In which I recommend something problematic: on THE BOYS

Trigger warning. For, like, everything. If you’re the type of person who has been helped by a trigger warning in the past, don’t bother reading this post and avoid this show like the plague.

Let’s get some stuff out of the way right away about the first season of The Boys, the Amazon Prime adaptation of the Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson “What if superheroes were all fucked-up assholes?” comic series of the same name:

  • Not one but two male characters’ prime motivation is to avenge the death of, respectively, a girlfriend and a wife. The girlfriend is fridged within fifteen minutes or so of the start of the first episode.
  • While the lone female member of the “good guys,” such as they are, is never actually referred to as The Female as she is in the comics, she never talks.
  • This is an insanely graphically violent show; at one point an infant is used as a weapon. Multiple people are murdered with– not by— a baby. That is not a joke. That’s a thing that happens.
  • While it doesn’t happen on screen, and in fact it’s toned down from what happens in the comics (“toned down from the comics” is a recurring theme) the main female character is raped in her first episode.

There is, in other words, a lot of lazy, sexist writing in this program, particularly in the initial episode. And I would not for a second get on the case of anyone who looked at those four bullet points and went “Nope, not for me.” Honestly, had I not been familiar with the comic series from when it came out, I probably wouldn’t have made it past the first episode either. But I was curious about how they were going to adapt the series (12 graphic novels, so not at all a small amount of source material) to television.

And here’s the thing: all of the stuff in those bullet points is in the comics, and in general this is a pretty loose adaptation of the source material. All of the decisions that the television producers made– every change that they introduced– kind of blunt the bullshitty edges of what happened in the comics. They certainly don’t turn away from how over the top The Boys was, but this isn’t Game of Thrones, where they took a series with a bunch of sexism and rape and decided the best thing to do with it was to add more sexism and rape. And the show is independent enough from the comics that by the end of the first season I have no idea where they’re planning on going with it next season. That, for me, is always a win for an adaptation.

Here’s some more good news: the acting, across the board, is absolutely phenomenal, and one of the cool things about having a show where damn near every character is a deranged mess of a human being is that it gives every actor something to really dig into with their character. Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher and Antony Starr as the Homelander are particular standouts– I don’t know what sorts of acting awards someone on this program might be eligible for, but Starr in particular needs to be up for something for this role. Chace Crawford’s portrayal of The Deep is also worth mentioning– although, as the rapist mentioned above, the fact that he sort of gets a redemption arc, or is at least eventually portrayed as a sympathetic character complete with his own sexual assault, is also … skeevy.

And the thing is, everybody is fucked up in this show. All of them. There are no characters without some damage to them in The Boys, and there are no underwritten roles, either– even The Character Previously Known As The Female has some interesting moments, and watching the cast inhabit this world is tremendously compelling– and that, to me, is more than enough to make overlooking the more troublesome and lazy aspects of the show and its premise possible. Plus, again for me personally, I first read these books when they came out in 2006 and so nothing about the problematic aspects of the story is new. Which, I think, might make me a bit more likely to look past them than some other people.

Your mileage, obviously, may vary. And with Amazon Prime at $99 a year I’m not about to tell you to subscribe in order to watch this. But if you already were, and you were on the fence about the show? Definitely give it a couple of episodes and see if it grabs you.