Let me get this out of the way before we begin: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was great and you do not need me to explain why you should see it.
Writer Garth Ennis is Mark Millar with artistic integrity. Not only has he written the best Punisher books to date, he has the uncanny ability to take intense, childishly edgy material, and play it totally straight. His books hinge on serious, but are so absurd and ridiculous they border on humorous. Ennis obviously writes to have fun and does not let that get in the way of telling a great story… except Crossed.
I was pretty young when I heard about The Boys and never picked it up because I thought it was going to be more try-hard crap like Crossed. As I got older and absorbed more of Ennis’s work I grew to appreciate what he does, but Boys did not enter my mind again until I saw it was coming to Amazon Prime. I also heard the producers of Preacher were in charge, a great show if you want to fall asleep. Needless to say I was more than a little skeptical going in.
From the start Boys captures the tone of Ennis’s writing with a heroic sequence of the show’s Justice League analogue called the Seven punctuated by a scene the protagonist’s girlfriend getting accidently obliterated by the team’s Flash equivalent. After that we switch perspectives to an up-incoming heroin called Starlight who is asked to perform oral sex on the Seven’s Aquaman analogue in order to join.
It does not get much better after that.
Boys imagines what the world would be like if superheroes were real. Not unlike how film studios handle comic book characters today, superheroes or supes as they are called in the show are corporatized assets in a multi-million dollar industry of not only (staged) crime fighting, but also movie deals, PR stunts, and sponsorships. The show also explores the psyche of the supes and gives them very human flaws. The Wonder Woman analogue is a jaded aging alcoholic. The invisible supe is a voyeuristic pervert that hangs out in bathrooms fully naked. The Superman analogue has a messiah complex and a laundry list of other issues that are bound to get worse from season to season.
The supes are only half the show with the titular Boys the main focus. We follow Hughie, a normal guy that worked at an electronics store before Butcher, an independent contractor that used to punish or kill supes for the government, recruits him following the evisceration of his girlfriend. As the pair gets deeper into a conspiracy involving the Seven and their corporate overlords, former members rejoin the Boys to help unravel the mystery. As teams go they have a good dynamic where everyone is screwed up in some way and hates each other, but they get along when it comes to taking down supes.
Unlike typical Ennis stories, the violence of the show is toned down significantly. I looked up some choice panels from Boys and there was no way even half of that was going to make it to screen. What we get is enough that it maintains the tone without too much gratuity. Sure people are lazed in half, guns melted onto criminals’ hands, and supes are blown up into bloody chunks, but it happens in short bursts about once per episode.
Where the show falters is in character progression. Boys does a good job of setting up their personalities, but they develop faster than they should for the sake of pacing. A good handful of the characters have layers of complexity that needed time to simmer and grow from episode to episode. One in particular shows his true colors rather quickly and ruins an otherwise satisfying pay off for future seasons. The whole of the season was front loaded with all this baggage unwittingly dumped on the audience for seemingly no reason. Had the show left more in the dark or set up a better cliffhanger that does not ruin the more important mystery, it would have been satisfying.
With streaming services everywhere these days, there is so much content in the open that it is impossible to judge what is worth watching. About 90% of what is available is the same crap you find on cable. The Boys is the exception as it deconstructs the superhero genre in a time when entertainment media is utterly saturated in them. May not be the most intellectual, but the show is a good start in the right direction. If you have Amazon Prime, it is worth looking into if you have eight hours to spare.