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.

Some additional PREACHER thoughts

preacher-season-1-post-103-Jackie-Earle-Haley-Odin-Quincannon-1200x707.jpgWe’re, what, four episodes into PREACHER now?  Five?  You may remember I had some quick, mostly ambivalent thoughts about how the show was going after the first episode aired.

Well… I haven’t missed an episode yet, and I’m probably not going to be starting anytime soon, but I’m still not exactly hooked.  Two definite pluses have revealed themselves as the show has gone on, though: Jackie Earle Haley’s performance as Odin Quincannon is wonderful, and what initially appeared to be a minor lack of concern with the source material has evolved into full blown “Fuck it, we’re doing it live”-level disrespect.  PREACHER doesn’t care at all about the source material beyond vague character descriptions (Tulip is nothing like she is in the books) and is just kinda gleefully throwing whatever it wants at the wall to see what sticks.  It’s as if they’ve been told that they get two seasonsmax, but that if they don’t work in at least one plot detail from each graphic novel of the series Garth Ennis gets to take all of their money.  I thought THE WALKING DEAD was a loose adaptation of the source material.  Nah, son.  TWD is an amateur compared to PREACHER.

Is that a plus?  Right now, I’m going with yes, because I have absolutely no idea what’s coming next, and the first half-season of an adaptation doesn’t usually do that to you.  I kinda knew what was going to happen to Ned Stark at the end of Season One of GAME OF THRONES, y’know?   I just hope the show has an idea what’s coming next, and I’ll admit I have some doubt.  But I’m still watching.  We’ll see where we are at the end of the season.

On adapting

impin-aint-easy-tryion-memeDecided to take another day home with the wife; she was perfectly happy to go it alone today– and she’s planning on going back to work tomorrow– but I really didn’t like the idea of leaving her by herself all day.  I have to duck out this afternoon for a meeting I can’t miss but will be home with her most of the day.

That said, she’s asleep right now– I didn’t bother going back to bed after taking the boy to day care– so I have some time to write.  Most of my writing around here is done 1) in between getting home from school and her bringing Kenny home from day care and 2) during bath time.  Both of those times are going to cease to exist during the next couple of weeks, as she recovers from her surgery and I take over delivery and pickup from day care and bath time at night.  Time to blog is therefore going to seriously be at a premium, so if I go dark for a bit over the next few weeks, don’t assume I’ve lost interest.  Despite the name of the blog, I actually do have a few real-life examples of demands on my time.  🙂

(Disappointing fact: none of the pictures I find when I Google “Stay at home dad” are funny.  Uses Tyrion meme instead.)

Anyway.

I’d like to make a claim here, and I’m genuinely interested in people’s reactions to it:  The Walking Dead is the most successful adaptation of a story from one medium to another medium ever.   Furthermore, it owes much of its greatness to the fact that it is absolutely fearless about changing, ignoring, or adding to the source material as much as it damn well pleases.  It has taken the setting and many of the characters, but it has added characters as necessary, ignored others, and played all sorts of merry hell with who it has chosen to kill off and who it has kept alive.

I have spent most of the last couple of days trying to come up with a way for me to more precisely define that without saying something that boils down to “but I liiiiike it” and I’m having difficulty with it.  Part of the problem is that Walking Dead is in a lot of ways in a very unique position as far as adaptations go:

  • As a comic book series, it is ongoing.  There are therefore new stories getting added all the time to pull from, and not a single novel or trilogy or whatever to draw from.
  • It is the work of a single creator, or a small handful of creators if we include Charlie Adlard and Tony Harris and a few other artists along with series writer Robert Kirkman.
  • Related, but not exactly the same thing as, point 1:  While Kirkman may be working toward an ending that he’s already got in his head, as a comic series Walking Dead is sort of expected to run on until he’s tired of it.  We’re therefore spared the Game of Thrones disaster scenario where the actress playing the nine-year-old is going to be thirty before he gets around to writing the ending.  And because the Walking Dead TV series established from practically the first two or three episodes that they weren’t interested in slavishly following the comic book series (Shane died six issues into the comic book’s run) they’re not going to have anyone mad at them for Screwing Up Kirkman’s Ending.

Here’s the interesting thing:  I read a lot of stuff online about The Walking Dead; the half-hour or so past a new episode is silent time in my house, as both my wife and I jump online to read reviews and commentary and shit like that about the show we just watched. You know what I never see when I’m doing that?  “Waaah the show is ruining the comic book!”

I mean, it’s probably out there, the Internet being what it is, but I literally can’t remember a single example of it happening, whereas you see it all over the place with any other kind of adaptation.  And, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it myself plenty of times; to pick two quick and prominent examples I won’t see the two Hobbit sequels because the first film was an abomination, and I never saw whatever the hell the two later Chris Nolan Batman movies were called because those movies should have been called Sword-swingin’ Rodent-Costume Ninja Dude and not Batman.  

(Avoids rant about how fucking awful Batman Begins was.)

Here’s the thing:  interestingly, it’s their fearlessness about making changes in canon that makes The Walking Dead so interesting to me as a television program.  (Spoilers abound for the next few sentences, but mostly older ones.)  Shane gets to live two full seasons when he died almost immediately in the books.  Rick kills Shane instead of Carl doing it.  Judith survives the prison, and Lori’s death is completely different from the books, including Carl having to kill Lori.  While I have all sorts of issues with how the Sophia storyline from the second season got handled, and Season 2 is the show’s worst by a long shot, it needs to be pointed out that Sophia is still alive in the comic books.  Michonne’s interactions with the Governor are very different.   Carol’s entire arc is different, and she’s dead in the comics.  The final confrontation with the Governor is different.  Rick still has both of his hands.  Merle and Daryl Dixon, for shit’s sake, are complete inventions of the TV series.  I could go on for much, much longer, including a discussion of how what happened in the last episode was way better than what happened in the comics, but I think you get the idea.

Meanwhile, the new Fantastic Four movie has made The Human Torch black and the Internet is aflame– heh– with idiocy.  I don’t know what makes the difference; I’d like to think that it’s something other than “It’s well done,” but I can’t come up with a good reason.  Even adaptations that have changed a lot of stuff still generally do it by deletion; Tom Bombadil didn’t show up in the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring, but they didn’t go and make Aragorn a ring-bearer.  There have been modifications in the Game of Thrones series, but they didn’t let Robb survive the Red Wedding or, alternatively, kill him before the Wedding ever happened and put that in somewhere else.

A recommendation:  George Martin’s gonna finish the books when he feels like it, guys, and most of us will be dead by then.  Finish the series however you want.  Don’t worry about his ending.  I’d love to see what the TV people do when they’re cut free of whatever Martin had in mind.  And I say that not to claim that Martin’s ending is going to be bad– although it probably will; at the rate the books are getting worse, he may as well let Jay Bonansinga co-write the two final books– but so that everybody can stop worrying about it.  The books are different from the TV series; there’s nothing wrong with them ending differently too.