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Under the influence
It’s not the first time the superhero has been deconstructed, the most famous and best example would be Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen. The subject has also been approached in Man of Steel and the Superman Comics, Marvel’s Civil War (both the movie and the comics), Alan Moore’s MiracleMan and loads more.
While it’s fresh air for TV we can stop with the fresh take on the genre bullshit? Because The Boys is clearly inspired by the aforementioned titles. It’s not an antidote to the superhero either because it’s based on a comic book and superheroes drive the story. The point of difference you get from The Boys is the dark, gritty, profane and ultra-violent exterior combined with characters that (even when they’re at their most bleak) can draw empathy from the audience.
Meet the makers
The Boys is based on the comic book series of the same name written by Garth Ennis (of Preacher fame) and illustrated by Darick Robertson, who is best known or his work on Transmetropolitan. The TV series was developed by writer/ producer Eric Kripke, best known for creating the TV series Supernatural. He’s joined by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg (among others) as executive producers. These guys are the same producers behind the Preacher TV series, clearly fans of Ennis’s work, and what you have here is a much slicker, better paced production, largely attributed to the experience Kripke brings to the team.
Combine that with a group of directors responsible for shows like The Wire, Homeland, The Walking Dead, NOS482, Dexter etc. and you’d have to say that this story is in very experienced hands
The Boys is set in a dystopian society where superheroes are seen more as a commercial entity similar to elite athletes. The best of the bunch are signed to very lucrative contracts as protectors of particular cities across the United States. They’re franchised out by the Voght company and at the pinnacle of these franchises you will find The Seven whoa are based in New York City.
The Seven are like a parody of the Justice League led by an incredibly powerful Superman character called The Homelander. He’s marketed to stand for truth, justice and the American way. Underneath the surface however, things are driven by the company bottom line, lobbying politicians, doing whatever it takes to land illusive defence contracts and trying to manage the company reputation against some pretty questionable moral decisions from the business and the heroes, or “supes” as they’re better known.
Enter Hughie, a young bloke happy in love until one day his girlfriend is splattered by one of The Seven running at supersonic speed, apparently en route to prevent a crime. Hughie’s left with nothing but her arms, a puddle of bone fragments and bloody goo at his feet. In the days following the incident he struggles to come to terms with his girlfriend being considered collateral damage by the team at Voght and being offered hush money to make the situation disappear. He meets Billy Butcher, a shady yet charming character who offers him the chance to get square by joining The Boys, a group of blokes on a mission to make the lawless supes accountable for their crimes.
The show covers topics ranging from grief to toxic workplaces, the merging of celebrity and politics, sexual assault, the negative effects of social media and what it is that makes us human. There’s also a bit of a mystery at the centre of it to kick the story along. It’s all incredibly dark yet they manage to make it a lot of fun thanks to a great story and an excellent cast.
The best performances come from Chace Crawford as Aquaman equivalent The Deep. Dominique McElligot, the amazon Queen Maeve. Erin Moriarty plays the all round good girl Starlight. Jack Quaid is the long suffering Hughie. Tomer Capon is really good (and possibly underrated) as Frenchie. Elizabeth Shue is awesome as company director Madyline Stilwell. Anthony Starr really grows on you as Homelander, to the point of being quite terrifying, and Karl Urban is having an absolute ball as the leader of The Boys, Billy Butcher.
There’s a couple of smaller parts in there too which are pretty decent. Hayley Joel Osment plays washed up psychic Mesmer and Billy Zane drops in to play himself. Simon Pegg also pops up as Hughie’s dad. It’s great to see Pegg in this role, even if he seems a bit too young for the part. The original character design for Hughie in the comics was based on Pegg’s likeness, so it’s a nice nod to the source material
The Boys certainly pushes the boundaries of good taste and what you can get away with in a TV show and it’s all the better for it. While the story does stray slightly from the comic there’s a lot of love that has gone into this show. Every being this seems to be a fan but not so much that they don’t know when to pump the breaks on the Garth Ennisness of it. Make no mistake, Ennis is great, the Quentin Tarantino of comics even, but some of the stuff he commits to a page just does not work as well on screen. The Preacher TV series, which is also a really great show, is a good example of that.
Where Preacher can often feel a bit surreal and meandering, The Boys cuts to the chase much quicker and delivers really big wow moments in each and every episode.
This show ticks all the boxes, it looks good, the cast are excellent, the writing is really tight and there’s not one episode that doesn’t belong in this 8 part season.
Audiences will be hard pressed to recall or compare the level of gore and profanity seen here (maybe The Walking Dead) and while it might be a stretch to say it’s tastefully done, it’s done just right. It fits with the story and it hammers home the sense of power you get from the supes.
It’s likely they wouldn’t have got away with a show like this pre-streaming services. The show feels new in the way you may have experienced the first time they decided to push the boundaries and say “fuck” on commercial television. If The Boys is anything to go by pretty soon they’ll be splattering people and turning them into protein shakes for meta-humans all the time.