Reviewed in the United States on July 27, 2019
I'm about 3/4 of the way through season 1 and I don't know if I will make it to the end. It's a shame because there are very good actors attached to this show, I am a Karl Urban fanboy, and I have a mild affinity for dark, edgy, irreverent things and character studies of abhorrent people. I should be into this show. Even if executed in a mediocre fashion, this show is the kind of fare I would expect to pump into my eyeballs. But it's pretty much lost me. The prime remaining motivation for my continuing to the end is basically the sunk cost fallacy; I've made it this far and spent this much time, might as well continue and spend the remaining time.
This show is dark. Really, really dark. It goes out of its way to bludgeon you with the worst of humanity in startlingly uncreative ways, and then rank order and present them in degrees of evilness that don't make much sense (e.g. cold-blooded murder is presented as more heroic, or at least less evil and more palatable than hypocritical pseudo-Christians who secretly like gay sex). It takes great pains to destroy all hope, optimism, joy, and goodwill toward fellow man.
I don't necessarily mind a show brutally exploring dark, subversive, or deeply uncomfortable topics. A superhero television show is a solid space to explore such things, as we are buried in bog standard hero archetype movies and television. The genre has plenty of pegs to fall and dark alleys to explore. Movies like Deadpool do so to some extent, but there's far more and far darker to explore.
However, if a show is to explore that space, it needs more to it than darkness, subversion, and discomfort. Otherwise it's merely cheap porn for nihilists. This show doesn't make that cut, in my opinion. It makes attempts that start off well enough, but almost unfailingly disposes of decent, though thoroughly unoriginal, setups for cheap shock or gore.
Superheros are social media, movie, and cultural stars cynically exploited, voluntarily, by a corporation treating them as commodities. This takes its toll on the "heroes." The fame and potential for reputation damage leads them to make horrible choices to stave off the worst. However, the naive newcomer not yet fully corrupted, theoretically in place to illustrate this by contrast, is immediately mostly as culpable as several of them. She's addicted to the fame. She's willing to go along with her own rape to not affect her image. She's mortified that she may be fired or drop in ratings after saving a woman from being raped. She'll don skimpy sexualized outfits to save her job. She's not remotely innocent, she's merely not as bad as the worst of them (yet?). The most difficult ethical choice and test of character she's experience through the first 6 episodes was within her first 10 minutes on screen and she failed. So the stakes gone. It becomes merely a question of when she miraculously grows a spine and pushes back, only for her fortitude to vanish in the next episode.
Instead, she could have been shown fighting against the corruption of her soul, only to lose at her darkest moment (e.g. she could have to corrupt herself in order to save the world (her stated dream)). This would show the process, in brutal detail, that corrupted the other "heroes," giving us sympathy for them, despite their abhorrent character. If not that, she could at least take small baby steps throughout the season, ending with horrible acts rationalized under a continuously building loop of "a little worse won't hurt." But no, within minutes of her introduction she's blowing a fellow hero so that he doesn't kick her off the team and ruin her image. None of the other "difficult choices" presented after have any weight because she's already sold out. All doubt of how far she'll go is erased.
Our theoretical main character (Hughie) lapses straight to superhuman murder almost immediately after getting the opportunity, for unclear reasons. Translucent, the super he murders, didn't particularly wrong him to egregious extent. He has no reason to seek terminal levels of revenge against Translucent specifically, and isn't shown to have character defects or other reasoning to justify it (he was shown to have been fond of superheroes prior to the events of the first episode, not harboring pre-conceived prejudices or distaste). Had A-Train, the super who did wrong him in a manner that would believably inspire murderous intent, been his first kill, I would buy his choice, especially given the extenuating circumstances presented in that episode. However, instead, the show chooses to have him kill the super that is arguably the least or 2nd least abhorrent of the main bunch we're shown, with very little push and very little remorse. The result is he's not a wronged anti-hero, he's a borderline psychopath.
This completely cheapens all his difficult character moments in later episodes. He's already rationalized murder of someone who had yet to do him unforgivable or blinding wrongs, and who was not presenting *immediate* threat demanding instinctive self-defense. I'm not buying his shock and moral outrage at being stopped from saving someone who's dying while having sex with a drugged out super later, if he has the stones and moral flexibility to murder Translucent.
