The Boys | Season 1
“I’m done pretending and I’m done taking any more shit.” Annie/Starlight
At the end of July, Amazon released a new superhero show, The Boys. The comic book was created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson and ran from 2006-2012. The show was advertised as a dark, gritty, ultraviolent telling of the superhero saga, something that would appeal to people tired of superhero stories. “This ain’t your daddy’s MCU!”
I’m not normally a big fan of dark, gritty superhero stories, they are usually too self-satisfied taking the piss out of the superhero genre. Many of them are serious, dark, and violent wishing to rub your face in their “realistic” take on the genre. When it is done well, it can give a needed perspective, but when a hack gets their hands on it, it becomes insufferable. Fortunately the Boys falls into the former.
The TV series has Eric Kripe as the showrunner. He created Supernatural and he ran the first five (and best) seasons of that show. The dude’s not a hack. He along with the other creatives make sure that even though it is dark, gritty, and ultraviolent, The Boys is laced with a dark surreal humor that actually has something to say about more than just superheroes. In fact, what it has to say about corporate and celebrity culture is far more interesting. They also discuss issues like “Me Too” that are important to us now. The show is about a superhero group called The Seven who work for a mega corporation called Vought International. Vought monetizes The Seven and the other superheroes in this universe, making movies with them and using their roster of superheroes to protect cities for a hefty price. In that regard the superheroes seem like pro athletes playing for a city. The Seven at the beginning of the show consist of Homelander (Antony Starr) [a cross between Superman and Captain America]; Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) [Wonder Woman]; A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) [ The Flash ]; The Deep (Chance Crawford) [Aquaman]; Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell) [maybe a cross between Daredevil and Iron Fist]; Translucent (Alex Hassell) [ I’m not sure]; and newcomer Annie/Starlight (Erin Moriarty) [Black Lightning], who is selected to replace a retired member, Lamplighter. Their nemesis is The Boys, consisting of Billy Butcher (Karl Urban); newcomer Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid); Frenchie (Tomer Capon); Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso); and The Female/Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara). Butcher, Frenchie, and Mother’s Milk were a black-ops group that was tasked to ‘spank’ the superheroes when they were out of control. Now they have reunited to take on the Seven. Butcher has his personal reason for taking on the Seven, specifically Homelander.
The inciting incident that begins the series is A-Train running into Hughie’s girlfriend Robin (Jess Salgueiro) turning her into a bloody goop, with the only parts of her surviving being her hands that Hughie was holding. Using Hughie’s grief, Butcher is able to recruit him to plant a bug in Vought headquarters. Things escalate from there. Meanwhile, Starlight joins the Seven. She is a naïve Midwestern girl who wants to do good and help people. She believes that the Seven are the heroes that the public has been sold. She learns quickly that isn’t the case when the Deep threatens to keep her off the team if she doesn’t give him a blowjob. She finds out he isn’t even the worst of the crew. She and Hughie are our entry points into the show. They both grew up loving and respecting superheroes and finding out these people aren’t the paragons of good Vought has sold them as. We’ve seen plenty of stories where superheroes aren’t who we thought they are, but the show paints The Seven and the vigilantes opposing them in different shades of grey. Starlight is the best person in the series, while Homelander is the absolute worse, with Billy Butcher following close behind. But even Starlight’s character is smudged up, so everyone [except Homelander] is basically only human.
“What’s immoral is the guy who shoved his dick in my face.” Annie/Starlight
Episode 1 is a good litmus test on whether you’ll enjoy this program. Some pretty wild shit happens in the episode, and it illustrates what you can expect to see for the remaining seven episodes. The violence is over the top, it’s probably best not to be eating dinner while you watch. Disturbing things are said and happen, some of it being the dark humor that keeps the show from becoming dour. What kept me engaged, especially as the series went on were the intelligent ways it handled corporate and celebrity culture. The way the superheroes are treated and act behind closed doors reminds you of the way we treat athletes, actors, musicians, and other celebrities. We put these people on pedestals and find out later, that some of them are the scum of the Earth, and that’s insulting scum. They have armies protecting their public images and even covering up crimes. As Butcher tells Hughie, “But if you knew half the shit, they get up to…Fuckin’ diabolical.” What’s even worse than the Seven is their bosses, Vought International, with the corporation’s vice-president and their immediate boss Madelyn Stillwell (Elizabeth Shue). Madelyn is a polished, corporate operator, who is devoid of any human compassion or decency. Vought has big plans for their superheroes, planning on having them incorporated into the military [for a hefty price of course]. Madelyn has a strange pseudo incestuous relationship with Homelander that is as creepy as it sounds. She tries to control her ‘son’, but he’s growing up and has big plans, which isn’t good news for anyone. Vought International continues to profit off their lies and accumulate more power. It’s ironic The Boys is on a real mega corporation that’s probably more powerful than the fictional Vought International.
The visual aesthetic of the show is top rate. The action is well coordinated. The show’s biggest strength is it’s cast. The MVP is Antony Starr as Homelander. He plays the outwardly pious superhero in an annoying righteous way; you can picture him speaking at the Republican National Convention. He’s at his best when he shows Highlander’s sociopathic side, it’s honestly chilling. Erin Moriarty is equally fine as Annie. She plays a good person who isn’t boring, she’s a nice person who is complicated. You worry about her and cheer her on. Jack Quaid does a great job with Hughie, his character is milquetoast, but he believably makes his character more aggressive and braver, without losing the character’s sweetness. He and Annie’s chemistry plays off on both character’s sweetness. Karl Urban gives some humanity to his over the top Billy Butcher. He’s a terrible person, but Urban gives him an energy that prevents you from hating him, and with some of the things he does in the show, it wouldn’t be hard to. The character that I’d like to see more from is Queen Maeve, Dominique McElligott didn’t get to do as much as the characters I’ve already mentioned, but I grew to like the character and I hope they give us more of her.
The Boys is rated TV-MA and it earns the rating. It’s an edgy show that isn’t edgy just to be edgy. I was surprised how much I liked it. I binged the series in two days. It is eight episodes so you can easily finish it on a weekend or even do it in a day. It’s been renewed for a second season, so you don’t have to worry about being left hanging. The season finale was a shocker, and I’ve got to see where it all leads. If you have some time, check it out, both superhero fans and people who suffer from superhero fatigue will probably enjoy it.