The Boys is an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ deconstruction of the superhero genre. The series first season is an excellent exploration of superheroes as a concept, unchecked capitalism, and the price for revenge. The titular Boys exist in a world riddled with superheroes, all under the control of Vought International. They are humanities last defense when superheroes abuse their extraordinary abilities.
One could argue Vought American’s shameless commercialization of superheroes is pretty accurate to reality —which is what makes the Boys such an interesting series to watch. There is one big difference between the Superheroes in The Boys and the MCU brigade. The super powered characters in The Boys are complete, as character Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) would say, “arseholes”. Standing against them is aforementioned Butcher and his team — ready to give the degenerate superhero community “a spanking” if they get out of hand. And boy to the superheroes get up to some naughty business in The Boys first season.
The Boys first season begins with Billy Butcher recruiting a mew team member, Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid). Hughie has suffered a horrible loss, following which he becomes swept up into an ongoing conflict against earth superheroes, namely Justice League analogues The Seven. From there, all hell breaks loose as the tension between The Boys and their enemies escalates to a global scale.
For those unfamiliar with the source material, The Boys is violent, crude, and doesn’t pull any punches — with the Amazon adaptation being no different. For reference, it shares a similar tone to AMC’s Preacher, which is due to both series being based off Garth Ennis penned comics. The violence in the series is often excessive and gory, but the series does not brush aside the consequences of said violence.
Death and mutilation are used effectively as a source of dark humor in The Boys, but the web series does offer very realistic reactions to that violence. In fact, much of the series is centered on the traumatic ramifications of violence, whether it is being committed or merely witnessed by a character. Without going into spoiler territory, Hughie and The Female’s (Karen Fukuhara) character arcs deal with PTSD, which for Hughie worsens as he is exposed to more of Butcher’s world. Quaid does a great job playing the innocent Hughie reacting to his mew situation, and Fukuhara’s use of body language in her performance — due to her character is mute — is incredible.
The approach to violence in the series is one example of Kripke and his writers room’s deep attention to character. They have put together a well rounded cast, with each character rendered with a fair amount of complexity. I will not go into detail on every performance to avoid this review growing in length to 2000 or more words, but suffice to say, every actor here deserves an award for their work.
The Boys centers largely on the titular and the world’s most famous superheroes, The Seven. Hughie Campbell is the POV character, and along with Billy Butcher are the center of the series. The relationship between the two leads is fantastic, with Butcher operating as the perfect grim foil for the good natured Hughie. Billy Butcher is a manipulative and violent beast of a man, but his relationship with Hughie softens the character and provides glimpses of what he was before he entered into the world of superheroes. The differences between the two highlights Hughie’s optimism as a character, something that seems very difficult in the world of the Boys. Urban does an excellent job playing Butcher. The actor balances the humor and brutality of Butcher quite well.
Starlight (Erin Moriarty) — real name Annie January — is the newest member of the Seven. She represents a traditional superhero which is in stark contrast to her teammates in The Seven. Starlight’s arc involves her facing the harsh realities of the corporate superhero life in The Boys, where superheroes are not different than villains. So, at first glance it appears that The Boys really does not care for superheroes as a concept. In truth, the series is really against corporate America.
The Boys is cynical about corporations, but not about superheroes. Every single hero we meet is a pretty bad person. Some are complete monsters, but none of them, sans Starlight, act like typical superheroes. Their general arsehole-ery is largely due to the influence of Vought International. It is that company’s irresponsibility that made the superheroes the dysfunctional individuals that they are. Starlight’s arc not only shows her strength as an individual, but also highlights how much the members of The Seven have fallen.
That approach to The Seven keeps them from coming off as simplistic villains, with good writing and performances adding depth to those characters. The actors cast as the Seven, namely Anthony Starr’s Homelander, bring a lot of emotion to their performances, which makes these genuinely awful super-people feel human. The audience can easily sympathize with every character on the series good or bad. That audience identification makes the confrontations between The Boys and The Seven a great viewing experience.
In focusing on Vought’s corrupting influence over superheroes, The Boys is not cynical about them as a concept. Being a hero almost feels like something to stride towards in the dark world of The Boys. The writers who have built this world made sure that remaining a good person is not an easy task, and that struggle is what makes the series character’s so likable. Starlight, similar to Hughie, represents innocence and are therefore the perfect audience surrogates for The Boys. They are good people that live in a world of shit, so it’s hard not to be on their side.
The Boys was a political comic book, and the television series is no different. I already mentioned the criticism of corporate greed, which then dove-tales into politics and how easily bought the citizen’s representatives can be. Vought has ambitions — flaunting its riches to essentially rise above most forms of authority. In doing so, they steam roll over anyone in their way with little to no remorse. The Boys however cannot be bought — with the series having a very obvious anti-authority streak to it. In that way the series is quite cathartic, with the protagonists fighting for the little guy in a world of larger than life beings, be they super or corporate.
In adapting the material, Eric Kripke and his writers room took elements of the source material and made some big changes. Those changes seem to reflect the societal climate this web series was created in, and it works really well. The series’ writers seamlessly reference the #metoomovement with the Starlight character, making it work within the context of the series. The plot thread about sexual harassment also includes one of the best scenes in the entire first season, largely due to Erin Moriarty’s great acting. This reference to a real world social movement is also one of many, many, plot threads in The Boys’ first season.
Slow paced television is not a label that can be applied to The Boys. The first season moves at a very brisk pace, packing in a lot of plot into those eight episodes. It does a pretty good job of giving each character room to breathe while juggling a sizable number of storylines. Admittedly some parts of the narrative feel rushed as a result, with nuance being dropped in favor of the unwelcome exposition dump. It is not a major problem with the series, but could have been avoided with one or two more episodes.
On to the more technical aspects of The Boys, I do love the how the show’s production team uses music. Each song provides both for a sense of irony and plot development. Lately live action serials have done well with the use of popular music, and the Boys in no exception. It also helps keep the show from getting too dour because, as mentioned before, the world of The Boys is really dark.
Between its complex characters and highly relevant themes, Amazon’s The Boys is an absolute delight. I would call it one of the best superhero shows available, and a must see series for 2019.
Side note: It was not 2000 or more words… so success.