With superhero films and TV series dominating Hollywood for over a decade, it was inevitable a project would come along that sends up the mechanics of the genre and gives a satirical look at the cape and spandex-clad characters. The Boys, which is in its third season on Prime Video, shows us a world in which superheroes are depraved egomaniacs who act above the law and whose public images are handled buy a shady multinational corporation; essentially answering the age-old question of “what would the world look like if superheroes were real?” that has echoed around comic book shops for decades. Based on Garth Ennis’ transgressive graphic novel series of the same name, The Boys comes off as the anti-MCU, where the supes are far from heroic and could not care less about saving people, unless, of course, if it helps improve their public perception, while leaving a trail of destruction and gore in their wake.
The series follows a group of humans who have each been gravely wronged in some way by the premier superhero team, The Seven, led by the maniacal Homelander (Anthony Starr), a deeply twisted version of Superman that makes Zack Snyder’s interpretation of the character in Man of Steel feel positively inspirational. The Boys are comprised of Hughie (Jack Quaid), a perceptively meek person whose girlfriend was killed due the actions of a supe; the uncompromising Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), who lost his family at a young age due to superpowered violence; Frenchie (Tomer Capone) a former enforcer for the Russian mob, who wants to use his unique skills for good; and the team’s leader Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a cockney hardman who has a personal vendetta against Homelander. The Seven works as a kind of bizzarro world version of DC’s Justice League with each member being a degenerate version of their DC counterpart; A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) is fast like The Flash and has caused civilians to disintegrate after running into them, while The Deep (Chace Crawford) is an Aquaman-like figure who’s been inducted into a cult and sleeps with the fishes—and not in the same way as Luca Brasi.
Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar once complained that Marvel’s film output has drained the sexuality out of their characters, and it is safe to say that The Boys does not fall victim to any mandate for family-friendly prudishness. Producers Erick Kripke, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg bring a wicked sense of humor to the series with explosions of bodily viscera and fluids often underlining a punchline. The show is a biting satire of not only the superhero genre but also of modern American culture, taking aim at how major corporations dig their claws into the government (which is surprising considering it is produced by one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world) and the influence social media has on cultural consensus. It is among the most astute and perceptive satires of our current time, never blaming both sides equally but showing the unfettered damage one side causes and the ineffectiveness of the other side to stop them. The latest series sees The Boys team up with Soldier Boy (Jensen Eckles), a superhero, who much like Captain America, was frozen in the mid-20th century and reanimated in the modern day in order to bring down The Homelander. But unlike Steve Rogers, Soldier Boy is not a vision of goodness, but rather more representative of a powerful white man from that era.
The large ensemble is terrific and perfectly cast. Karl Urban, who is something of an icon in geek culture having appeared in Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings and starred in the excellent action film Dredd, gives a career best performance. But Starr is transcendent as Homelander, creating a character whose actions are impossible to predict and imbuing every scene he is in with a sense of dread and anxiety that makes it hard to look away. He is perhaps the most intense and terrifying villain put on screen since Heath Ledger’s Joker.
The Boys elevates and redefines the superhero genre. If you can stomach the gore, graphic sex and subversive depictions of our current political climate, it is well worth binging.
Available on Prime Video
The third season of Bill Hader’s dark comedy about a hitman trying to be an actor is another brilliant installment of what might be the best show on television. Following the events of the previous season, the relationships between Barry (Hader), his acting teacher, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), and his handler, Fuches (Stephen Root), have deteriorated to the point where both men want to see him dead, while his girlfriend, Sally (Sarah Goldberg) achieves career success and no longer needs him. Hader continues giving a revelatory performance that has seen him win two Emmys with a third likely coming his way, but he also takes the reins as both writer and director of the series, and his work in those departments is simply astonishing. His construction of scenes and choices in cinematography are never less than exemplary, which makes me excited to see what he will be able to accomplish as a feature filmmaker.
It is hard to explain what makes Barry without spoiling its plot which consistently unfolds in unexpected but satisfying ways, creating twists and turns that wouldn’t be out of place on Breaking Bad, and expertly woven with a unique sense of humor that feels entirely original to the show. Barry is an incredibly original show that manages to fit side splitting jokes within the same scenes as depictions of the deep depths of human darkness. Who would have thought Stefon had such a work of dark art in him?
Available on HBO