In 2019, Amazon took the streaming world by storm when they released their gritty action drama titled The Boys on Prime Video, whose second season made it the third watched series the week it premiered in 2020. Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural and genre visionary, along with his talented team of writers, have sculpted a hair-raisingly suspenseful satire that expertly juggles themes of power, supremacy, conspiracy and redemption. Famous and idolized by the public,The Boys is set in a world where superheroes exist as A-List celebrities and are owned by a powerful corporation called Vought International, who ensures each of their heroes—or assets—are always making them millions. Behind their heroic personas and super-identities, the members of The Seven (who are a daring parody of The Justice League) are actually deeply corrupted and far from what their blockbuster movies market them to be. Through out both seasons, the audience follows two opposing groups of characters juxtaposed into a quickly-paced thought provoking story; one where The Seven lives lavishly in power while The Boys live in filth underground, plotting to topple their dynasty. The Boys are led by the vivacious and smug Billy Butcher, played by Karl Urban, while The Seven is lead by a mentally unstable, erratic, pathologically evil version of Superman: Homelander, played by Antony Starr.
The story intimately follows the newest members of the opposing groups: Hugh Campbell, played by Jack Quaid, who meets Butcher after his girlfriend is murdered by one the of The Seven (in an incredibly gory fashion) and Annie January, played by Erin Moriarty, a young girl whose recent addition to the super team forces her to face the wicked truth about the heroes she’s looked up to her whole life.
Starlight, played by Erin Moriarty, at The Seven's Headquarters within Vought Tower
#1: THE SATIRE
The first reason this series is the smartest and freshest show streaming right now has to do with not only the story it tells, but the way it’s told. For those who don’t know, satire can be defined as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices.” In this case, there’s a whole lot of vices to go around.
Popular satirical shows in recent years includeThe Office, American Vandal, Scream Queens and Succession. But in a category defined by ironic storytelling,The Boys tops them all. This series uses dark humour, irony and a sardonic story of superheroes to cynically mask an urgent political commentary about our current society. Due to the way Vought presents their heroes despite who they really are, while playing off the superficial pillars of image, reputation and praise that the company needs in order to survive, it's clear that Vought represents many corporations of the world who will do anything to keep their status and power.
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Showrunner Eric Kripke discussed the timeliness of this series and how the show is viewed as "a commentary on the intersection of capitalism and unchecked, authoritarian power." We learn the intricate systems of this dark, vain world painted over by colourful magazine covers and ostentatious uniforms through the eyes of Starlight, a small town girl new to the team. Once behind the scenes, we learn that her new colleagues are far from heroes—in fact, all of them are killers who will do anything to protect their reputations and their spots in The Seven.
What this series does best is holding a mirror up to our society and asking us all: Do we like what we see?
Karl Urban and Antony Starr in Season 3 of The Boys.
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#2: THE ANTI HERO
The Boys stands apart from other shows on Prime and Netflix for many reasons, including their ambitious quota of exploding heads per episode, but mainly because the protagonist we champion through out the story is a selfish, detached, grimy low life named William Butcher who we can’t help but love despite the awful things he does.
Billy Butcher, played by Karl Urban, in The Boys
Karl Urban does an exceptional job playing this character—Butcher is a certified scene stealer. He plows through the show with a foul mouth and a faithless attitude, his rage fuelled by the motivation to avenge his wife... who was raped and killed by The Seven's sadistic leader, Homelander. This tragedy lays the foundation for his hatred of "Supes".
Besides being the funniest character amongst a hilarious ensemble, the most entertaining facet of Butcher's identity has to be his boldness; his ability to stand as a worthy adversary against "the world's greatest superhero" when nobody else can. It's hard not to root for him once you see his story unravel and fully understand what he's fighting for. Butcher's an absolute savage and a fan favourite. You're guaranteed to laugh every time he appears on screen.
Billy Butcher in S1E5 "Good for the Soul"
To give you an idea of the Butcher-banter you'll encounter in this show, here's a clip of Butcher convincing Hughie to do something illegal (as usual):
#3: THE FEMALES
It’s impossible to write a political show revolving around current issues without addressing the male gazeand female misrepresentations. Although The Boys is among many new shows who accurately represent women as multi-faceted humans that serve a purpose to the story greater than pushing along a male-driven narrative, this series takes us a step further due to the importance Kripke places on character. Queen Maeve herself says it best: the most fascinating part about superheroes aren’t their powers… what fascinates us are their weakness. It’s what every one of their adversaries, including the Boys, are dying to know—how can they destroy somebody who is indestructible
Queen Maeve, played by Dominique McElligott, in the Season 1 Premiere"The Name of the Game"
That's what makes for a great story. These women each come from drastically different origins and none of their big problems are that they're too weak. If an entire series centred around a woman who couldn't be phased, it'd be pretty boring. And if an entire series centred around a woman who broke down crying every minute, it'd be The Vampire Diaries. The point is, the formula falls somewhere perfectly in between... and this show's got it.
