“Like The Boys, Gen V is an effortlessly entertaining, tonally inconsistent, and occasionally infuriating riff on the superhero genre.”
- A likable, diverse cast of characters
- An engaging conspiracy plot
- Several surprisingly moving subplots
- It takes several episodes for the show to really get going
- An inconsistent tone throughout
- Certain storylines lack the nuance they require
For better and for worse, Gen V is exactly the show it says it is. The series, Prime Video’s latest spinoff of The Boys, takes place in the same alternate reality and time frame as its parent show. Gen V even adopts the same heavily satirical tone that has helped The Boys stand out in Hollywood’s overcrowded superhero genre. The new series is, in fact, just as mean-spirited, cynical, and unrepentantly gross as its Amazon predecessor. Unlike The Boys, though, Gen V doesn’t focus on the adult superheroes that essentially lord over its fictional world.
Instead, the series takes place at the Godolkin University School of Crimefighting, a college campus for young superheroes that’s overseen by the villainous Vought International corporation. Its characters are an assortment of superpowered, insecure teenagers who are desperate to secure their places in Gen V’s ruthless, often manipulative world. The show, in other words, attempts to combine the signature, darkly comedic tone of The Boys with a fairly familiar, college-set coming-of-age story. The results are about as odd, uneven, endearing, and occasionally infuriating as you might imagine.
At the center of Gen V is Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), a young girl whose adolescent discovery of her own, blood-bending superpowers resulted in the traumatic and violent deaths of both her parents. Raised mostly in an orphanage for young superheroes like her, Marie gets a chance to turn her life around when she is accepted into Godolkin University — the same college where iconic “heroes” like The Boys‘ A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), and The Deep (Chace Crawford) were all trained.
Once there, Marie quickly catches the attention of the school’s most popular seniors: Jordan Li (played by two actors, London Thor and Derek Luh), a bi-gender shifter with super strength; Andre Anderson (Chance Perdomo), an unambitious metal bender; Cate Dunlap (Maddie Phillips), a telepath with compulsion abilities; and Luke Riordan, aka Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a popular student with invincibility and pyrokinesis. Of everyone in his social circle, Luke seems destined to achieve the most success, but his, Marie, and all of his friends’ dreams are shaken when they stumble upon a dangerous, Vaught-run conspiracy at their school.
To say much more about Gen V’s plot would be to spoil many of its biggest creative gambles, most of which start to roll in after the explosive conclusion of its purposefully slow premiere. The series is at its best throughout its first six episodes, which were the only installments provided to critics early, whenever it feels the freest to be its own thing. The show’s first two chapters are its slowest, weakest, and least focused, and they’re the episodes of Gen V that feel the most like The Boys. They feature the series’ grossest gags and most violent moments and frequently split their focus between Gen V’s young adult leads and its Vaught-controlled adults — namely, a blowhard professor named Richard Brinkerhoff (Clancy Brown) and Godolkin University’s manipulative dean, Indira Shetty (Shelley Conn).
It isn’t until Gen V’s third and fourth episodes that the show begins to find its groove. Most of the relationship dynamics between its central characters remain unfocused until its fourth installment, as the series’ creative team seems unsure, at first, whether it wants to make its core heroes as coldly villainous and unlikable as those featured in The Boys. Once the show abandons that idea, everything in it starts to work a whole lot better. From that point on, Gen V begins to feel more and more like its own series.
Its decision to portray its young leads not as monstrous, arrogant tyrants, but as kids whose lives have been controlled by the adults around them imbues it with more depth and pathos than The Boys, which befits its coming-of-age narrative. The more openly it lays out the tragedies of its young heroes’ lives, the more Gen V’s core performers begin to shine, too. That’s particularly true for Sinclair and Phillips, whose Marie and Cate find their beliefs tested in ways that neither see coming. Lizze Broadway similarly gives a standout turn as Emma Meyer, Marie’s insecure roommate, whose shrinking powers demand a greater physical and emotional cost than she’s willing to admit.
As is the case with The Boys, Gen V is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, which allows it to be just as raunchy and outrageously funny as its parent series. That fact is also what prevents it from exploring many of its characters’ personal issues, like Marie’s self-harming tendencies and Emma’s body image struggles, with the nuance that they demand. The series, perhaps fittingly or not, frequently falls into the same trap as HBO’s Euphoria, another teen dramedy that tries to tackle so many different, important issues that it fails to explore most of them with the sensitivity and introspection that they demand.
Gen V is, consequently, a series that is at its most effortlessly watchable when it keeps its ambitions relatively small. In just six episodes, it has established enough likable characters and compelling relationships to function well as a pulpy, superpowered teen melodrama. It is, notably, unclear whether the show will be as reluctant to shake up its own status quo in its future episodes as The Boys has proven to be. If it ends up being just as dramatically static as its Prime Video predecessor, that could damage Gen V’s ability to run for multiple seasons. For right now, though, the series is a perfectly fine addition to Amazon’s satirical superhero universe, one that works best when it keeps its goals and ideas as low to the ground as possible.
The first three episodes of Gen V are streaming now on Amazon Prime Video. New installments release weekly on Fridays. Digital Trends was given early access to the series’ first six episodes.
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