TL;DR – Confronting, uncomfortable, but entirely compelling.
Warning – Depicts scenes of abuse
When I first heard of The Boys, the concept of ‘what if superheroes were assholes?’ I’ll be honest it didn’t grab me. Maybe it was the Suicide Squad fatigue that had set in; perhaps it was the general feel of the time. However, given this is 2020, and what’s the worst that can happen? Well, I am glad I did because a lot is going on here, some unsettling, some subversive, but all fascinating.
So to set the scene, we open with bank robbers driving recklessly through the streets of New York. The truck carriers off the side of the road heading to some innocent bystanders when Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) of The Seven steps in front and takes all the damage herself while Homelander (Antony Starr) flies in and laser eyes the bandits while stopping to take a selfie or two. Meanwhile, Hughie (Jack Quaid) is walking down the street with his girlfriend Robin (Jess Salgueiro) after finally deciding to move in with each other when one second she is standing there talking. The next she is red mist as A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) runs into her at super-speed after being too preoccupied to see what was coming. Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
Before I dive into the review proper, I do need to preface this review with a bit of a cautionary section. However, I probably don’t need to given the ample warning the distributors give before each episode. This is a violent, bloody show. If in that first episode you have issues with what happens to Robin, can I say that this is the perfect time to pull that parachute because it gets worse from there. For example, they dispose of Translucent (Alex Hassell) by sticking some C4 up his backside and painting a room red. The violence also takes on a sexual nature in many scenes, with several depictions of assault throughout the show.
Now, with the previous paragraph, it thus askes the question why did I score it so high? Well, the first reason is the characters that start as these two-dimensional caricatures but continue to show more depth over the season. For example, Homelander is a character that is like Captain America and Superman mashed together but then also a dick. However, as the season goes on, we see that there is darkness to his character, someone discovering they have ultimate power and realising that they don’t have to listen to everyone else. Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue) gives this appearance as this cold businesswoman trying to have it all. Still, as we go on and especially in the last episode, we see that fear that she continually lives with and has been trying to manage all this time. A-Train is the cocky gun sure member, but as we go on, there is a real vulnerability and worry that it could all fall apart and a fear of going back to where he came from.
The best character in the show for me was Starlight (Erin Moriarty) who is both deeply complex and yet also relatable. She is a superhero from the Midwest that goes form no public perspective to being part of The Seven media pantheon overnight. This is such a different world from her, and her first introduction was not a good one. Throughout the season she has to confront her past and her future organically and understandably. She has to navigate a complex organisation that likes the idea of her and what she can do for them but does not care about her. I have seen a lot of stories explore a character’s faith in a very slapdash kind of way, but not here. With Starlight, we get someone wrestling with her faith and the role she has been placed in when hypocrisy abounds. All of this created a character that was fascinating to watch from start to finish.
Another thing that pulls you in is the setting that draws the superhero genre into the world of reality in a way I have not seen since maybe Mystery Men. Even putting aside the big reveal later in the season, it makes complete sense that supes would be cooped by a media corporation that would commodify them. The planning sessions, the social media teams, the insiders in the pentagon, and the lobbyists it all feels like what would happen. Even the part about making super-villains to fight against feels like something a marketing department would do to boost sales. This does put a bitter taste in the back of your mouth about the superhero genre until you remember that it is okay to believe in fairy-tales.
The main narrative thrust in this first season is the growing conflict between the titular Boys and The Seven. The Boys, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) who wants to kill all of The Seven in revenge for what happened to his wife. He brings two former colleagues Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) and Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) along with the grieving Hughie together into a makeshift team that no one would expect because you have to run under the radar when your enemy can see through buildings. Like the characters, this starts as a very two-dimensional focus (and well for Butcher stays two-dimensional) but gets more complicated. Like when Hughie falls in love with Starlight because she is a decent human being and when they find Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) who has been forced to take Compound Vto to be a villain. For The Seven, it is all about maintaining their presence in the world and driving that forward by integrating them into the military. They only know that something is wrong when Translucent does not come home one day, and for the first time in a long time, they are vulnerable. It is this exploration of the abuse of power where the show sets itself apart and is also where The Boys shows its strengths and weaknesses.
With that in mind, there are moments in the series that don’t work as well as the rest. Take the character of The Deep (Chace Crawford). We are first introduced to him when he sexually assaults Starlight. From here the series takes step after step to belittle him (which is not the issue) until he is shipped off to Sandusky as penance and is then sexually assaulted himself. You could have put something together with this if the show was not just looking to spend most of the time making dull Aquaman jokes. However, it just feels weird and more tacked on to the show than anything else. This also happens to a smaller extent with Queen Maeve, but that feels more due to not enough time given to the character. As well as these odd character moments, the series final feels oddly placed, like it was meant to be the penultimate episode rather than the final, and some things happen that left a bad impression and then it was done.
In the end, do we recommend The Boys? Well if you made if past our sort of warning paragraph and were still interested, then I would recommend giving it a look. As well as this, if you are looking for a show that deconstructs the superhero genre and shows its flaws, then this is also the show for you. But to be clear if violence, language, or sex makes you squeamish then wow is this not the series for you by a longshot. However, the worst-case scenario you are going to sit and watch Karl Urban going peak-Karl Urban and that is not nothing.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Boys
Directed by – Dan Trachtenberg, Matt Shakman, Phil Sgriccia, Fred Toye, Stefan Schwartz, Jennifer Phang, Dan Attias & Eric Kripke
Written by – Eric Kripke, George Mastras, Craig Rosenberg, Anne Cofell Saunders, Rebecca Sonnenshine & Ellie Monahan
Created by – Eric Kripke
Based on – The Boys by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson
Production/Distribution Companies – Sony Pictures Television & Amazon Studios
Starring – Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Capon, Karen Fukuhara, Nathan Mitchell & Elisabeth Shue with Simon Pegg, Jennifer Esposito, Colby Minifie, Ann Cusack, Christian Keyes, Alex Hassell, Jordana Lajoie, Shaun Benson, Jess Salgueiro, Laila Robins, & Giancarlo Esposito
Episodes Covered – The Name of the Game, Cherry, Get Some, The Female of the Species, Good for the Soul, The Innocents, The Self-Preservation Society & You Found Me