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The Boys returns as an even stronger takedown of celebrity and stan culture

  • "It’s easy to get the wrong idea about The Boys. Amazon’s satirical take on superheroes — based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic superheroes who get off on behaving badly and the operatives who, in turn, get their jollies from keeping them in line — had a whiff of Deadpool about it," says Joshua Rivera. "You know: obnoxious, irreverent, very violent, and kind of shallow. But in its surprisingly effective first season, The Boys showed real heart. It’s crass and vulgar, sure, but it’s also interested in much more than the facile superheroes, but they’re bad premise it leads you to believe it will focus on. Namely, it’s out to crush any fond feelings you have for celebrities." Rivera adds: "While the show can be read as a story about an evil Superman, it’s more broadly interested in the power and toxicity of celebrity and stan culture. The Seven are flawed in ways that their superhero status only makes worse: A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) is a speedster afraid to lose his status and driven to addiction, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) is a burned-out idealist who no longer stands for anything, The Deep (Chace Crawford) is a creep who preys on women whenever he’s not completely bowled over by his immense insecurity. The capes and tights that keep them in their vices also keep them miserable. And normal people cheer the so-called heroes on as they take everything from them. The Boys isn’t out to make profound points, but it is smart about what it has to say. Superheroes, and the corporate empires built around them, are an extremely American invention, both in the fiction of The Boys and in real life. And as season 2 goes on, cults of personality prove a more animating force than any superpower, as fandoms can be motivated in ways just as toxic as any political party can dream up."


    • The Boys loves gore almost as much as it loves sardonic music cues and skewering capitalism: "Heads pop open at unexpected moments, splattering gray matter hither and yon," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "Mid-conversation, a head might simply cease to be, replaced by a bright spray of red and a sound like dropping an open carton of orange juice on the floor. 'Heads will roll' is such an old-fashioned way of thinking about violence. Heads that burst like party balloons full of shiny red confetti are so much more fun! The Boys relies on its audience’s ability to experience exploding heads as 'fun'; it is unapologetically and unrelentingly the kind of show that asks you to be down for whatever bananas bloody nonsense it can think of. If you’re uncomfortable hanging out with, say, a superhero who unthinkingly splatters a guy’s head into oblivion while getting a hand job from his superhero girlfriend, then this is not and will never be your show. For everyone willing to jump on board with that mentality, though, The Boys has one of the most bracing, uncomfortable, and piercing points of view currently on TV."
    • Welcome to entertainment's Golden Age of Combustible Humanity: "Nearly 40 years after the rudimentary head-popping pleasures of David Cronenberg's Scanners, technology has finally made it possible to depict the explosion of the human body in a variety of visceral forms and artists are taking advantage — from HBO Max's Raised by Wolves to the upcoming Katherine Langford feature Spontaneous, a dark comedy that appears to be entirely based on teens going kablooey," says Daniel Fienberg. "And then there's Amazon's The Boys. Seriously, if the team behind The Boys put half the time and thought into plot, characterization and action that they put into finding different ways to blow people to kingdom come, it would truly be one of the best shows on TV. It's not. But it's definitely one of the best shows on TV for fans of watching people go boom (and occasionally 'pop,' 'zap' or 'sizzle'), and the second season continues to have enough unrelenting snark and cynicism and occasional commentary for plenty of other viewers as well."
    • By the time all eight episodes wrap, there are too many gruesome injuries, deaths, and outright massacres to remember: "Looking back over my notes, I’m astonished at how many unforgettably brutal moments I already forgot in order to make room for the most vivid bloodbaths," says Ben Travers. "Squeamish, be warned — but isn’t that what Season 1 was for?"
    • The Boys is the perfect superhero show for those who hate superheroes: Season 2 of the Amazon series couldn't have premiered at a better time -- it's "a sharp, entertaining, eviscerating satire of superhero franchises and the culture that aggrandizes them," says Lorraine Ali. "The dark comedy expertly skewers social ills in real time, playing with themes of capitalist glut, celebrity worship and corporate greed within a narrative that pokes fun at the gross commoditization of comic book culture. As with Season 1, new episodes mine unsettling corners of reality with crude humor, wonderfully flawed characters and smart, timely themes, taking aim at everything from white supremacist idiots to cancel culture’s self-appointed woke police. And society’s plagues are a lot easier to laugh at inside The Boys’ far-fetched universe of rogue superbeings and avenging vigilantes than outside, in our own. Think of The Boys as a superhero takedown for those who loathe the genre — not to mention an alternative for those who love Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy but need a sardonic, foul-mouthed interpretation of heroism that speaks directly to our times. Sorry, Captain America."
    • Season 2 is a scathing sendup of our superhero-obsessed world: "Between poking fun at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sending the Deep into the bowels of a Scientology-like celebrity cult, and dragging people who won’t shut up about Hamilton, The Boys sophomore season doesn’t try to pull its punches and really ends up feeling like something special," says Charles Pulliam-Moore. "The imagery is every bit as messed up gore-wise as its predecessor and if blood isn’t really your thing, it might be something to skip or watch with the remote at the ready. The Boys’ is still chuckle-worthy more often than not, and by the season’s end, it sets up a very interesting future for even more stories set in this awful, terrifying world."
    • The best thing about Season 2 is how smartly it adds complexity and depth to its characters and stories: "The show began as a fun but fairly weightless exercise in gory, meta nihilism: tough guy Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and his nebbish of a new recruit, Hughie (Jack Quaid), seeking to get revenge for the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of the publicly noble but privately craven superheroes of The Seven, a team paid for and run by the nefarious Vaught corporation," says Alex McLevy. "The show derived a lot of wit and energy from its gonzo premise, but didn’t do much beyond gruesome action and playing with the subversion of tropes that had already been subverted since Alan Moore’s Watchmen came out in the ’80s. Thankfully, the course correction not only goes beyond enriching the 'power corrupts' and 'bad people are still people, too' themes (though these carry on through the new episodes). The Boys has turned its attention to a variety of new ideas, but none so potent as the manipulation of digital media and how cults of personality are formed and maintained. (Wonder what current events sparked that emphasis?)"
    • What makes The Boys work especially well in Season 2 is toying with a mainstream media's obsession with their every move: "That symbiotic relationship between these characters and the cameras that cover them is the most diabolical part of the show, even more twisted than, well, the heads that are being twisted off or exploding at any given moment," says David Betancourt.
    • The Boys Season 2 can’t help but get in its own way when it comes to meta jokes: "Too many wink-wink jokes leave Season 2 half a degree removed from Deadpool and not nearly as subversive," says Brandon Katz.
    • Season 2 is a darkly cynical look at the complex importance of superhero diversity — the good, the bad and the ugly
    • Inside the making of The Boys Season 1
    • Creator Eric Kripke on gender-flipping Stormfront with Aya Cash: "We were really looking to create the worst possible nightmare for Homelander and the worst thing that could happen to Homelander was a woman who wasn't scared of him and was stealing his spotlight because he is a big, gaping whole of insecurity," says Kripke. "The idea that a woman could be more popular than him and not be scared of him, it's just so unbearable to him, so we did that."
    • Kripke says Season 2 is "weirder, stranger, deeper, and more over-the-top" than everything that happened in Season 1: "The thing about this show that l love is, yes, there is a lot commentary about society, but we really start character first and where are they emotionally and what do they go through," he says. "Honestly, we played a mental game with all the writers of what was the single worst thing we can put every single character through, and that's how we started the story."

    TOPICS: The Boys, Amazon Prime Video, Eric Kripke