The Boys, a superhero television show streaming on Amazon Prime, has captivated audiences since 2019 for its impeccable commentary on American culture and politics. Starring Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, and others as the main leads, all these superheroes are shown to be deeply flawed characters – both the good and bad ones. By exploring complex ideas like drug addiction and white supremacy, the show sheds light on the problems plaguing US society today, and subverts the superhero genre as a whole.
At its root, The Boys is a show about the corrupting influence of power. What happens when widely-popular superheroes turn egotistical and start using their powers for personal gain?
After working at a multibillion-dollar superhero management company, the lead gang of the show decides to go vigilante, on a mission to expose the other fake superheroes (The Seven) for their corruption and misconduct.
Racism and Performative Allyship
The Black Lives Matter movement has gained significant traction in the US, especially after notable instances of extreme police brutality. The race issue also takes centre stage in a few episodes of The Boys, through the characters of A-Train and Blue Hawk.
A-Train, portrayed by Jessie T. Usher, is a member of the villainous superhero group, The Seven. In a mission to redeem himself in the eyes of his company, he proposes a number of racially insensitive ideas, including a docu-series called A-Train to Africa. He also gets a new outfit, inspired by African culture, while he stars in an ad that is a parody of Kendall Jenner's notorious 2017 Pepsi commercial. In presenting A-Train as an inept spokesperson for the black community, the show highlights his disingenuity and hollow attempts to rebrand himself as ‘woke’.
Blue Hawk, in addition, is a violently racist superhero who antagonises the black community. When his problematic tendencies finally see the light, he goes to a community centre and yells “All Lives Matter”.
The Character Based On Donald Trump
One of the show's main antagonists is Homelander, who likely exists as a satire of Superman in his blue stars-and-stripes costume. In front of the public, he puts up a friendly, heroic persona, symbolising good American values, while being a deeply immoral, unethical person in private.
Season 3 puts Homelander and his evil tendencies under the spotlight. After receiving an open platform on a TV network very similar to Fox News, he makes several extremely insensitive statements. His popularity within the show soars. Soon, he becomes the head of a massively popular company, and his relentless quest for power is undermined by his sheer ineptitude.
In an interview, showrunner Eric Kripke confirmed the glaring similarities between Homelander and Donald Trump: “It’s white male victimisation and unchecked ambition. And those issues just happened to reflect the guy who, it’s just still surreal to say it, was president of the United States.”
Reception: Is The Show Too Over-The-Top?
Some critics complain the TV show is too heavy-handed in its approach to satire. After all, its central villain is literally a sociopathic Superman meant to be a parody of Donald Trump, and there's hardly a single character who's anywhere close to normal. The show also doesn't shy away from violence, instead using much more fake blood and guts than certain situations would require.
Although the show goes to great lengths to highlight how its characters are so absurdly evil, its central messaging has still been lost on more than one viewer. One fan of the show, who was also a Trump supporter, dressed up as Homelander. Many others cheered for Blue Hawk in spite of his racist tendencies, only drawing the line at his murder of an unarmed black man.
Still, The Boys' unflinching critique of superhero culture and modern capitalism is part of its charm. Although the show may overdo it, this exaggeration has an important purpose, in helping viewers notice such evils in their everyday lives.