I went into THE BOYS with low expectations and ended up falling in love. This Amazon Prime original proves again we are in the golden age of television.
The trailer caught my eye but seemed to promise an over-baked premise with plenty of inside jokes and campiness. Superheroes are bad guys, it’s up to a small group of former-government operatives to keep them in line. The beauty, however, is in the execution. The series fully fleshes out the pessimistic concept and plays it perfectly by making superheroes analogous to entertainment and sports celebrities backed by a giant corporation, in doing so making superheroes, well, actually believable.
In this world, superheroes are discovered and signed with a corporation called Vought, which sells them on crime-fighting contracts to cities across the United States. They are given costumes and personas and then branded by a vast marketing apparatus including product endorsements, social media campaigns, the works. Accustomed to being worshipped and having powers allowing them to do anything they want, they become erratic, egotistical jerks in their private lives. With enormous powers and without any real training, they often produce a huge amount of collateral damage as they fight crime, which is covered up by Vought. Vought is not satisfied with fighting crime and branding and merchandising, and wants to take superheroes to the next level–licensing them to the government for national defense.
After Hughie (the likeable Jack Quaid) loses what he loves to a superhero, he is recruited by Billy the Butcher, who is reassembling a disbanded secret government unit tasked with keeping the superheroes in line. Butcher is the story’s Captain Ahab, consumed by a diabolical desire for vengeance to a level where he sometimes feels like a supervillain. Their target is the Seven, this universe’s version of the Justice League, led by Homelander, a cross between Superman and Captain America.
The Seven is the most interesting part of THE BOYS. Homelander (played to menacing perfection by Anthony Starr) steals the show, a megalomaniac who projects an aw-shucks, morning-in-America, apple-pie persona. Whenever he’s onscreen, you never forget at any moment he could kill you and everybody else if he wanted. The other superheroes in the Seven are presented as a Wonder Woman-type who drinks too much and is going through the motions after losing her naivete, an Aqua Man type who sexually harasses his coworkers, and A-Train, who comes across as the worst kind of celebrity athlete. Each has a weakness that doesn’t quite redeem them but does make them at least a little sympathetic, a great touch reminding you nobody in this show is perfect, everybody is flawed but also very human. Our entry into this world is Starlight, a naive Midwestern emerging superhero who becomes the newest member of The Seven and is in for a shock. Her romance with Hughie starts out as a weak thread but grows stronger by the end.
The growing conflict between the Boys and the Seven plays out to an excellent season 1 climax. With so much on the table at the end, season 2 promises higher stakes and mayhem. I can’t wait.