Writer Garth Ennis‘ comic book series, The Boys, launched in 2005 with an ultra-cynical look at superhero culture. That’s putting it mildly. Actually, it was super-violent, hyper-sexual, and unapologetically shocking in the same vein as Ennis’ Preacher, which was recently adapted for AMC by executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and is prepping for a fourth season.
Now, Eric Kripke takes on The Boys as Amazon’s series creator with Rogen and Goldberg on board again, and this must have been a challenge to bring to life. The Boys not only brings seemingly unimaginable atrocities to TV in graphic detail, but it skewers superheroes (and the society that loves them) at an eerily fitting time, not only culturally but weeks after Spider-Man: Far From Home ended the MCU Infinity Saga’s 23-movie run. Yep, this is both the best and the worst time for The Boys to arrive, which might be a fitting paradox, considering that folks are claiming superhero burnout while the box-office totals suggest otherwise.
The trickiest thing with adapting The Boys, though, isn’t necessarily timing (well, that’s a chunk of it) but tone. In Ennis’ comic, he didn’t tear down superheroes in a way that felt purposefully edgy for the sake of being edgy but in a satiric way. Yet we’re living in an era when U.S. politics resemble satire and, as a result, actual satire must strive hard to hit the mark, so viewers might feel that this show is trying a little too hard. There’s also the danger with such a self-aware project that the show could crawl up its own butt, which is never a good thing. Yet Amazon’s series manages to straddle multiple fine lines while feeling startlingly realistic, despite cartoonishly graphic violence. It’s also tackling the source material with new shades of relevance. I liked the show, quite a bit.
Let’s just put it out there, though, that this series might be, at times, uncomfortable for some to watch. Some people will be offended, and some won’t be able to stomach what materializes onscreen, given that this particular blend of sex and violence combines in nauseating ways. There’s are superhero orgies (one can gain some insight into how, exactly, Ant-Man might have sex), and in later episodes, some of the most skin-crawling sex scenes imaginable. Yet The Boys is not only dark but funny. It’s very funny, sometimes to the degree that you’ll feel bad about laughing at what you’re laughing at. It’s fine, that’s part of the process. Overall, The Boys holds a mirror up to a seemingly saturated genre, and the reflection might be pretty on the outside, but oh, the insides are ugly. This series also functions as a sweeping metaphor about power that applies to modern time, which is stunning, considering that Ennis dreamed most of this up about 15 years ago.