As if anyone hasn’t seen the ubiquitous advertising, The Boys is a new superhero TV show streaming on Amazon Prime, and what makes it stand out from the standard superhero fest we’ve seen is that the superheroes are actually the villains and the main stars in the show are ordinary humans trying to undercut the superhumans.
In the world of The Boys, superhumans have been around for decades and are slickly marketed as celebrities to the public by the corporation Vought International. The company sells their superhumans as wholesome and patriotic heroes but the reality is that the superhumans are deeply flawed, amoral and let their power get to their heads. In other words, the superheroes feel they are above the law and act behind the cameras and campaigns without impunity.
The main “superheroes” featured in the show belong to a superhero team called The Seven, and are basically knock-offs of the Justice League, with the Superman-type, Homelander (Anthony Starr) being the worst of the bunch. He knows he is basically a god and is treated as such by the adoring public. Literally draped with the American flag, Homelander is not above invading people’s privacy, rape, and needlessly killing people. Not all of The Seven are bad. Annie January (Erin Moriarity), is a new recruit called Starlight and she genuinely wants to do good and make a difference. The problem is the harsh reality of her co-workers disillusions her and causes her to question The Seven and how their heroic actions are solely carried out to please Vought’s marketing executives.
At the start of The Boys, one person’s life is changed forever by the superhumans. He is Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), an ordinary salesperson in New York City. His girlfriend is accidentally killed by a speedster called A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) who was speeding towards a crime scene. A-Train shows little remorse for smashing through Hughie’s girlfriend and is more concerned about not getting in trouble and not having his reputation ruined. Hughie, of course, is enraged by A-Train’s attitude and quickly becomes disillusioned by the Supes. He meets Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a grizzled and salty freelance operative for the CIA who hates all the Supes. Billy recruits Hughie and old colleagues/mercernaries such as Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), and Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) in a clandestine mission to gather intel on the Supes and bring them down. It goes without saying that the inventive and creative ways Butcher’s bunch defeats their superpowered prey is often humorous and grossly effective.
Comic book readers know by now that The Boys is based on a comic book series published by Dynamite Entertainment and created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Eric Kripke developed the show, which is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Before the show came along, many doubted that the comic book could be adapted because of its graphic content. It was so severe that the original publishers of The Boys, Wildstorm Productions, cancelled the series early in its run because it was too anti-superhero.
Thankfully, the show has been able to capture the spiteful and dark humor nature of the comic book. It provides viewers with a wry look at how superheroes would be actually perceived by the normal public and examines the implications of superheroes in our world. It is a lot like Watchmen only with more humor and not as bleak.
Even though it only has eight episodes (Amazon Prime already renewed it), The Boys is already one of the best superhero TV shows ever shown. It out-gritted previous grounded superhero shows like Daredevil and successfully emulates that feeling of engagement that Daredevil and the first season of Heroes used to hook viewers. All the characters are well cast and intriguing, even though a lot of their actions are barbaric and will make you wince. Make no mistake, this is not a standard superhero show for kids. It is jammed with graphic violence and sex acts; much of it is strangely fascinating to watch in a morbid fashion, such as the scene where Hughie’s girlfriend is suddenly turned to pulp by A-Train. But the highlight of The Boys isn’t the over-the-top violence or uncomfortable scenes,, but the characters and their situation. We are instantly involved and drawn towards Hughie, who is the confused and angry soul of the show. He is a decent man who witnessed a terrible act and is driven to want to do something but is wracked by his conscience. Meanwhile, Billy Butcher comes off as a foul-mouthed and cynical thug who has seen it all. But deep down he is embroiled in sadness and rage over his past. Butcher channels these intense emotions towards his drive to bring down Supes, especially Homelander. While we quickly come to despise Homelander and other Supes like A-Train, other Supes like Starlight and Queen Maeve (Domminique McElligott) are much more sympathetic as they struggle with their public image and their personal feelings.
Aside from the intriguing characters, The Boys carefully unveils the evil nature of Vought International with enough grim nuggets per episode to keep you watching. The company’s actions are quite horrific given the sunny nature they project to the unassuming public about their brand superheroes. In many ways, it is a sly commentary about the media in our lives and how public perception is easily manipulated.
Along with the superhero shows on the DC Universe app, The Boys is heralding the next step in superhero TV shows. If upcoming shows like Watchmen and the offerings from Disney+ match the quality of The Boys then we are in for some must-see viewing.