Television needs more diversity in the way it portrays women and The Boys is doing everything it can to solidify its place as a trailblazer for representation on screen, even despite the fact that it's literally called "The Boys". The female characters are everything but simple, from a Japanese super soldier to a Nazi white supremacist—these girls are layered. And all of them can kick your ass.
Aya Cash as Stormfront in The Boys
One of the main characters is Starlight, who joins The Seven for all the right reasons, but finds out she's the only one interested in doing the right thing. Her story follows how she fights through and overcomes the harsh reality a lot of young women in the entertainment industry face when given global fame so suddenly, from encounters with sexual assault to major body image issues.
Here's an eerie example of how young women under corporate contracts are manipulated into doing things they aren't comfortable with, wrapped up in a farcical "superhero" industry:
#4: THE ACTION
If you're a fan of the superhero genre, it's probably because regular action just doesn't cut it for you anymore. And who can blame you? After seeing how the Russo Brothers shook up the world with their vigilant attention to combat and choreography, the standard for superhero action sequences instantly rose to new heights.
Pulling off big screen action on a television budget is no easy task (we've all seen many shows we couldn't take seriously because of corny action) but it's necessary when shooting a series about people with superpowers. One of the best parts about superheroes is watching them fight each other, whether it's hand to hand or by using their powers.
Either way, most of The Seven are impervious and are therefore not at all shy about physically confronting other characters since they can't be killed and are never held accountable for their actions. Season 2 brings you deeper into the capabilities of each Supe, including The Deep and Black Noir. The heart of this series is how The Boys, a group of human vigilantes, constantly fight superheroes with only their hands and their wit. The powers some of the characters have make for out-of-the-box sequences that keep the action fresh and suspenseful, including The Boys taking on a humpback whale and a ten foot d*ck.
#5: THE GASLIGHTING
Although the world of The Boys is full of bad guys who can use their laser vision to cut you in half or punch through your chest and pull out your ribcage, the scariest and most sinister villain of the entire series is Vought itself. And in Season 1, Vought takes human form in Madelyn Stilwell.
Madelyn Stilwell, played by Elisabeth Shue, in The Boys
In the comics written by Garth Ennis that inspired this series, James Stilwell was Vought CEO Stan Edgar’s second in command. In Amazon’s version of the story, Stilwell is a stoic corporate figurehead draped in opulence who always wears a smile and speaks only through careful, legal jargon. She shares a Freudian-like relationship with Homelander, who grew up without a mother and looks to Madelyn to fill the maternal void in his life. Not only is she in control of all the Vought heroes, but this also makes her the only one who can control their strongest Supe.
It seems every time Stilwell is on screen, she wears a mask of her own. She only ever breaks her corporate facade twice through out the whole series, and even those moments are brief and far in between. Elisabeth Shue delivers a poised and calculated performance that, much like Butcher, gives her a confidence and cadence that allows her to rival the most powerful of Supes and businessmen.
Although Madelyn's tyranny meets a scorching end thanks to Homelander's sociopathic need to prove he has no weaknesses, the gaslighting doesn't stop here. To give you a taste of the sort of legacy Madelyn left behind, here is Stormfront taking up the mantle:
#6: THE STAKES
In order to craft a thrilling series you need a careful set of ingredients, otherwise you risk allowing your audience to feel comfortable. The moment you let viewers lose the sense of urgency is the moment you risk dismantling the thrills of the story you're telling. Having a man who can kill you in less than a second without even blinking walking around your workplace is enough to feel uneasy... now add six more and you'll know what it's like to work a day at Vought.
Homelander is anything but merciful. His abilities reach no limits and he has no weaknesses, besides his constant need to be loved by the public and viewed as a hero. He is so twisted and cruel that even being in the same room as him would be terrifying.
He intimidates and manipulates everybody in the series, threatening to kill them and knowing that Vought will mop over the carnage, write a cheque to cover it up and never address it again. Exhibit A:
Through out the series, it feels as though The Boys are always moments away from being caught. The missions they pull are risky, dangerous and anything but boring. With Homelander and the other Supes always hot on their tale, The Boys never gets to a point where it allows you feel comfortable.
#7: THE CREATOR
Fans of the series know that showrunner Eric Kripke, who has given us numerous entertainingly dark projects in the past, is the biggest reason The Boys has found so much success. The series resonates with audience due to the importance Kripke places on character, the respect he has for the comics on which the series is based and ultimately pushes boundaries in the most tasteful and exciting ways.
Constantly raising the bar, it's easy to look at how far we've come since the show's pilot episode and wonder: How did we get here? It seems these wild, unpredictable and downright diabolical first two seasons have sparked an electric interest from audiences of the show. And besides the other incredible professionals involved in bringing this series to our screens, we have Kripke to thank.
Confirmed to be bringing Supernatural alumni Jenson Ackles to join the ragtag group of delinquents in Season 3, it goes without saying we're stoked to see what Kripke has planned for the future of the series.