” it, not completely rewrite it.
“It’s a beautiful story about survival and it examines characters in a landscape that is constantly pressing on really interesting ideas about power and about systems of oppression,” she explained.
She did restructure some of the storytelling, most notably in taking the entire premiere episode to get to the world-changing event. This was because she wanted to show who her main characters were before the event to better juxtapose who they would become later in the series, when they were living in this new world.
Actor Diane Lane portrays President Brown in the series and has been attached to the show since 2018 when it was under the rule of previous showrunners Michael Green and Aida Mashaka Croal. (Clark joined a year later in 2019.) She stuck with the series all the way through and called Clark’s version of the adaptation a “gift.”
“Whatever early versions there were were completely stripped away, even in my memory, by creating this world with this beautiful amazing cast with such devotion,” she said.
Schnetzer, who stepped into the show in 2020 as a recasting, echoed similar sentiments. “It was very clear from the outset that Eli wanted to bring a sense of verisimilitude and ground this world [that] is dealing with these extraordinary circumstances in reality, and find those roots. The whole hair and makeup team and wardrobe team did such a remarkable job [too] and it’s such a gift as an actor to be in that skin, literally.”
“Y: The Last Man” premieres Sept. 13 on FX on Hulu.