Rating: 2.5 out of 5
The rise of superhero movies has been expeditious and unprecedented. In a post-Iron Man world, beautiful humans saving the earth with their immense powers transitioned from pages in the hands of dorky teenagers into cineplex’s everywhere. Universal appeal was impossible in the drastic cultural shift towards superheroes. Some were going to feel left out by this completely unforeseen development in cinema. The Boys attempts to fill that hole for viewers who expect a bit more self-awareness and maturity from superhero flicks. The premise has the incisive, satirical commentary of a Watchmen but unfortunately the execution is something closer to the Ryan Reynolds version of Deadpool: frustratingly safe and only occasionally as much fun as it makes itself out to be.
The Boys follows a world where superheroes are not only real but commodified, they are like celebrities within a star system. They have to conform to certain image restrictions and character definitions, their public persona is their most valuable asset. The show begins with a particularly horrible public relations nightmare, the main character Hughie (Jack Quaid) watches his girlfriend die in a brutal accident involving one of the world’s most famous superheroes A-Train (Jessie T. Usher). A-Train has a fascinating arc, equally sympathetic and villainous. The character of Hughie, however, proves too heavy a task for Jack Quaid. There are seldom scenes where his grief is palpable and his revenge believable. He remains frustratingly bland for the duration of the season until the writers abandon their interest in his story towards the final episodes, even the show-runners (Eric Kripke) struggle to find reasons to care about Hughie.
The characters surrounding Hughie are often much more interesting. The mercenary trio of Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), Frenchie (Tomer Capon), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) is often winningly cute but consistently cliche. Their jokes are completely predictable and their infighting feels undeniably familiar to a myriad of action flicks over the last thirty years but the actors have genuine fun with the material they are working with. The world’s most famous superhero group, The Seven, are arguably the shows most compelling element. Whether it’s the Freudian-mother complex of Homelander (Anthony Starr) or Queen Mave’s (Dominique McElligot) weathered industry veteran attempting to keep her head both in and slightly above the sociopathy surrounding her; this group of performers make the strongest case for this show deserving a second season. The Deep (Chance Crawford) is one of the show’s most troubling yet hilarious characters, the dolphin scene is likely one of the funniest of the year, but reckoning with his misogyny felt like an afterthought.
The show perhaps suffers from its massive ensemble. One of the main character’s Starlight (Erin Moriarty) feels like a goody-two shoes archetype as if her virtue bored the writer’s into never taking her character anywhere significant, similar to their fumbling of the main character Hughie. The primary villain Madilyn Stidwell (Elisabeth Sue) is often thrilling and enigmatic in her motivation, an ordinary human with as much power as the superheroes themselves because of her wealth of information. The affection for evil is so often more thoughtfully sketched and entertaining than the protagonists , who become sidelined in favor of the antagonists. The violence is gratuitous, grandiose and usually comedic but sparse enough that when it appears it is a welcome stylistic flourish to contrast the shows understated tone which is frequently just as muted as the two leads.
The Boys needs some work. It’s entertaining but by no means does it strive for any revelatory territory, however, it suggests it’s willing to go there. The show is a great respite from the current generation of superhero-media. It’s a TV show with a proudly devilish smile that succeeds when it revels in its sleaze and the fluid morality of it’s high-concept but fails when it leans into the same techniques as the AAA superhero films; paper thin boy-scout-virtue leads and stilted character development. Season two is going to be an uphill battle. Between the dedicated main cast and showrunner Eric Kripke, hopefully The Boys will outgrow it’s shaky foundations.