Superheroes, like celebrities, are actually huge jerks.
That’s the gist of Amazon’s gritty new satire “The Boys” (streaming Friday), which imagines a world where people with superpowers are self-absorbed maniacs whose every heroic feat is meticulously managed and monetized by a giant corporation called Vought.
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Those heartwarming visits to cheer up sick teens in a cancer ward? Set up by their PR representatives and live-streamed on Facebook. That kick-ass team-up with fellow “supes” to help track down criminals? All the good guys hate each other, but at least they’ll trend on Twitter.
It’s a deeply cynical premise, but that’s exactly what appealed to co-creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who adapted the series from Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic books, first published in 2006.
“Being very famous makes people go crazy – I’ve seen a lot of that personally,” Rogen says, laughing. “And in a world where we’re inundated by superheroes, it was a very logical line of, ‘Well, if superheroes were real, a lot of them would probably be pretty terrible.’ If people who sing really well lose their minds, imagine if you could fly or were bomb-proof! What kinds of personalities would that spawn?”.
For starters, there’s The Homelander (Antony Starr), a charismatic Captain America-style hunk who is also the highest earner for Vought, which merchandises and sells its superheroes to cities in need of protection. He’s also extremely manipulative and apathetic, with no qualms about harming innocent people to put more money in the pockets of his optics-concerned boss (Elisabeth Shue).
Other skeevy supes include A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), a suave speedster whose reckless violence kills the girlfriend of human protagonist Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), and Aquaman lookalike The Deep (Chace Crawford), who sexually harasses newcomer Starlight (Erin Moriarty) on her first day.
Unlike her drug- and orgy-indulging counterparts, Starlight sees her Vought employment as a chance to make the world a better place and has little interest in furthering her “brand.” (In one particularly cringeworthy scene, Vought’s marketing team tries to pass off a skimpy, bosom-baring leotard as an “empowering” super-suit, which Starlight attempts to nix.).
“She’s truly someone getting into it for the right reasons and having that tested,” Rogen says. “I think that’s relatable to a lot of people. Many businesses are presented one way and actually function another, and I think her arc is a lot about having to navigate the superhero versus reality aspect of it. But she remains someone people can root for” throughout the show’s eight-episode first season.
Amazon has already ordered a second season of “Boys,” an edgy, ultraviolent antidote to the quippy, paint-by-numbers Marvel movies that dominate pop culture. But Goldberg and Rogen, who also produced Hulu’s irreverent “Future Man,” say the show is more an indictment of celebrity culture than it is of our current superhero obsession. In fact, they’re big fans of the genre themselves.
“I’m blown away any of them are good, and most are good,” says Goldberg, who promises high-stakes drama and action amid all the blood and profanity. “The great thing about this show is that if you’re not sick of Marvel movies, you’ll love it. And if you are sick of Marvel movies, you’ll also love it.”.