At the behest of my curiosity (since I write superhero/satire myself), I sat down one night when I didn’t feel like sleeping and watched the first season of “The Boys,” an adaptation of the comic book series, which is available on Amazon Prime. Warning, there are some light spoilers.
The story quickly immerses you into the world of Hughie (Jack Quaid), an anxious, unambitious young man who works a small tech job in New York City. He’s got a girlfriend, Robin (Jess Salgueiro), that he loves. When she comes to pick him up from work one day, she’s splattered into shreds when A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), a speedster superhero, runs straight through her by accident. Hughie is left standing there, covered in her blood, holding what’s left of Robin’s arms.
Robin’s death becomes a personal catalyst for Hughie (Karl Urban), and he begins standing up for himself more, and when he is approached by Butcher, a man who claims he’s from the CIA and the feds plus he’s after the superheroes (the “supes”). Hughie agrees to help him find a way to prosecute the superheroes.
But the superheroes of the time are protected by Vought, a PR-company that has influence around the nation as they send their superheroes out to towns to take care of crime and pose for photos. As the story unfolds, Butcher gathers intel and help from other sources, including a French gun-runner, known as Frenchie (Tomer Capon); Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), a Vietnamese fighter who was the victim of supe-experimentation; and MM, or Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), a former fed friend who keeps trying to leave Butcher’s schemes behind him, even though Butcher manages to convince him to continue.
When it is revealed that A-Train and other supes are using a superhero-enhancement drug known as Compound V to increase their skills, and A-Train was under its influence when he killed Robin, Hughie finds the evidence that he needs to bring justice to Robin. But when it’s clear justice isn’t enough for Butcher, things get more complicated.
The plot gets even more complicated on the supes’ side of things with the arrival of Starlight (Erin Moriarty), a new superhero under Vought who’s new to The Seven, the top elite group of Vought’s superheroes. Starlight’s authenticity is a stark contrast to the manipulative, media-savvy, image-first publicity work at Vought. She soon learns that the other members of The Seven have their own secrets and their own abuses of the system – except, seemingly, Homelander (Antony Starr), the first supe and the leader of The Seven. A-Train has a forbidden romance with a “b-list” supe and a problem with Compound V; The Deep (Chace Crawford), a water-type supe, is a sexual predator and uses his position to get sexual favors; Translucent (Alex Hassell), an invisible man supe, constantly ends up in the ladies’ room and in other places, watching people he shouldn’t be; and Queen Maeve (Nicola Correia-Damude), a bisexual who keeps her former girlfriend a secret, especially after having publicly dated Homelander for a time.
The best thing about this series is Karl Urban as Billy Butcher. He’s a man who’s lost everything, and he’s on a mission to take his vengeance. He does seem to care about his friends and he serves as a failed mentor Hughie. He knows what he wants, and he goes to great lengths – sometimes at the expense of his partners – to get it. Erin Moriarty as Starlight and Anthony Starr as Homelander are also great talents, and it helps the movie that the actors all know their characters and sell it. The series’ pacing allows for every beat to add something to their emotional state, and the performances are mostly all very well done.
Overall, the satirical tone of the show is near-perfect, and it really only gets cringe-inducingly bad around episode 5 where Hughie and Butcher have to infiltrate a “Capes for Christ” meeting, and part of that is because expectations for critique are less defined. Still, there were great comments about big business, media manipulation, legal entanglements, image management, and how the supes are basically celebrities who have to be watched, monitored, and directed at every moment for the “greater good” – but the greater good for their company, not the people they’re actually serving.
Finally, the writing and pacing on this show were superb. There were a lot of characters to follow but they gave a lot of them good, solid arcs, the pacing allowed us to empathize with and also hate them at times. If there’s a reason I could watch all 8 episodes in one sitting, it was the writing’s pacing and planning. Most episodes left on a cliffhanger, and most opened with something to keep me guessing.
Season 2 is supposed to be coming soon and reportedly has already been written and mostly shot.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD:
There are almost no characters you genuinely like, even if you feel sorry for all of them in some way. Starlight is the one we cheer for, but even she’s a little too naïve or misguided at times; she’s probably the closest character I felt was the most likable. Butcher, for all his persuasive passion, is willing to sell out his friends for revenge, Hughie is whiny and easily upset; Homelander’s true colors as a sadistic, self-serving narcissist come to light, and Queen Maeve is unable to stand up to his destructiveness. It makes for compelling writing at times. There are plenty of others, and while I am glad that they made characters with flaws and faults (something rare in ‘safer’ films about superheroes today), it made some of the subplots more stifling.
While the writing was great in many aspects, some about The Deep’s character arc was very contrived. He starts out as a sexual predator, and then gets his ‘comeuppance,’ and it all seems very weak. There’s nothing about his character that plays directly into the larger picture, but the audience gets to see what happens to him in a way that seems to be culturally wish-fulfilling.
Overall, “The Boys” is a product of our time that is mostly excellent written and superbly performed, even if it’s darkly irreverent and unapologetically cynical. It’s compelling in its seriousness and passionate in its application, even if passion at times can be chaotic.
CAUTION: This is NOT for children. There were enough F-bombs and C-words to fill a prison yard. Sexual situations, nudity, homosexuality, bisexuality, drug use, terrorism, implied rape, a graphic birth scene, and very graphic violence are all featured, especially the violence.
The views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the chief editor.
Check out the promo below:
Sorry for the vagueness of this teaser, but it was difficult to find one that was appropriate for all ages.
C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me.
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