Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 29, 2020

The Boys season two succeeds despite its faults

By BINYAMIN NOVETSKY | October 15, 2020

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Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys doesn’t translate well to written text. The show, based on the graphic novel, relies heavily on spectacle. There are consciously obscene amounts of gore and nudity as a direct satire of the romanticized way that many modern superhero movies and shows portray violence, and the show doesn’t hesitate to use sex and blood to grab your attention. 

From “heroes” having gratuitous sex while hovering in mid-air, to using a speedboat as a spear and charging full speed into the body of a whale, covering the main characters in guts, the show doesn’t pull any visceral punches. However the shock and awe of those things just aren’t conveyed well in an article. You sort of have to see these scenes to believe that any production would show such things so consistently.

There’s another problem, though, which is that even stunts as ridiculous as those can grow stale when they’re so prevalent in a show. All the examples above are from season two of The Boys, but there are more than enough comparable examples in the first season. So the show of course wanted to keep to its spectacle-based roots, but it also felt forced to provide some more character substance in order to add variety and keep its audience on its toes. 

Because of this, season two focuses heavily on backstory, allowing almost every character to have a moment to talk about a dead dad, or best friend, or grandchildren, or mother, or brother, or husband or daughter. Seriously, almost every character has lost some form of close relation in the show. At points, the sheer number of dead family members in the backstory narrations became more blatant than the ridiculous amount of blood constantly covering the screen. The emotional effect just wore off.

That’s not to say that these storylines were done poorly or fell flat. In fact, most of those backstories did work in a vacuum. It was just obvious that the show was so unselective about every single character having a tragic history to tell the viewer about, to the point that I became as numbed to their losses as I did to the gore and nudity. I felt myself asking, “Another dead parent? Another dead sibling? Seriously? Again?” The sob stories, although at times very interesting, were simply unrelenting.

All that being said, one of the character storylines did truly stand out as being actually remarkable. Homelander, the Superman of The Boys universe, was given a real spotlight in season two. The show didn’t hesitate to give him extreme amounts of screen time, allowing him to really show who he is in a way that never really happened in season one. And boy oh boy did he deliver. With a truly phenomenal performance by Antony Starr, season two took the time to sit back and just let Homelander be himself in all his horrific and fascinating ways. 

He is invincible, indestructible and so unbelievably messed up and unpredictable that every time he’s on the screen you cannot help but feel truly terrified of him. Every time I saw him I felt myself sit up in my seat and begin to breathe shallowly, almost in fear that he would turn his red laser eyes toward me and cut me in half like he does to so many in the show. His very presence was remarkable in its power and his facial expressions alone were enough to make my skin crawl. Watching Homelander drink a glass of milk practically made me want to puke.

This reliance on a single character is becoming a trend for The Boys. They did it in the first season with the show mostly being held up by a great performance from Karl Urban as Billy Butcher. Urban is good again in season two, but it just feels like he matters a lot less. Ultimately Starr’s Homelander sucks some air from the other characters in the show, and the writing of the show doesn’t help. Butcher is still witty and clever in his gruff, swear-word-laden speech, but the impact is noticeably lesser. 

I can’t help but say that I enjoyed season two. Although its weekly release schedule (newly typical of all Amazon Prime Video shows) was definitely frustrating, and it certainly lacked some of the wow factor that season one had, it was a good watch. The plot was a little meandering and took its time to get going, though. For an eight-episode season, the fact that the viewer doesn’t really know what’s going on until episode six is a bit ridiculous. Admittedly episodes six, seven and eight are truly awesome — but the fact that the first five episodes contribute little to the overall plot of the season isn’t particularly compelling. 

The Boys is a show that thrives on the absurd and extreme. When it sticks to its guns, it succeeds. When it tries to focus more on character moments and backstories, it flounders. There’s still a lot to like about those scenes and performances, but ultimately there are so many of them shoehorned into season two that they become tiring and cliché. 

Ultimately though, the show is still very good. Season two might not stand as tall as season one when compared as a whole package, but there are moments (basically every scene with Antony Starr, for example) that really stand out as being genuinely great. If you liked season one, power through the first few episodes. You won’t regret it. If you haven’t watched it yet and have a strong stomach, give it a go. You’ll enjoy it a lot. If you’re more on the queasy side, though, I’d recommend staying far away. Watching Homelander crush a man’s skull with his bare hands just won’t be fun to see.

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