[Editor’s Note: This review of the first season of Amazon Prime’s “The Boys” comes to us from M Todd Gallowglas, author and friend. The series is based on the Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson comic book, and was developed for Amazon by Eric Kripke.]
It’s been a long while since I binge-watched a show. Part of that is because it’s too easy for me to lose days of productivity to a show instead of getting any kind of writing done. A bigger part is because my last several binge experiences have been less than positive. However, a shoulder injury suffered at San Diego Comic Con [SDCC] put me out of commission for most of last week, so I took the opportunity to catch up on some reading and TV while switching out bags of ice on my shoulder. Part of my watch list included “The Boys” (now streaming on Amazon Prime), which balances precariously between positive and meh.
I love the band of misfits trying to take down the ‘supes. Jack Quaid excels as Hughie Campbell, our “everyman” thrust into this ultra-violent world of shadow agents and superheroes. His relationship with Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, the guy who pulls him into this world, is fun to watch develop. They form a messy bond that’s both touching and tense, and even early on, we feel the anticipation of when this is going to go nuclear. Tomar Capon as Frenchie and Laz Alonso as Mother’s Milk (yeah, that’s the character’s real name) round out our core team of protagonists. The show is worth watching just for these four guys undertaking the impossible task of bringing down the seven mightiest superheroes in the world and the multi-billion dollar corporation that funds them.
Also fantastic are Erin Moriarty as Annie January aka Starlight and Anthony Starr as Homelander, this story’s version of Superman. Starlight is both figurative and literally a young starry-eyed superhero who has dreamed about getting into “The Seven” all her life. She does in the first episode, and we get to watch over her shoulder as she goes deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of corruption in the world of corporately funded superheroes. Homelander is the embodiment of that corruption.
I wanted to love the rest of the cast, but I think they suffer from an over-crowded story world. Many of them have good moments. They make the best of what they have, but sometimes the writing put their characters in a place with little to work with. Elizabeth Shue and Simon Pegg are also series standouts.
The rest of the show falls into the problems I’m seeing more and more in the world of streaming entrainment. This is a big show. It’s an ensemble show, with an enormous cast. I’ve run out of fingers trying to keep track of the various subplots and side stories going on. It thumps it’s chest with several didactic messages so loudly and blatantly that within the first couple episodes I kept thinking, “Yes, I get it. Superheroes are corrupt. They would be scary in the real world. OMG… even Stephanie Meyers couldn’t keep track of how many shades of gray you’re trying to pack into these eight episodes.”
Ultimately, none of the conflicts set up in the first half of the season come to any kind of satisfying conclusion. More than that, episode 8 leaves off with two major and several minor cliffhangers, all of which are blatant ploys to make viewer eager for season two. Now, a cliffhanger or two would be fine, if the story had given some sort of satisfying conclusion to any of the conflicts it had set up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. In trying too hard to put a twist on our expectations, I think the show lets too much of what it set up fall flat.
We’re in a new era of episodic storytelling- viewers are getting immediate access to 6-13 hours of entertainment. That gives writers and directors new freedoms to explore with how they tell these stories. However, it also comes with new limitations and challenges.
It’s easy to want to try and pack everything into the first go on a new project, but sometimes it’s far too easy to overload the audience. I could have easily watched 8 episodes revolving around Hughie’s journey into the shadow world of black ops.
Or, give me a season of Starlight coming to terms with learning everything she thought she knew about the world’s greatest superheroes is largely social media smoke screens.
Season 1 of “The Boys” gives us both of those stories along with so much more. Some of those moments of so much more feel tacked on because someone thought it was either a good idea or they started with a good idea and didn’t have any way to wrap it up. As a result, the conclusions of subplots and minor story arcs feel rushed or were just left dangling. The result is that “The Boys” is too much show to keep track of.
Hopefully, when the writers and showrunners get together to plan out season 2 (which Amazon confirmed), they will remember that sometimes less is more.