Season one of The Boys is available on Amazon Prime from July 26, 2019.
THE BOYS is an irreverent take on what happens when superheroes, who are as popular as celebrities, as influential as politicians and as revered as Gods, abuse their superpowers rather than use them for good. It’s the powerless against the super powerful as The Boys embark on a heroic quest to expose the truth about “The Seven”, and their formidable Vought backing.
When I first heard about The Boys I thought I had the series all figured out. Some irreverent anti-superhero comedy a la Deadpool but with a home grown Amazon spin.
Well I was… sort of right.
The Boys is actually a hugely lush production with great set pieces, strong characters and a well constructed narrative. This pilot episode does exactly what it needs to do by introducing us to the world and its characters.
But what you realise right from the outset is that The Boys is not going to be like any other show on TV. These are not your average heroes. For starters there are swears from pretty much everyone. Secondly the heroes aren’t really all that heroic. Don’t sit your kids down to watch this one Super Friends!
When the series own synopsis tells you these heroes abuse their powers it’s not lying. But what it doesn’t explain is the amount of context and back story which goes in to making The Boys such a compelling show.
Over the course of these first eight episodes we learn to loathe these characters. They’re an, at times, compelling bunch of “heroes” to watch but the series is heavily underpinned by their faults, their egos and their poor choices.
But ultimately the characters you will learn to love to hate will be what will keep you coming back for each new episode.
The Seven are led by the slimy Homelander (Antony Starr) who is the Superman of the group. Each of The Seven’s key members has some kind of reflective quality of a member of DC Comics Justice League – The Boys comic was published by Wildstorm for its first 6-issues.
Homelander is easily the biggest hate figure of the season. Showrunner Erik Kripke has crafted a character who publicly reflects all of those aspects of Sueprman which bring hope; the notions of truth, justice and the American-way. He even wears the American flag as a cape. Yet his actions are utterly deplorable and self serving.
As his arc develops across the season he only becomes more and more unlikeable. The fourth episode features a turning point for his character, one which really cemented that there is no redeeming qualities to Homelander. His lack of compassion is quite lethal and his dedication to Vought and Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue) is equally as dangerous.
Shue is beyond brilliant in this series. By far the best casting on the show, she remains entirely likeable even when working her best manipulation on the heroes, politicians and other notable figures. She’s delightfully wicked and yet her motivations are so well plotted that she never becomes a caricature villain figure.
Homelander has two key relationships which come in to play through the season: firstly with Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) with whom he had a previous romantic relationship; and secondly Madelyn with whom he is an incredibly complex, difficult and sometimes mildly perverse bond.
Madelyn and Homelander are utterly toxic for each other and it plays out beautifully on screen. The two continually manipulate each other around the chess board in a similar manner to Superman and Lex Luthor. It culminates in a season finale which certainly goes to places I never saw coming.
Part of me wanted these two to come together properly. To see them realise the error of their way and to work together to fix them could have been interesting. But alas it was not to be.
Homelander and Maeve have an interesting dynamic. It mirrors that of Superman and Wonder Woman – as Maeve generally does – but with this wonderful Garth Ennis edge. It’s all about appearances and feeding the Vought media machine.
Maeve fills the Wonder Woman role. She cuts an Amazonian figure and wears a similar outfit but, like Homelander, she is no beacon of hope. Much like his character she is the antithesis of everything Diana stands for. There’s a sadness to her character which plays out as quite tragic on screen. We learn early on in the season that she is a drinker and that she is no longer with Homelander. Her relationships are soured by her own inability to look inwards to her own issues and that makes her more compelling to watch as she battles her own demons as well as others.
But as The Boys does so well, it continues to dig deeper on her character as the season goes on. Behind the curtain lies an ex-lover and a history of alcohol abuse which only adds to the tragedy.
Her turning point also comes in episode four of the season. Sharing a scene with Homelander in that episode which really left me speechless. No spoilers here but it’s the epitome of what the heroes in this universe are capable of.
The Deep (Chase Crawford) and A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) as the two other heavily featured, established members of The Seven. The Deep is another deplorable character who represents the Aquaman figure and takes the term Dude-bro to a whole new level.
His character represents toxic masculinity brilliantly. His scenes are often difficult to watch and at times make me ashamed of my own gender. His character is so well written in terms of how he characterises everything that can be wrong with a young man in power. His behaviour towards women is appalling and though difficult to watch it portrays an important message about equality and fair treatment.
Crawford inhabits the role well although at times I felt he was uncomfortable with some of what his character is required to do. There’s an honourable quality to Crawford which shines through and aids the character in learning to be a – very slightly – better man by the end of the season.
Again there’s a key turning point for him towards the end of the season. A moment of comeuppance which was equally awkward to watch as a male audience member but which perfectly illustrated how the tables can turn. The twist itself is a little obvious but it’s required to push the story in the direction it needs to go for the end of his arc this season.
Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom with The Deep as he, at least, becomes a tragic figure for comedy. Watch out for the dolphin scene and the lobster scene as these are two moments which caused me to genuinely belly laugh at the show.
A-Train – The Boys version of The Flash – is possibly the most likeable of the deplorable heroes. He also has the strongest writing in his arc across the season. His flirtation with Compound V is a brilliant analogy for substance abuse in real life. His urge to perform better and better on the field is going to be easy for many to identify with.
There are recognisable qualities in A-Train for all of us as an audience and as such that makes watching his fall all the more painful to watch.
There is a light – sort of – in this gloomy, almost Snyder-esque world. Starlight/Annie (Erin Moriarty) is the newest member of The Seven and she is the innocent soul in the group. She stands apart from all the other characters in not just personality but also in appearance.
Where most of The Seven wear muted tones and dark colours her costume is almost entirely white and visually drives home the innocence of her character. She continually presented as a beacon of hope amongst the group and as such I found her a character I wanted to latch on to and root for throughout.
More so even than A-Train her narrative is the most fully fleshed out on the show. Her character also acts as the audiences viewpoint in to the world of Vought and The Seven.
As the narrative of the season builds her character toes a very fine line as a member of The Seven and as a friend to Hughie (Jack Quaid). Her relationship with Hughie is ripped straight from the pages of the comic – I believe – and represents a connection to the real world which allows her character not to be caught up in the ego of becoming one of Vought’s puppets.
Despite this there are moments in the season where Starlight is forced to make a choice. We see her truly wrestle with her conscience in regards to following the path of Vought and standing up for what she believes in.
In that respect her character is probably the comic recognisable as a comic book stereotype. There’s a hope and a lightness to her which the show needs in order to show the true darkness in the other characters.
If you haven’t already guessed, The Boys is a true ensemble cast. Outside of The Seven the titular Boys are a team of vigilante misfits who are just trying to show the heroes for who they truly are.
Karl Urban is perfectly cast as Billy Butcher. In the pilot- and to an extent episode 2 – his very much the hard man. There are very little cracks in the facade of his character in these two episodes but just when I thought I had worked out his character the show begins to show those cracks and explores a little more of his backstory.
His British accent is certainly wobbly at times but he’s so delightfully wicked that I defy any viewer not to fall for his minimal charms. He is certainly one of the most watchable characters on the show.
Hughie is counterbalance to Starlight for the rogue team. He is – at least to begin with – the voice of reason amongst the The Boys gang. His more devious moments tend to be rooted in the series comedy which, as dark as it is, still gives a good chuckle here and there. His flirtations with his own darkness don’t tend to end well but they do give the series some great physical comedy.
There’s a lot of different plot lines at play in The Boys season 1. Most of them work but several of them struggle to gain adequate screen time. There’s just a little too much going on for The Boys to fully function for the entire season.
Whilst the pilot is well plotted and paced the second and third episodes ultimately end up feeling the slowest in the season. It feels like a great opening gambit is lost in the heavy plotting of what comes next.
With its fourth episode The Boys really hits its groove. The next handful of episodes are brilliantly paced and carry through to the season finale in a flurry of set pieces, plot twists and character developments. These episodes are the best example of the show functioning at full force as subplots are interwoven in to the overall narrative in a much more natural way.
The show is at its best when it realises that not every character needs to appear in every episode. It’s typical of a new show to play with structure as it learns its own identity but here, more than most, there’s a palpable sense of the creative team trying to decide what works best.
The season finale slows the pace down again, frustratingly so. Though it’s ultimately a satisfying episode it feels slightly at odds with the preceding episodes in that it struggles to find balance.
The ending itself serves as a satisfying end to the first season. There’s enough cliffhanger to have me ready for a second season but if The Boys shuffled off this mortal coil it would still feel like complete article.
What is abundantly clear from the opening scene is that The Boys is an excellent production. Sets are lush and filled with tiny details. The Seven’s home base is a sprawling meeting room filled with monitors which all display eye catching graphics.
I can’t recall a single set which felt obviously constructed for the show. The environment and the aesthetic of the show are brilliantly crafted and that’s a true testament to how much Erik Kripke wanted to remain true to the source material.
VFX are equally impressive for a streaming TV production. The opening scene with Hughie and Robin could have quite easily made me lose my lunch had I been eating at the time. Any moment involving Homelander’s laser vision is generally going to end up being nauseating in some respect.
A special shout out to the baby with the laser vision. Never saw that one coming!
Although The Boys suffers with some pacing issues in its first season it remains a hugely entertaining and unique look at how superheroes can be corrupted and they do say absolute power corrupts…
I’m scoring this one a fiendishly wicked 7/10!
The Boys stars Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, Jack Quaid as Hughie, Laz Alonso as Mother’s Milk, Karen Fukuhara as the Female, Erin Moriarty as Annie January, Chace Crawford as the Deep, Antony Starr as Homelander and Simon Pegg as Hughie’s dad.