Adaptations of comic books are in a great place right now, with traditional superhero fare co-existing with unconventional, critically praised shows like The Umbrella Academy, Doom Patrol, and The Boys.
The most risqué and gory of that trio — which is saying a lot — is Amazon Studios’ The Boys, based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic book series of the same name. Set in a world where corporate-controlled superheroes run wild, the show follows a group of vigilantes who make it their mission to police these larger-than-life threats.
After a debut season devoted to introducing the show’s cast of colorful characters and getting inside their heads (sometimes literally), season 2 of The Boys dives deeper into the show’s morally challenged world with a tremendously satisfying story arc that offers plenty of narrative twists, compelling character development, and shocking moments.
It would have been easy for The Boys to coast into its second season on spectacle alone, as the first season of the series made it clear that wince-inducing scenes of ultra-violence are something it does very, very well.
Few big- or small-screen projects have explored what happens when a super-speeding character accidentally runs into the average human, for example, but it was that sort of incident — and its messy aftermath — that the series premiere used to welcome audiences into the world of The Boys. That lopsided power dynamic between the “supes” and average humans becomes an even wider, grislier divide in season 2, with the series’ effects team leveling-up the blood-splattering, bone-crunching carnage that peppers the show’s second story arc.
Season 1 was messy, and in season 2, the flesh and viscera fly a little farther and the entrails squelch a little louder — but fortunately, The Boys never slips into becoming a one-trick gorefest.
Where the first season focused on star-crossed lovers Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) and Annie January (Erin Moriarty), as well as Superman-like sociopath Homelander (Antony Starr) and the revenge-obsessed Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), season 2 pivots toward the show’s supporting cast.
The time spent with these characters is rewarding, as they rarely align with the sort of well-worn archetypes that define some of the show’s more prominent characters. And because of that difference, their backstories feel fresher and more fascinating.
Frenchie and Kimiko, The Boys’ munitions expert and silent secret weapon played by Tomer Capon and Karen Fukuhara, respectively, finally receive the attention their characters deserve in the season’s eight-episode arc. The same can also be said of The Boys’ remaining member, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), whose screen time is increased significantly.
Putting the spotlight on these characters is a smart move, because weaving their narrative threads into the tapestry of the show ultimately makes it feel more grounded and resonant — something that’s particularly important for a show otherwise filled super-powered chaos.
A super villain
The show’s “supes” also get plenty of time to shine — and do a long list of terrible things — in the show’s second season, but it’s Antony Starr who steals the show (again) as Homelander.
Given everything that happened in season 1 of The Boys, it’s reasonable to wonder how Starr and series showrunner Eric Kripke can top Homelander’s first-season power trip. And yet, it shouldn’t come as much of a spoiler to reveal that the leader of The Seven still has plenty of depravity to bring to the show.
In his performance as Homelander, Starr oozes narcissistic privilege and sadistic cruelty, blending the two traits into a villain you can’t take your eyes off anytime he’s on the screen, and his performance hits a new, terrifying high mark in season 2.
The series also welcomes newcomer Aya Cash to the cast in the second season, portraying the snarky, self-aware superhero Stormfront, who becomes the latest addition to The Seven.
Best known for her starring role in the dark-comedy series You’re The Worst, Cash flexes some new muscles in The Boys (literally and figuratively), but she’s at her best when the role makes use of her talent for snide humor and sharp dialogue.
Without diving into spoiler territory, her character brings a new dimension to the show that makes it feel fuller and more representative of the technology- and image-obsessed world we live in, and more timely in some unfortunate ways. To her credit, Cash handles her character’s arc in season 1 with the nuance and commitment it demands, and makes it clear why it was such a brilliant move to cast her in the role.
Sadly, as much as the show gets right about casting Cash into the role she plays, it falls short in its use of Breaking Bad actor Giancarlo Esposito.
The accomplished actor joins season 2 of The Boys as Stan Edgar, the CEO of Vought International, the multinational corporation directing the actions — and public image — of The Seven. Esposito’s talents and presence are woefully underused in the season, and despite plenty of opportunities to establish Edgar as a human character every bit as powerful as Homelander, he never transcends the predictable “evil CEO” archetype.
Outside of Homelander and Annie January (a.k.a. Starlight), the rest of The Seven are relegated to relatively inconsequential, supporting roles in the season, although Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and The Deep (Chace Crawford) are at the center of some plot threads likely to pay off in future seasons. That’s particularly good news for McElligot’s Wonder Woman-like character, who has plenty of potential and a few good scenes peppered throughout the series, but feels underutilized overall.
The Boys flies highest when it’s leaning into its deconstruction of the superhero genre and capitalism run amuck, and that holds as true in the second season as it did in the first.
Kripke and the series’ writing team use The Boys as a way to hold modern society’s flaws up to a mirror, and the show’s dark satire has become a good vehicle for blowing up (or rather super-sizing?) real-world issues in a way that makes them too hard to ignore. The threat posed by corporate influence over global policy was a major theme of season 1, and the second season of The Boys continues to address that while also tackling the rise of white supremacy and xenophobia, LGBTQ and racial tokenism, and a long list of other issues.
The series’ approach to handling these complicated issues ranges from blunt, on-the-nose simplicity (in the case of creeping fascism) to significantly more nuanced messaging. It’s hard to argue with its ambition in this regard, but in practice, it occasionally feels like The Boys is spreading itself a little too thin and trying to put out a few too many fires.
Fortunately, the stumbles are few and far between in the show’s second season, which ups the ante considerably for its entire cast of characters and the world they inhabit. Season 2 of The Boys does a wonderful job of keeping its audience guessing right up until the season’s very last moments, but it also manages to deliver a sense of satisfaction at the story arc’s conclusion that the first season lacked.
As anyone who’s read the series’ source material can attest, The Boys is a special kind of superhero story. The first season of the series defied expectations in all the right ways, and season 2 proves that the show still has plenty of surprises to offer — as long as you don’t mind the mess.
Season 2 of The Boys premieres September 4 on Amazon Prime Video.
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