What is a superhero? I think, for most of us, what instantly comes to mind is a caped crusader in brightly colored spandex. This costumed person uses their superpowers, which vary from flight to invisibility to X-ray vision, to fight bad guys. They do what’s right. They’re moral. They protect their city or their world from the stuff the average person can’t.
But what’s refreshing about the show Gen V, one of Amazon Prime’s latest releases, is that it plays with the superhero stereotype. It takes what we know about superheroes like Superman and Spider-Man and turns that knowledge on its head. What happens when superheroes don’t always do the right thing and when they aren’t always heroic? What happens when they aren’t always the good guys and are actually sometimes sadistic sociopaths?
Gen V is a spin-off of Amazon’s beloved hit show The Boys. The series take place in the same universe, but Gen V focuses on a younger demographic: college students. It explores what might happen if we gave a bunch of immature college students deadly superpowers and said, “Have at it. Do normal college things.”
The show mostly takes place on the campus of the fictional Godolkin University (nicknamed, funnily, God U), an elite college that specializes in educating and training its superpowered students. At first, the campus seems idyllic — like a more grown-up Hogwarts. However, as God U is a prestigious university, we’re quickly made aware of how cutthroat and competitive the environment is. Students are ranked based on their performance and sorted based on the strength of their powers. Not only that, but students must also contend with the agendas of more sinister third parties, like the university’s very sketchy corporate founder Vought International.
One of the best parts of this show is the way it tackles its characters’ abilities. Talking about superpowers can easily get cheesy, but the show makes sure that each power feels significant to real-life concerns and issues. For example, one of the main characters, Marie (Jaz Sinclair), can control blood, which she discovers when she gets her first period and accidentally uses it to kill her parents. The shame Marie feels seems reflective of the shame we can feel surrounding topics of reproductive and sexual health.
Another major character, Emma (Lizze Broadway), has powers that enable her to shrink or grow her body to extreme sizes. These powers have made her popular as a social media influencer, but they also work based on the amount of food she consumes: To shrink herself, she has to repeatedly throw up, and to make herself larger, she has to binge eat. Emma’s struggles with her powers are not just similar to real-life struggles with eating disorders, but they also relate to how unhealthy eating habits and body standards are perpetuated on social media platforms.
Gen V is also not afraid to be graphically violent. There is an abundance of scenes with exploding body parts (way more than you might think) and graphic deaths. The gore can be a bit disturbing, but it keeps us, as the audience, on our toes. Every time the series wanders more into the realm of normal teen drama and we start to get too comfortable, the violence brings us back to feelings of discomfort.
Gen V does a really good job of developing interesting characters. None of the characters are completely good people, but none of them are completely bad, either. For example, Sam (Asa Germann), a teen Emma helps escape from being imprisoned and experimented on by Vought beneath the school, is a bit unhinged. In one especially artsy scene, we watch from Sam’s point of view as he goes on a murder spree, and we realize that he sees all of his victims as Muppets. However, given all the pain and torture inflicted on him, his violence feels almost understandable. We also get to observe scenes where he can be very sweet, especially to Emma. This conflicts with his crazed, murderous side and makes him a more nuanced character.
I am also completely invested in the relationship between Marie and Jordan (played by both Derek Luh and London Thor). Part of Jordan’s power is being able to physically switch between genders as an extension of their bigender identity. Being able to successfully execute this romance was tricky since the chemistry between Jaz Sinclair and both the actors that played Jordan had to feel consistent. However, the actors did a great job, and the progression of their relationship from enemies to lovers was really cute.
Overall, I really enjoyed watching this series and would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for something different to watch. It’s not light and fluffy, but I think many of the themes and topics it brings up will resonate with a lot of students at Hopkins (minus all the torture and murder).