I could go on with numerous other examples where a dark story thread with potential is prematurely preempted in order to show us something shocking, gory, or at terminal darkness, but I believe this illustrates my point sufficiently. So now I'll switch to some weird hangups of the writers.
Someone involved with this show has some deep resentment of Christians and rural middle-Americans. It goes far out of its way to show them as weird, vapid, judgmental hypocrites trying to cynically corrupt everyone around them. For no clear story reason, the only prominent character, with that background, that doesn't possess those particular traits, trips over herself to say she's not like those other Christians and rural folk multiple times. She could simply not possess those traits, as she does, while having that background, as she does, whereby it is patently obvious she's not like those evil Christians portrayed elsewhere, accomplishing the same story objectives. But they have to also throw in irrelevant dialog taking digs at those backwards folks in the middle of the country or them God-fearing types. It's extremely distracting when this odd prejudice is made manifest because it's handled so crudely and is unnecessary. I'd advocate simply skipping the bowling alley date scene in episode 4 and effectively all of episode 5. They add nothing to the story that can't be seamlessly intuited in subsequent scenes/episodes through character exposition, and are rife with poorly executed, very blatant and specific criticisms along these lines.
The show takes great pains to show most of the male characters (two main ones notably excepted) as craven avatars of their insecurities and/or their sexual desires. This makes them weak, stupid, and able to be manipulated by whichever woman is in the room, most of the time. The protagonist females in those situations generally extract their badass-ery from manipulating, fooling, or beating the crap out of, or threatening harm to the males. Fine. It's a bleak world presented, showcasing much of the worst of humanity; a caricature of bad men fits. However, the show has trouble holding to the character dynamics it sets up in this vein. The female "hero" Starlight is shown as a badass by beating up some rapists and by successfully standing up to the insecure Aquaman parody. After she was shown folding to the first sign of pressure from him. The male "hero" Homelander pushes Queen Maeve around without hesitation and is shown to have arrogant, sociopathic tendencies that keep him from being subordinated to anyone, but unfailingly folds at the slightest pressure from Madelyn Stillwell, for whom he has a breast feeding fetish toward. There are deep character inconsistencies, meaning weak writing, in order to generate cheap "woman power" or "men are pigs" moments to show a bleak world. These wouldn't be as irritating, if irritating at all (the show is purposefully dark and hopeless) were characters not forced into uncharacteristic actions to make it work.
In terms of presentation, an Amazon television show should be formatted for Amazon. The show has sizable black bars on top and bottom and narrow ones on left and right on some episodes. Nearly half the vertical screen real estate on my computer is unused because of the ultra-widescreen format and occasional refusal to span the full horizontal space. I wouldn't mind if this were a product not made to be watched on Amazon, now on Amazon, but this is their baby. It should be the best possible formatting for their service.
This show doesn't really match what the trailer indicated. The trailer gave me the impression The Boys would be a semi-official response force from humanity or the government to superhumans who go to far. And the story would be anti-hero humans using their smarts and talents to overcome opponents far more powerful and dangerous than them. Instead, The Boys are simply vengeance driven vigilantes out to satisfy their own desires and revenge fantasies in a world among bad superhumans. That's not necessarily a wrong story. However, the trailer was a bit misleading, and the show given is less interesting and ambitious than that advertised.
This is a solid idea with lots of potential, like a great cast. It should appeal to someone like me. But this show is its own worst enemy. If I finish season 1, I almost certainly won't watch a season 2. If you're looking for a peak nihilistic and pessimistic vision of a hypothetical world with superhumans, this is a decent offering. If you're looking for a good story about anti-heros operating in a dark space, exploring the worst consequences of a superhuman resided reality, you'll probably be disappointed.
I finished the season. If you're in it only for the nihilism porn, it gets better and faster paced toward the end. The story and writing are still a mess. Otherwise my review basically stands. My new quibble is that much remains unresolved by the end of the season. Vought is still in control and in the military. Butcher is still locking horns with Homelander. Terrorist super is still on the loose. The Boys are still wanted. The Deep is wallowing in self-hatred. Very few of the narrative threads created over the season arc were tied off. It's supposed to serve as a cliffhanger, presumably, but that's a cheap cliffhanger. It doesn't resolve one story or chapter of the story, then present another as a tease for season 2. It simply stops the story or chapter early.
I don't plan on watching season 2. It's a shame. The show had potential.