There are few shows which can both entertain and provoke effectively. The Boys on Amazon Prime Video meets and clears that high bar. The show is unique not only for its diabolical fun but also for its thought-provoking satire. With the help of these qualities, it achieves the cinematic holy grail of leaving a deep and profound impact on the viewer whilst always keeping them entertained. Heading into Thanksgiving, binge-watching Season 2 of The Boys would truly be a great way to spend the holiday weekend.
The Boys is essentially a story of what superheroes might actually look like: not noble principled saviors, but ordinary people corrupted by power. The Seven, as the superheroes are called, work for a corporation called Vought (roughly the size of about 5 Amazons), whose reach extends into nearly every industry and government circle. As Vought covers up the Seven’s frequent abuses of power, they are opposed by the Boys, a ragtag group of underdogs with individual vendettas against the Seven. In Season 2, we further explore their travails as they take on the all-powerful superhero-corporate complex.
The most important reason to watch The Boys, something Season 2 reaffirms, is the subversive quality it exhibits in every second of the show. The subversion is both of the absurd and the grave forms. The absurd permeates nearly every scene, with characters often teasing each other in a self-aware manner, time devoted to weird quirks (such as a certain superhero’s obsession with milk), and even devoting exposition to wild characters like Love Sausage (I’ll leave you to guess that superpower). But there is also the grave, with powerful satire on topics ranging from racism to gender inequality.
Underneath the show’s subversive irreverence, there is a deep understanding of the tropes and narratives which are fundamental to a good story. The writers use these tropes in a self-aware manner and build on past interpretations of them. The underdog trope, which is an important premise of this show, is explored beyond merely a struggle of good versus bad. We are made to understand and empathize with the characters’ motivations, even if what they are doing is unconscionable. The relationships between the characters don’t feel half-baked but are nuanced and follow a convincing logical progression. If you appreciate powerful, believable storytelling, this one's for you.
In particular, Season 2 features a multitude of technical achievements. The direction is fast and snappy, keeping us hooked without feeling rushed. The writing balances the tender moments well, including the arc of the protagonist Billy Butcher and several endearing moments for Hughie, another member of the Boys. While we tend to dismiss the acting in superhero movies, some actors in The Boys truly excel. Case in point: Antony Starr, who plays Homelander (an evil crossover of Superman and Captain America). Through him, we might just have got one of the most legendary villains ever on celluloid, and I for one can’t wait to see what showrunner Eric Kripke has cooked up for him next season.
Does this mean the show is perfect? No, certainly not. Coming from Season 1, the jokes often feel a bit overdone, and the story progression can feel slow at certain points. Perhaps most importantly, the show is constantly driven to raise the stakes, making jokes more outlandish and stunts more abnormal. There is a limit to that strategy, and I do have questions about its sustainability as they begin production on an eagerly-awaited Season 3.
Perhaps the best reason to watch The Boys is that it is extremely timely. It is often said the best form of satire is the one that speaks truth to power. A satire which chooses to mock the powerful, instead of the powerless. Season 2 of The Boys was made for the moment. The show echoes the recent protests in the wake of George Floyd's death when African-American actor Laz Alonso delivers a powerful monologue reflecting on the realities of police brutality. It also doesn’t shy away from being political, commenting on the rise of Neo-Nazism and intolerance in society with several intolerant characters and plotlines. These lead to numerous hard-hitting moments, such as powerful dialogues such as “They like what I have to say, they just don’t like the word Nazi!” This is a memorable line in the finale when the primary intolerant character finally lets loose.
The Boys does not aim to be either Keeping up with the Kardashians or Citizen Kane. Instead, it aims and achieves the goal of being the intersection of the two: to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. In the times we live in, such art is important and necessary. Personally, I am counting the days until Season 3 comes out.