I was sure I would hate The Boys. “It’s about superheroes, but they’re a**holes!” a friend told me gleefully. No thanks!
I’m not a huge superhero person, but I’m a devoted fan of a couple of the DC shows, I enjoy a big Marvel outing (but skipped a lot of the early ones), and I’ve loved Superman since I was a kid, whether it was the old Max Fleischer cartoons or the Christopher Reeve version. The idea of superheroes appeals, whether they’re perfect like Superman, or just testing the waters, like Spider-Man. Captain Marvel was a little “meh” in my book, but I loved Wonder Woman and Black Panther. And like all of those, The Boys is based on a comic book.
But in these already dark times, do I need to see asshole superheroes? No. My friends who watch it described it as “not a Laurie show,” knowing that I can’t watch even the most brilliant shows on TV if they’re too dark, too bleak, or too violent. And yet when I finally gave in and tried watching The Boys, I became utterly obsessed. Here’s why.
The First Episode Hooks You Immediately
The Boys does its worldbuilding and character-building so effectively in its first episode that you’ll know instantly if this is a show for you. Hughie, played by Jack Quaid (with his father’s sexy eyes and his mother’s sweetness, his parents are Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan), loses his girlfriend due to a superhero’s mistake in a horrific but visually stunning moment that sets up the entire story, and every bit of character introduction or worldbuilding is added at a perfect pace.
Hughie is the last guy you’d ever expect to get caught up in this kind of story, and yet it makes complete sense when it happens.
The Violence is Both Artistic and Funny
There are a lot of shows I don’t watch simply because the violence is too much for me. Even worse than graphic violence is sadistic violence… It’s deprived me of many great Quentin Tarantino movies. But the violence on The Boys, while gory and fairly frequent, is somehow watchable. Sometimes it’s absurd, usually it’s extreme, but it’s done in a way that keeps my eyes on the screen instead of having me squint and wince in horror. In the pilot, it somehow managed to be beautiful even when it was horrible… and for pure violent comedy, just wait until you get to a certain whale scene.
That said, by season two there were scenes I had to look away from. My threshold is not very high. Even then, it’s still done creatively, so the most extreme scenes were worth a peek.
The dialogue is brilliant
A lot of great high-concepts have been ruined by bad writing. Manifest and Designated Survivor were both shows with compelling premises that got boring, mostly thanks to unmemorable characters speaking very lame dialogue.
While everyone has great lines, the champion of the series has to be Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher. His one-liners, insults, and descriptions are all gems, and the obscenity he spews out is laugh-out-loud colorful and clever. He said that fans were coming up to him on the street (back when people did such things) and asking him to please, pretty please call them a cu**, if that tells you anything.
The Writers Keep Upping the Ante, but Know When to Slow Down
The writers and producers really know how to build a story. Just when you get your footing, there’s a shift in the status quo of just about everything, that takes the story in a whole new direction.
And yet in the middle of big plot twists and high stakes, we get brief joyful moments. No spoilers, but one of the best stop-down sweet ones involves a road trip and a sing-along to my least favorite Billy Joel song on the radio, providing a respite from the intense, high-stakes drama with some unadulterated joy and connection. Brief, but delightful.
The Casting is Perfection
I consider this a trademark of show creator Eric Kripke, who also co-created another favorite of mine, Timeless. Three of the Timeless actors have already popped up on The Boys: Malcom Barrett, Claudia Doumit, and Goran Višnjić. Giancarlo Esposito is in it too, proving once again that he can play any role in the universe and pull it off. Simon Pegg plays Hughie’s dad. And the stars? Jack Quaid, Laz Alonso, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty… you can’t take your eyes off any of them. As for Karl Urban, all I can say is that I was already a fan thanks to his turn as Dr. McCoy in the Star Trek movies, but my thoughts have inexplicably (considering the type of character he’s playing) become very, very carnal. Hi Karl!
The Premise is So Much More than “Superheroes Are Jerks”
IMDb describes the series thus: “A group of vigilantes sets out to take down corrupt superheroes who abuse their superpowers.” But like the first description I heard, it’s not really what the show’s about.
There’s a season 2 after show (Prime Rewind: Inside the Boys), which is where Eric Kripke explained that The Boys is an attempt to answer the question “What would happen if superheroes existed in the real world?” Kripke said what interested him the most is what would happen to superheroes if they had superpowers, but also real-world qualities (instead of the usual nobility). It’s not so much about superheroes, but about celebrities, corporate culture, and power of all kinds. Every single person, “supe” or not, is a character study… terrifying, hilarious, and very human at the same time, which sums up the entire tone of the show.
Yes, there’s lots of sex and violence, it’s raunchy as hell, and no, you shouldn’t watch it with kids around—not even teenagers if you want to avoid the awkwardness of watching sex scenes with them, some of which get super weird. But do yourself a favor and watch it… and prepare to get obsessed.
You Can Find The Boys on Prime Video.
A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.