When Amazon’s The Boys first premiered, it was lauded as a fresh take on the superhero genre, skewering tropes and corporate motivations in equal measure and pulling no punches with its violence and commentary on the broader state of Hollywood. Based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, The Boys has now established itself comfortably as a staple of the modern superhero landscape with three seasons currently under its belt and a fourth on the way. This acceptance raises an interesting question for a show that initially positioned itself as an outsider work, and in the eyes of some fans, this is where the franchise has begun to falter, leaning more into its own mythology and offering commentary that feels increasingly obvious and broad.
The promise of a spin-off from The Boys raises as many questions as it answers: will a show that purports to satirize the superhero genre fall into its greatest trap? Will this new series build on The Boys’ criticisms of the superhero industrial complex, or entirely prioritize its internal lore? What is The Boys without the characters we’ve spent years following? With all of these questions in mind, I went into Gen V unsure of what to expect, or even what I wanted. And to much surprise, the most consistent feeling coming out of the show’s first 6 episodes is confidence. Gen V is incredibly sure of what it is, where it stands in a broader context, and more importantly, what it has to offer.
The new Prime Video original series, created by Craig Rosenberg, Evan Goldberg, and Eric Kripke, follows young superhuman Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair) as she is accepted to the prestigious Godolkin University, an establishment run by Vought known for producing some of the biggest superheroes in the world of The Boys. Having been raised in care due to the explosive manifestation of her superpowers, she is desperate to prove herself and stay out of trouble but is soon sucked into a conspiracy that upends everything she knows about being a hero. It’s a simple setup, and it’s not hard to see the work it’s doing for the grander story of The Boys proper, but within this narrative, it is also the perfect catalyst for the relationships that the show is really interested in, namely that of Marie and her new classmates.
Maria, portrayed by an incredibly charming Jaz Sinclair, is accompanied by a cast of young superhuman hopefuls including her roommate, shrinking influencer Emma Meyer (Lizze Broadway), nepo-baby heartthrob Andre Anderson (Chance Perdomo), and Jordan Li, the gender-shifting top prospect portrayed by Derek Luh and London Thor. Under the guidance of Richard Brinkerhoff (Clancy Brown), a renowned superhuman expert, and Dean Indira Shetty (Shelley Conn), Maria and her fellow classmates are introduced to the politics and business of superheroism.
It’s in the interactions of these superpowered college students where Gen V really shines. Watching these fresh faces come together and move apart as their values and dreams are tested is genuinely exciting, regardless of whatever the background story might mean for the brand at large. However, background knowledge of The Boys equally serves the story in allowing it to avoid dull setup and throw us straight into the lives of these characters, and the show makes full use of this faith in its audience.
As a spin-off, Gen V makes attempts to play with our expectations and knowledge of the series, although it perhaps more regularly falls into the familiar routine of its parent show with regards to gore, and the pace of its story development. Whereas the early episodes of this first 8-episode season have a great sense of watching something unfold, the later installments offer the disappointing suggestion that what we’re really watching is an extended prelude to The Boys Season 4. You can’t help but worry that we’re not seeing a complete story so much as being introduced to more candidates for being covered in blood in the fight against Homelander.
While the show is confident in its own story, it does feel unavoidably like it has left behind its satirical edge, save for a few weak barbs about Bryan Singer and Joss Whedon and a genuinely confusing joke about Johnny Depp’s legal strategy. Similarly, it makes no effort to reckon with its own existence as a spin-off in a franchise that purports to interrogate the corporate motivations behind these major franchise productions. At this point, it is clear that the ultimate priority of The Boys’ enterprise is to tell its own story, and while that is a wholly understandable goal, it makes this series feel far less essential.
Stories about young people coming together to fight a growing evil are a dime a dozen, meaning that there is both an appetite and a discerning audience looking for something new in that world. What Gen V jettisons in terms of real-world commentary, it absolutely makes up for in the strength of its characters and their stories – this is a cast fans could happily watch for a long time, although the lopsided structure of this season definitely left me wondering if I would.