31 Pilots in 31 Days: The Boys

When it was originally on: 2019-present

Original network: Amazon Prime

Where you can stream it now: Amazon Prime

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: A group of vigilantes set out to take down corrupt superheroes who abuse their superpowers.

Why I picked it: Amazon was one of the first competitors to enter the streaming wars, but even after almost a decade at it, they still seem to be in a perpetual “finding themselves” phase. Sure, they’d had hits here and there, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel probably being the best one, but is anyone really logging into Amazon Prime every day as their regular streaming service? It just seems like those hits here and there haven’t ever turned into sustained success for Amazon.

The Boys is the first time it seemed like real people in my life were suddenly watching an Amazon show and talking about it. It’s also part of this superhero trend that defined the ’10s, without being part of some massive cinematic universe the way that Marvel/DC shows are. I left Marvel and DC off my list because they aren’t really standalone shows, and it felt wrong to judge them as such, but I’m glad The Boys is here to fill out that superhero slot.

What I liked: The Boys hits a great balance of both fresh and familiar. All the individual elements feel like things I’ve seen before in other superhero universes… yet it’s also a world all its own. The big “twist” if you can call it that is that the superheroes are the bad guys… but I also love that the people trying to take down the superheroes feel like relatively ordinary people rather than supervillains. (Villain-centric stories have been done before, but I don’t know as much about normal people taking on heroes in the absense of a Joker/Lex Luthor type figure.)

I think part of how they pull all this off is by making the “evil” part of the superheroes a familiar real life villain: corporations. Sure, from what we can tell, the heroes who make up “the 7” (the elite “justice league” of this world) are all of dubious moral character in their own way, but the The Boys goes even further than that. It makes that shittiness systemic. It makes it so our scrappy underdogs won’t be able to fix the problem just by killing some bad guys here and there. It means that even when good heroes join up, they’re still powerless to change much of anything, and the pilot smartly devotes another plotline to this exact problem.

In quite a few of these reviews, I find myself mentioning how B-plots not felt like distractions from the A-plot in this first pilot episode, even if that B-plot was setting up important groundwork for later. The Boys wasn’t like that. Instead, the different plotlines compliment each other. They’re both exposing superhero corruption, but come at it from opposite angles. Hughie is a victim, having lost his girlfriend when a superhero accidentally plows into her, allegedly in pursuit of a criminal. Annie is a naive superhero from Des Moines who joins “The 7” (the elite Justice League of this universe) who just wants to help people. She’s in it for the right reasons, and it’s only after she gets her new gig that she realizes just how bad things are on the inside.

Neither plotline feels like a “distraction” from the other one, because the things we’re learning in one plot raise the stakes on the other side. As Annie sees more internal corruption, we’re angrier at it because we’ve seen how it affects ordinary, innocent people. While we watch Hughie mourn his girlfriend, we’re angrier because we’ve seen just how unapologetic Vought is and how they have no interest in preventing this from happening again.

It’s clear rather early on that Vought doesn’t really care that much about whether or not these heroes are actually good at saving people or deterring crime; there’s movies, video games, and merchandise to sell. One of my favorite bits is when Annie first gets invited to join the 7. When she expresses surprise that she was chosen over other potentially more qualified heroes, she’s just told that she tested well with midwesterners, conservatives, and Christians. This brief moment conveys so much about who our villains are and what they care about, and how even a good character like Annie still isn’t going to be able to fix this system on her own.

I also love how quickly this show is able to get us invested in a character just to rip the rug out from under us with her death. It also establishes that this is a show where we can expect surprises. Hughie is a reluctant hero for a good portion of this, and right when he’s starting to get excited about joining the resistance against Vought, he gets caught, and nearly killed. Now, he doesn’t have an easy exit.

What I didn’t like: n/a

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! I might even make it a priority to catch up before the next season happens. This is one of those rare gems that’s fun while I’m watching it, and only got better the more I thought about it while writing a review here.

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