What if the supervillains won, and then hid behind a front-facing good-guy façade?
That could be an interesting premise for a TV show*. Particularly so given the ongoing revelations about the private peccadillo’s and past-times of the real world’s elites. We live in a time when the panopticon allows the jailed to get a good solid look at their jailors, when conspiracy theories are upgraded to known facts on a regular basis. The media watchmen, having been subsumed by the elites, daily remind us that of their function as water carriers for our betters. It’s a cynical world out there, and the time is perfect for stories of brave souls shining a light into the dark halls of power.
That’s what The Boys wants to be. Unfortunately, the producers lack the courage to pursue that vision to the bitter end.
The show opens with the needlessly graphic death of our main protagonist’s girlfriend at the hands of a self-absorbed and recklessly callous speedster hero named A-Train. His refusal to accept hush money offered by the mega-corporation who sponsors A-Train catches the notice of the world’s chief anti-superhero vigilante, Billy Butcher. The story follows our hero, Howie, as he seeks revenge for his girl’s death. He signs on with Billy Butcher and engages in theft, murder, and blackmail to bring A-Train to justice, learns about the vast conspiracy behind A-Train and the rest of his superteam, finds love in a surprisingly touching romance with another superhero, and completes his own little redemption arc. That’s a lot for one guy to go through, and the pacing of things works well, at least for the half of the show that I watched before getting bored, losing interest, and tuning out.
It’s a splashy show, pretty in all the right ways. The production values of The Boys are stellar. The special effects used to illustrate the super powers are seamless. The acting is phenomenal, even for most of the minor players. It’s everywhere else that the show fails to deliver, most particularly on the meta-level. The show is filled with contradictions that result in an awkward mess of a production.
The producers are still trapped in the mindset of old Hollywood. They still think of themselves as the underdogs who sneer at the powers that be. They still think that graphic sex scenes are grown-up. They think that a deluge of vulgar language is “more realistic”. They think that gratuitous gore adds shock value to a scene. It’s all very 2004-era edgy, and it comes off as trite and ridiculous as a ten-year swearing into his XBOX headset. It’s cute, Junior, ya got anything for us that we can’t find after a two-second search of YouTube?
They don’t. They are out of tricks. All of the sex and violence that might once have papered over the emptiness of the show have lost their power to paper over a show’s shortcomings. And once that power has been lost, it becomes clear that The Boys doesn’t have anything interesting, or new, or unusual, to say.
They have a lot to say, but none of it is novel in any way, shape, or form. All of the raging against the machine presented in the show is easily predicted by anyone paying even a modicum of attention to the state of American culture. One example: The Senator from Oklahoma shows up. The big reveal of his hypocrisy falls flat because of course he is. One long thread takes place at a Christian revival. The big reveal that the cult of personality founder of the place is a closet sodomite lacks any punch because of course he is. The Not-WonderWoman member of the supervillain team turns out to be one of the few good people in the show. The big reveal of her lesbian nature means nothing because of course she is.
The show asks some tough questions. It presents some great scenes. But the inherent cowardice of the producers to step out of the carefully proscribed lines of modern culture – their slavish devotion to the cult of the Narrative, results in a dull as dishwater show that plays it safe and winds with a forward motion as predicatable as the hands of an unbroken clock. I found myself tagging the ‘skip ahead ten seconds’ button so fast that eventually the Amazon servers couldn’t keep up with me. And at that point I shifted my finger over to the “Abort” button.
Not out of outrage. Not out of disgust. Not even out of sadness that so much money was squandered wasting the potential of the show.
Just out of boredom.
The Boys just isn’t that interesting.
Thank the Dark Lord we’ve got new issues of Alt*Hero coming out soon – somebody has to do something different and fresh with the genre, and it ain’t going to be people who hate superheroism.
*Please don’t insult the both of us by retreating to the comic books that inspired the show. Every TV show has to stand or fall on its own merits. While the trappings of The Boys possess merits in abundance, they cannot overcome the basic tediousness of the underlying structure of the thing.