BYears before the TV penis. There was Euphoria, and the big pig in the middle of And Just Like That. There was the talking penis in Pam & Tommy, which honestly deserved more airtime, and the cock puppet show that opened Jackass Forever. And then there’s another penis in episode one of The Boys’ new series (starting Friday, Amazon Prime Video), which… well, even if I could tell you what happens to and with the penis, think I don’t think I could the number of words I have. It has made me think drastically about my relationship with my own penis. Let’s leave it at that. I don’t want to talk about my penis again until I’ve had six to eight weeks of therapy.
It’s probably time for us to face the idea that The Boys is good. I know, I didn’t see this coming either. The first series — a dark-in-a-youth-fashion show where superheroes exist, are celebrities, but also have hidden horrors — had some great set pieces, a decent eight-episode storyline, and really relied on Karl Urban growls every few minutes the C word. It was fine. This could be as much about the platform as it is about the content: One thing Prime seems to struggle with is nailing a series premise, and The Boys looked like it would end up in the trash labeled “Hunters”. can go. The Man in the High Castle had its fans, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is probably the best thing they’ve done, and The Grand Tour will always have a rabid, jeans-and-sheux viewer, but while Netflix can easily alchemize a hit series by putting it on its homepage and letting the algorithm convince you that you should check it out immediately (“You must watch Nailed It completely! before everyone else is alive, for some reason!”), Prime has been left behind.
The Boys tries to reverse that trend, starting by being good and amplifying it by being persistent. We’re now on series three (of the actual show: The animated anthology spin-off Diabolical came out in March, there’s another X-Men college series spin-off in the works, and there’s plenty of knowledge and backstory on YouTube and the likes to fill an entire conference center with people in leather dusters yelling “C-!” at Karl Urban), and it jumped solidly off a skyscraper and landed on its feet in a power stance. The world of The Boys is a dense one; a platform for a story or stories to squirm and jump in a hundred different possible directions, and it makes the most of its R rating to graphically explode people’s heads and bodies as much as possible.
I know we’ve all forgotten it happened, but there was a show called Game of Thrones a few years ago, and spiritually The Boys borrowed a lot of the good from that without all the tits-and-dragon bits: villains have redemption arcs and goodies become bad guys, no character is too loved to be protected from a violent death, the backstabbing and political stuff is just as good as the lively blood, and sometimes someone dies in a way that leaves you suffocating for a moment and the TV pauses. Series three, so far, has all that, and some flashbacks.
But what I like most about series three is that The Boys are now so comfortable in their own skin that it can make increasingly spicier choices with the culture it mocks. In a fairly ‘safe’ era where people don’t dare say anything in case hordes of people disagree or cancel them, this feels really surprising. There’s a lot of good, modern subplot here: Series two’s main villain turned out to be a Nazi with a fierce online fanbase, even after being exposed as evil; the anonymous megacorporation in charge of the superheroes is obsessed with ratings and how a story will play out with a fanbase rather than whether it’s good or not; there’s a very astute look at the wave of corporate “we hear you” pats on the back that happened in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The Boys may be about capes and exploding heads and Karl Urban, years later, still struggles with an English accent like it’s a cat he’s trying to get in a carriage to go to the vet, but it manages to get all that. while saying wryly things that many supposedly clairvoyant, mirror-to-society shows are currently shying away from. There are a few blips – it’s still, visually, too blue; it does that very American TV thing to make a bad character totally nice and normal to a kid, to remind us that, hey, they’re just humans – but other than that, catch me at BoysCon 2023 in a floor length leather duster. I will be the man who tells everyone about my penile trauma.