While patiently waiting for Wonder Woman 1984 and Black Widow, audiences are clamoring for superhero content. Luckily, Amazon is here to deliver thanks to the gritty, and sometimes very gory, The Boys. After premiering in 2019 the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg produced series earning acclaim for its dark take on superheroes. The series investigates a world where superheroes abused their power and often did so with showy and blood-soaked fun. Using the traditional superhero tropes to deconstruct its characters, The Boys earned critical acclaim. While showrunner Eric Kripke pushes the show to expand its world and ambitions, it never quite reaches the weird apex one might expect from the team behind the camera.
The Boys picks up in the aftermath of Season 1. Butcher (Karl Urban) has gone missing but is suspected of killing Madelyn Sitwell (Elisabeth Shue). The Boys (Jack Quaid, Laz Alonso, Tomer Capon, and Karen Fukuhara) remain in hiding from The Seven. Homelander (Anthony Starr) attempts to rebuild his team with Starlight (Erin Moriarty), Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), and Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell). Meanwhile, Vought International is up to no good, with Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) executing covert actions from the shadows.
With the initial shock of the violence established, Kripke pushes the characters into personal reckonings. The arrogance and exceptionalism displayed by Homelander (Starr) creates a chilling effect, and his wildcard attitude keeps you on your toes. New superhero Stormfront (Aya Cash) adds a new dynamic to the series as a savvy social media and kickass presence. The two often war with each other, and The Boys is often at its best when they feud. However, the rest of the characters are motivated by revenge or their wish to expose secrets. This can lead to some questionable actions, that do not entirely make sense within the story.
The Boys openly comments on race, tokenism, and performative progressiveness throughout the season. While the series never directly confronts the political moment in America, it often references rhetoric and dialogues that feel familiar. It takes some time to develop, but discussions of superheroes as police officers and problematic racial discrimination is just below the surface. Anti-immigrant sentiment is also openly expressed by its characters, while one openly touts his patriotic stances. The producers and writers of The Boys clearly know what buttons they’re pushing.
The cast surpasses their performances from Season 1 with more confidence and strong writing. The real star is Starr, who turns as the sociopath Homelander is truly terrifying. He imbues his turn with a freneticism that keeps you on edge, even when he seems perfectly in control of the situation. Urban’s turn as the swear-happy Billy Butcher is more nuanced this season. His arch continues to deal with his personal tragedies, but his choices to reach out to those around help soften up his tough exterior.
The women of The Boys are giving the best performances. Newcomer to the series, Aya Cash, picks up where she left off with You’re the Worst, and quickly overshadows her co-stars. Her general attitude makes her an easy character to root for, and her charisma keeps her charming the entire way through. Cash has the ability to access a well of emotion, and she has a gravitational hold over every scene she enters. Moriarty gets to develop her character slowly over the season and finds some truly interesting choices as it goes. Moriarty portrays her frustration and anger beneath the surface, and it feels like she’s ready to snap at any moment. When she’s paired with Quaid, the chemistry elevates both actors.
Sadly, without Moriarty to share the screen with, Quaid’s performance is lacking. It’s even more apparent when paired with the superb Alonso, who adds subtext to every layer of his performance. That said, Quaid’s role in the series is as our guide into the world, and that role can be thankless. He’s asked to do less, and unfortunately, it means he’s often left behind his co-stars.
Meanwhile, Chance Crawford and Jessie T. Usher find themselves as window dressing in the series. The Boys has little need for them, and as a result, their stories feel tacked onto the long runtime of each episode. Despite good action at least once an episode, The Boys suffers from overstuffed episodes that will make you check your watch.
The Boys certainly entertains, but compared to Doom Patrol or Umbrella Academy, it suffers. While each of those series goes to absurdly weird places, The Boys opts for social commentary and violence. Depending on your personal taste, this may pay dividends. With some solid new additions and a brilliant performance by Starr, there is plenty to enjoy. However, overstuffed and overly long episodes will leave you questioning the show’s long-term plans.