While this adult-aimed series is focused on superheroes it also serves as a metaphor of our current social upheaval.
The new streaming frontier we are experiencing has brought out some competition, and it has also led to a new golden era of television quality. Not only are there more choices between services (with many others arriving) but these competitors are trying to lure customers with a novel concept; offering quality content.
Amazon has been adept at bringing the quality and its latest offering – “The Boys” – is both a challenge and a rewarding experience. The premise surrounds a world where superheroes are a recognized way of life, an elevated class who are also media famous. They are regulars on news features, appear in pay-per-view events, and are treated with all of the same awe and deference as Hollywood celebrities.
This group of supers are also shown behind the scenes to be a venal and corrupt lot of characters. Hundreds of super heroes operate across the country under the mantle of a corporate conglomerate. Entitled Vaught International the company concentrates on a core group of heroes, called The Seven. This proto-Justice League serves as the face of the company and their success and images are what is the focus of Vaught executives.
The figurehead of The Seven is a Super-Man hybrid named Homelander. There are others who serve as avatars of the DC Comics universe, such as Queen Maeve (Wonder Woman), A-Train (The Flash), and The Deep (Aquaman). There is also the silent Black Noir, and the carbon-influencing disappearing Translucent. Newcomer to The Seven is Starlight, a young naive and wholesome girl named Annie who has strong electrical powers.
The story opens with a mortal named Hughie Campbell who is with his girlfriend on a street. She meets an untimely end, the result of a superhero accident (the scene deserves to be witnessed) and as a result the distraught Hughie falls into an alliance with Billy Butcher, a self-proclaimed leader of The Boys who are mercenaries against the Supes. Karl Urban plays Butcher in brilliant fashion, a blunt cold-approach individual but also an understanding sort.
Also excellent is Elizabeth Shue, the corporate manager of The Seven. She is a calculating villain but does not play her character as an arch caricature. She is a great vehicle for this production that takes a dark view of heroes but does not lapse into full cynicism. The presentation is unflinchingly harrowing, showing these national icons as full-on anti-heroes. THough dealing with comic book heroes this is an unmistakably adult property. Conjure an image of a Hollywood celebrity steeped in scandal, and you have the sense of daily activities for many of these Seven.
While rooted in a comic book series from 2006 of the same name, this property has been attempted to be adapted a number of times unsuccessfully. Seth Rogan and Evan Golddberg managed to get this moved to Amazon, with the creator of the hit series “Supernatural” Eric Kripke on as primary writer. While that means you could depend on a proper dark and twisted view of things what we also have served up is a decent allegory for our current political climate (intentional, or otherwise.)
These Supes resemble politicians who are seemingly out to serve the citizenry but ultimately are just an avaricious group looking for personal gain. When Annie/Starlight is brought into the fold she is an idealistic figure, wanting to make the world a better place. She is instantly faced with an entity that is more focused on media presence and polling numbers, above actually fighting crime. She also encounters a workplace sexual assault, so her disillusionment is instantaneous.
The Seven has their entire image massaged and presented to the public with the most glossy package possible. All scandal and negative optics are scrubbed, and staging of rescues and missions is not out of consideration. The version served up to the public has a wide gulf between the dark reality. Butcher and The Boys are working as the counterbalance, acting as the corrective force who knows the truth and works to find the proof of their actual state.
In this way they feel emblematic of the social media and citizen journalist pushback we frequently see in our current political climate. In much the same way the media narratives frequently get battled these days The Boys are fighting a powerful complex with vastly greater resources. The quest for truth leads to guerrilla tactics, but getting that message out compels them.
The feeling throughout “The Boys” is one where lessons are not just being delivered but a roadmap may also be offered up. What are we to do when we discover the paragons of our society are truly not the heroes they have been positioned to be? While it could feel fruitless to battle such a massive force we see that if we just sit back and absorb the messaging things are no less dangerous, and possibly more so.
Even putting aside the potential messaging you have a show worth watching. The graphicness and intensity are there, but so is the quality. The writing is strong throughout, and the performances elevate that content. Even though it is steeped in the bad nature of all concerned it delivers the goods.