New from the creative minds (Seth Rogen and Garth Ennis) that adapted the dark, barbaric and satirical comic book “Preacher” for Amazon comes another bleak, cynical and darkly humourous tale in “The Boys”.
Based in a universe where superheroes walk amongst us, a sub-set of which are known as “The Seven” and are managed by a powerful corporation called Vought International which markets, commoditizes and leases their extraordinary abilities to the authorities and general public. These super-powered humans are far from the current on-screen offerings from Marvel and DC and this series finds its unique selling point in taking those no. This show finds its uniquely compelling power in taking those noble but flawed archetypes and cranking the flaws up to 11.
The SevenTM consists of Homelander as their leader – a darkly pitch-perfect star-spangled superman for today’s United States, the speedster A-Train, Aquaman cypher The Deep, Queen Maeve (Wonder Woman) , Black Noir (Batman) and invisible man Translucent who fight for the focus-group approved definitions of truth, justice and the Vought International way whilst hiding their own demons, dark secrets and faults away from their adoring fans behind public personas created, curated and polished by corporate oversight.
The mathematicians amongst you will note that there are only six members of the super-team and it’s this premise that forms the main part of the storyline for the first season. A replacement for the recently demised The Lamplighter, which sadly isn’t explained in the television adaptation, is sought via a series of “X-Factor” style auditions and after passing her initial interviews and test screenings Starlight, something of an ingenue to the corporate corruption of The Seven, is slowly introduced to the rest of the team with varying degrees of success to support missions and maintain their presence in the media. She serves as the moral compass of the show; a blue-eyed and blonde-haired dose of apple-pie Americana and a perfect foil for the remainder of the Seven as the inspiration to millions of young girls who want to be good, wholesome and to do the right thing.
To monitor, police and punish superheroes when they step out of line a secret CIA group of flawed, plucky heroes are formed called The Boys consisting of vigilantes with their own painful experiences at the hands of the gifted ones. The team is led by The Butcher, played by Karl Urban in full-on Dredd mode, as a selfish, twisted and vengeful individual with all-consuming hatred for the “supes” fuelled by his own personal scars. Early on he recruits Hughie, played brilliantly by Jack Quaid, who is wet behind the ears and mourning a devastating loss of his own due to the negligence of a member of The Seven. But to stand any chance of tackling The Seven head-on Butcher must also contact past members Mothers Milk (the muscle) and Frenchie (a drug-addicted Israeli comms expert and by far the most interesting character in the show) who are less than enthused to come back for one last job and despise each other from previous missions.
In an age where we are becoming increasingly saturated with super-beings and their aspirational examples, it’s a refreshing spin and one that has stolen the thunder of HBO’s impending Watchmen right out from under them. With “The Boys” on offer, who indeed will be watching The Watchmen? The world created by the show holds a mirror up to our own perfectly, with the masses worshipping the most popular and powerful, whose actions occur without consequence or cost thanks to their social status and the influence of dark money.
The Boys, like its characters, has its flaws but unlike its characters’ ones, they’re far from self-defeating. Karl Urban’s British accent would make Dick Van Dyke blush as it teeters between Oceanic and Transatlantic mockney and there’s no clear reason why they didn’t just allow him to use his own accent. Or maybe he just did? And, ironically given how often I complain about pacing and series lengths, not enough time is given to the backstory to allow us to invest in the characters so “The Boys” is that rare animal which would have benefitted from maybe one or two more episodes to really flesh out the world and its players. In particular, nowhere near enough time is given to Mallory, The Boys’ founder and commander, and you’ll need to read the source comics to understand why she retired from service although this may be explored in future seasons through flashbacks.
Given that Netflix has, in the past, insisted on way too many episodes per season of their Marvel shows, it’s refreshing and smart of Amazon to finish a super-heroic season with the audience hungry – no, ravenous – for more. This is, by far, one of the best seasons of superhero television ever made. As long as you aren’t a prude and aren’t of a weak disposition you don’t even need to be a fan of superheroes to enjoy this show. More, please!
Watch this if you like “Heroes” (season 1), “Preacher”, “Mystery Men” or “Watchmen”