In July of last year, before all the horrors of 2020 were unleashed on the world, Amazon released a little show called The Boys. Extreme violence, dark humour, and a subversion of the superhero genre made the show an instant hit and one of the tentpole shows for Amazon Prime. Since its release, The Boys has had everyone clamouring for more, making the second season’s release last month a much-needed bit of good news. But did it live up to the hype? For the most part, yes.
Season two picks up pretty much exactly where season one left off, with Billy Butcher’s (Karl Urban) dramatic discovery that his wife is still alive and raising her and Homelander’s child, as well as the introduction of super-terrorists. From there, things just keep escalating, with the introduction of new characters like Kimiko’s brother Stormfront, and a whole roster of new ‘heroes’, making the Boys’ job of bringing Vought and the Seven down just that bit harder.
One of the best things about the first season of The Boys was how it shook things up in the superhero genre, which up to that point, had quickly become oversaturated with content. The show’s satire of iconic superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, as well as mega-corporations like Disney, helped make the show so good in its first season. This only gets better in the second run, with several scenes in the show being borderline self-aware and on the nose. The showrunners know what audiences liked in season one, and are happy to deliver more of the same by the truckload. Perhaps one of the best in-jokes this series was the casting of former X-Men star Shawn Ashmore as the pyrotechnic superhero Lamplighter, showing just how far the writers are willing to go to satirise this genre.
But while superhero satire is still a common theme this season, it actually isn’t the thing the show pokes the most fun at – that would be America. Season one certainly made fun of the nation and its political system more than once, but season two takes it the whole nine yards. This could be something that gets boring quickly, and a lazy way to appear woke, but thanks to talented writing, it is anything but. Things like the influence of corporations and organisations like Vought or The Church of the Collective in political matters, as well as their exemption from taxes, give us a not-so-fun-house mirror look at many corrupt institutions in not just the US, but all over the world.
Antony Starr’s Homelander is perhaps one of the best aspects of the series, with Starr giving one of the most engaging performances seen on television recently in season two, as Homelander’s character becomes less a pinnacle of how bad a superhero can be, but rather someone who exists in shades of grey. As with many of the characters, Homelander is a victim of a greedy corporation, and on several occasions you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. At times he seems like a decent person, especially scenes with his son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), and others he’ll be getting frisky with a Nazi, with this back and forth being consistently interesting. In short, Antony Starr is long overdue an Emmy.
“A common issue with many sophomore seasons where they introduce several new characters is that some, old and new, will slip into the background in wasted performances and potential. Thankfully, this is an issue that The Boys doesn’t suffer from… mostly.”
While Homelander is undoubtedly the central villain of the show, he takes a backseat when it comes to being the big bad for season two. That honour goes to Aya Cash’s meme-generating, lightning-throwing fascist, Stormfront. A newcomer to the show, Stormfront is the newest member of The Seven, but soon pushes herself up the hierarchy, creating an interesting dynamic between her and Homelander. Cash gives an amazing performance – it’s easy to hate this character even before her villainous origins are revealed. But considering recent events, the depiction of Stormfront as a Nazi looks like a decision made in poor taste.
Following on from the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, certain scenes with this new character are uncomfortable, unnecessary, and take away from real events. During the reveal of Stormfront’s origin, we learn she ‘mis-profiled’ a black man for having stolen a car, and subsequently beats the man to death in front of his sister. Yes, it’s an effective way of making us quickly hate this character, but it harms the actual narrative by replacing the actions of racist cops with that of fictional superheroes. This scene could easily have been cut and we still would have known that Stormfront was evil.
A common issue with many sophomore seasons where they introduce several new characters is that some, old and new, will slip into the background in wasted performances and potential. Thankfully, this is an issue that The Boys doesn’t suffer from… mostly. Both characters old and new are given meaningful development, with most getting a chance to hit emotional beats, particularly Tomer Kapon’s Frenchie and Karen Fukuhara’s The Female, as well as Dominique McElligott’s Queen Maeve. Over season two’s eight-episode run, we get to see much more emotional sides of Frenchie and The Female, whose blossoming relationship is one of few sweet moments in the show. As for Queen Maeve, it was great to see her redemption arc from season one continuing here, making her one of few superheroes you actually want to root for, and definitely the MVP of this season. Even characters like the mute Black Noir are given more time to shine, something I’m sure many fans are happy to see.
One of the most controversial things about The Boys season two was the decision to have a week-by-week episode release, rather than the usual season dump. Many were frustrated by this, resulting in a review-bombing campaign when the first episode dropped. A great many people think this was a ploy by Amazon to get more money, but when asked by Collider, The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke said “For the record, it didn’t come from Amazon. It came from the producers…we’re the ones who pitched them” and after finishing season two, the decision is understandable. While season one had a clear overarching main plot, there wasn’t one to be found here. Each episode is, for the most part, its own self-contained story, meaning that waiting for a week for a new episode isn’t particularly torturous. This lack of direction clearly has its drawbacks early in the season, but thankfully, the latter half really picks up with some of the best episodes of the show.
With Marvel and DC content a distant memory at this point, The Boys is a great fix of all that superhero content we have been missing, whilst also being a darkly funny subversion of what we’re used to.
Both seasons of The Boys are available on Amazon Prime.
Words by George Bell