Review: "The Boys" serves mighty commentary on corporate exploitation of progressive politics

Imagine an alternate reality in which superheroes are an entire industry of celebrities who are as influential as politicians and as venerated as gods. Some may be familiar with the premise of the Amazon Prime show “The Boys” from online conversations.

The show not only lives up to these expectations of irreverent satire and dark humor — a refreshing twist on the trite superhero genre — but delivers hard-hitting commentary on the ridiculousness of celebrity culture and the capitalistic exploitation of progressive politics.

Season two successfully continues the trademark satire and tone of “The Boys” and Homelander’s worsening mental deterioration as he grows more obsessed with power and respect. However, my major quibble is its narrative organization and its attempt to juggle so many characters’ development, which comes off as heavy-handed at times. Character development should be integrated naturally with the plot, but the show can only fit so much in eight hourlong episodes, especially following a plot-intensive narrative.

Nevertheless, “The Boys” is a show for those fatigued by Marvel and DC’s uninnovative monopoly on the superhero narrative by providing a more gritty, cynical and realistic take on superheroes. It reveals the psyches warped by the unlimited power given to them by the consumers of a materialistic, celebrity-obsessed world. With the recent conclusion of season two, I most definitely recommend starting your Amazon Prime six-month free trial for this show if you haven’t already.

What makes this show so memorable to me is its subtle commentary on the absurdity of celebrity worship entrenched in our cultural consciousness. The show is also willing to call out Hollywood, the media and corporations for pandering to progessive politics. The result is an unsettling, uncomfortable reminder of the ludicrous culture we live in, where corporations exploit and perpetuate celebrities’ infallibility. This is relevant as our culture elevates celebrities as all-knowing saints, whose opinions should also shape ours, especially during this upcoming election. Although everyone is entitled to their own opinions, “The Boys” has me questioning whether we should only be informed by a group of privileged elitists.

In this show a massive corporation known as Vought International manages superpowered individuals, and the best of the best form an elite league called the Seven, whose superhero mythologies are manufactured by their company. Outside of their heroic personas, these superheroes abuse their powers and are unaccountable for their actions. They are the dark, corrupted reflections of the heroes we grew up with and love, such as Superman and Batman.

“The Boys” also brings special attention to Vought’s relationship with its superheroes and their endless marketing of them. They plaster their images on everything from cosmetics, to skincare, to bags of frozen peas — all to get people to buy products with their favorite superheroes on them. Vought’s public relations machine capitalizes on popular progressive talking points to increase their heroes’ poll numbers. They deploy ethnically diverse heroes to cities with local demographics that have tested well with them. They market their female superheroes as an affirmation of feminism. They only talk in terms of diversity and inclusivity to increase their profit margins, which is painfully on point, especially in light of recent events in the country.

There are disturbing parallels between the fiction depicted in the show and the current world we live in, where corporations make progressive statements not out of the goodness of their hearts, but to appease a Twitter mob and make people feel more virtuous about buying their products. With the growing scrutiny of race relations in this country, corporations have been scrambling over themselves to proclaim their allegiance to diversity and social justice.

This also extends to the corporatization of evangelical Protestantism in the show, which we see in real life in the form of megachurches and televangelists with private jets. Vought takes advantage of Homelander’s all-American, Boy Scout image to win favor with the Christian community, in which he is not only the star speaker of their conventions, but is elevated as a messianic figure.

I also want to commend Antony Starr’s performance as Homelander, who he plays brilliantly, easily switching from his charming, inspiring facade to the homicidal egomaniac underneath. Nevertheless, the show manages to anchor Homelander’s sociopathy with glimpses of vulnerability by highlighting his traumatic past. It makes you wonder if this character could have ended up differently if he was given a different origin story — perhaps of a Kansas farm boy adopted and raised by a loving couple.

After the jaw-dropping plot twist in the season two finale, I most definitely look forward to what season three of “The Boys” has in store. I also hope it doesn’t stray away from what has made this show so memorable. The show thus far has been extremely entertaining — unafraid to revel in its unabashed profanity, dark humor, violence, absurdity and mockery of everything and everyone — all while offering us riveting characters and writing.

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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