One of the fall season's most-anticipated new dramas is Y: The Last Man, which premieres Sept. 13 on FX on Hulu. The sci-fi drama takes place in a world where a mysterious event instantly kills off every mammal with a Y chromosome, except for one man named Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Yorick's mother, Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane, 56), is the new president, and she must lead a nation reeling from the immense loss and the fear of potential extinction.
It's the latest in a string of television shows that examine the end of the world as we know it and the ways people cope, from The Walking Dead to The Last Man on Earth. Before you decide to take the plunge, be warned: Many of these plots are set in motion by devastating global pandemics, so if that sounds a little too real right now, we won't blame you for watching something a little lighter instead!
Sweet Tooth (2021–)
The premise: A decade after a plague called The Great Crumble kills off millions, a generation of half-human, half-animal “hybrids” is born, including our hero, a candy-obsessed 10-year-old named Gus (Christian Convery), who sports antlers and fuzzy ears. Unfortunately, some humans blame the hybrids for the pandemic and seek to eradicate them, so Gus sets off with a traveler named Tommy Jepperd (Nonso Anozie) to find safety.
How bleak is it?: It's surprisingly warm and hopeful, and it was shot in lush New Zealand, so it's also beautiful to look at.
Watch it: Sweet Tooth, on Netflix
The premise: Based on the 2013 film by Oscar-winning Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, 51, this TNT series is set in 2026, seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland. The surviving humans now live on a perpetually moving, 10-mile-long train, made up of 1,001 carriages that are strictly separated by class. A Beautiful Mind actress Jennifer Connelly, 50, stars as Melanie Cavill, the Head of Hospitality, while Daveed Diggs (Thomas Jefferson in Broadway's Hamilton) plays Andre Layton, a former homicide detective who is working to foment a rebellion from the back of the train.
How bleak is it?: It really depends what “class” you're in — First Class passengers live in futuristic luxury; Tailies suffer in squalor.
Watch it: Snowpiercer, on TNT on demand or online
The Last Man on Earth (2015–2018)
The premise: This cult Fox sitcom begins with everyman Phil Miller (SNL alum Will Forte, 51) convinced that he's the titular sole survivor after a virus decimates humanity. After traveling around in an RV to search for signs of life, he settles back in his hometown of Tucson and has a bit of fun with his solitude. He swims in a margarita-filled kiddie pool, steals priceless art from museums, squirts Cheez Whiz into his $10,000 glass of wine, and then his solitude is disrupted when — spoiler alert! — he starts meeting other survivors, played by the likes of Mary Steenburgen, 68, Kristen Schaal and Mad Men's January Jones.
How bleak is it?: Not very bleak at all! The show is subtly heartwarming, and it's really all about how this motley crew becomes a makeshift family.
Watch it: The Last Man on Earth, on Hulu
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The Stand (2020)
The premise: Based on a 1978 novel by Stephen King, 73, this miniseries is set in the aftermath of a deadly human-made plague, as the few remaining survivors divide into two camps: one good, led by the 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg, 65); the other evil, led by the sinister and powerful Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård). This is the second adaptation of King's novel, after an Emmy-winning 1994 miniseries that costarred Gary Sinise (66), Rob Lowe (57), Molly Ringwald (53), Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.
How bleak is it?: There are some gritty elements, but it's not as horrifying as some other movies based on King books.
Watch it: The Stand, on Paramount+
The premise: After a mushroom cloud appears in the distance, the citizens of Jericho, Kansas, learn that 23 cities across the U.S. have been destroyed in nuclear bombings. They lose power and the ability to communicate with the outside world, bringing out the best and worst in the residents — including prodigal son Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich, 51), who emerges as a leader. CBS canceled the show after one season, but fans rallied and sent 20 tons of peanuts to network HQ (a reference to one of the episodes), and they responded by bringing it back for a second season.
How bleak is it?: Nuclear war is never fun, but the show's tone is mysterious and crowd-pleasing, similar to Lost or Manifest — just try not to think too hard about all the devastation outside Jericho.
Watch it: Jericho, on Paramount+
The Leftovers (2014–2017)
The premise: In an unexplained Rapture-like event, 2 percent of the world's population suddenly vanishes without a trace. The critically adored series — which is based on a novel by Tom Perrotta, 60 — picks up three years later, and questions are still left unanswered, with some of those left behind turning to cynicism and paranoia and others seeking solace in religion. The impressive cast includes Justin Theroux (50), Carrie Coon, Regina King (50) and Ann Dowd (65) of The Handmaid's Tale.
How bleak is it?: There's no getting around it, The Leftovers is a sad show that dives deep on issues like loss, grief and trauma.
Watch it: The Leftovers, on HBO Max
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The Walking Dead (2010–)
The premise: Georgia police officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakens from a coma to find that the world as he knows it lies in ruins, overrun by hordes of so-called “walkers” — or zombies. He sets out to find his family, and together they meet other survivors, including fan favorites such as the sword-wielding Michonne (Black Panther's Danai Gurira) and the resourceful Glenn (Minari's Steven Yeun). The wildly popular show is set to conclude in 2022 after its 11th season, but a series of spin-offs will ensure that the franchise remains, um, undead.
How bleak is it?: Gory, blood-soaked, brutal and grim.
Watch it: The Walking Dead, on Netflix
The Last Ship (2014–2018)
The premise: The naval destroyer USS Nathan James is en route to the Arctic when a pandemic wipes out 80 percent of the world's population. Led by commanding officer Tom Chandler (Eric Dane, better known as McSteamy from Grey's Anatomy), the crew of survivors must sail the seas, searching for a cure to save humanity. Along the way, they make stops in places like Guantánamo Bay, where they face off against escaped al-Qaida prisoners and a Russian battle cruiser.
How bleak is it?: Day-to-day life is much less grim than in, say, The Walking Dead, but if you're claustrophobic or get seasick, this show probably feels like hell on water.
Watch it: The Last Ship, on Hulu
The Rain (2018–2020)
The premise: Break out your umbrella! In this Danish series, a deadly virus is carried along by the rain — and it kills nearly everyone in Scandinavia, leaving creepily desolate cityscapes in its wake. Six years later, siblings Simone (Alba August) and Rasmus Andersen (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen) emerge from a bunker and team up with a crew of survivors to search for a safe haven and a possible cure.
How bleak is it?: Scandinavian movies and TV shows don't have a reputation for being cheerful, and this one is appropriately gloomy and chilling.
Watch it: The Rain, on Netflix
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.