In an era where archetypal superhero movies and TV shows are commonplace, The Boys has been a breath of fresh air. One of the best Prime Video shows, its subversive and satirical take on the genre has provided welcome respite from many of the big-budget, VFX-laden productions audiences have been bombarded with.
Ironically, given its own success on Amazon’s main streaming platform, The Boys has taken cues from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and similar world-building franchises and created its own shared universe. The Boys Presents: Diabolical, an eight-part animated anthology series, led the charge in March 2022. Now, it’s the turn of Gen V, The Boys’ first live-action off-shoot, to add to the main show’s grisly and amusingly unrestrained makeup.
Like its Diabolical spin-off sibling, Gen V pleasingly adds the heaps of gore and other adult material, thematic weight, and original storytelling that characterizes this self-aware, witty corner of the superhero genre. It’s not without its faults, though, which ultimately create a show that suffers from an identity crisis.
Dawn of the (teenage) Seven
Set between The Boys’ critically acclaimed third season and its soon-to-be-released fourth season, Gen V follows a group of superpowered teens at Godolkin University, the only college specifically for ‘Supes’, i.e. this universe’s name for people with extraordinary abilities. Among the prestigious school’s attendees are Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), Andre Anderson (Chance Perdomo), Emma Shaw (Lizzie Broadway), Cate Dunlap (Maddie Philipps), Jordan Li (London Thor/Derek Luh), Luke Riordan (Patrick Schwarzenegger), and the mysterious Sam (Asa Germann).
Here, students, who were injected with Compound V – the serum that gives people superhuman abilities – as babies, train to become the next generation of Vought-developed heroes. However, when shocking revelations concerning one of Godolkin’s most gifted youngsters come to light, the aforementioned group realizes something’s amiss. Thus begins the gang’s investigation into the shady and sinister goings-on at the university that could send shockwaves through The Boys’ wider universe.
It’s this sleuth-esque storytelling pivot that initially makes Gen V an absorbing watch. Prime Video’s adaptation of The Boys, based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s famous comic series of the same name, has wowed audiences with its biting rhetoric and R-rated sensibilities since debuting in July 2019. Horrifyingly hilarious and thematically resonant as it is, though, The Boys’ latest spin-off needs more than sardonic takedowns of superheroes, reality TV, and the corporate US elite. Equally, in an age where audience desensitization to adult content is glaringly apparent, Gen V’s penchant for gratuitous violence could become stale very quickly.
Thankfully, Gen V circumnavigates this minefield with its deeply engaging premise. Yes, it starts out as you’d expect a side project of The Boys to, but its genre bait-and-switch in the final moments of episode 1 propels Gen V into unexpectedly intriguing territory.
Indeed, its swift evolution from cynical superhero show to neo-noir mystery thriller is a wildly creative diversion to take, and one that works really well. With the students determined to unearth the secret plot they believe is being hatched in the bowels of Godolkin, Gen V takes on the form of an amateur detective story. If The Boys is a humorously scathing takedown on the superhero genre, Gen V presents itself as a Boys-flavored rendition of CBS’ iconic Murder, She Wrote series, Peacock’s critically-acclaimed Poker Face, and Hulu’s popular whodunnit-comedy Only Murders in the Building.
In fact, Gen V is a TV show contortionist that wears many genre faces. In an age where numerous shows can be considered multigenre, that’s to be expected.
Even so, Gen V initially does a good job of supporting its primary detective-based narrative with fan-favorite genre fare. There’s delicious preppy teen drama in the mold of The O.C., creatively vulgar comedy, lashings of romance, and occasional bursts of sci-fi horror, all of which blend seamlessly in Gen V’s first few episodes, and provide enthralling narrative twists and turns. At times, it was hard to know which characters I should trust, where the next betrayal might come from, or how the story-based rug would be pulled out from under my feet. A perfect example of that last one occurs in a Moon Knight-esque scene in episode 4’s final moments: it’ll throw you for a loop and make you second-guess everything you’ve watched up to that point.
The problem Gen V runs into in later entries is the unwieldy management of its multigenre format and numerous storylines. The periodic abandonment of its mystery thriller framework, often in favor of schlocky romantic or tense teen drama, disrupts its narrative flow, causing a power imbalance within the wider story. The awkward pacing from episode 5 onwards – its fifth and sixth episodes are short compared to those preceding them, too – ensures Gen V can’t devote enough time to resolve certain subplots, either. Important storylines that require a more methodical approach are irritatingly rushed through, while less salient plot points are bafflingly clung to, or superfluously brought back up at the most inconvenient time.
As a spin-off centered on the next generation of Supes, Gen V has the scope to dig into topics specific to teens and young adults – and it doesn’t shy away from the toughest issues affecting today’s youth.
Indeed, Gen V is unafraid of reckoning with real-world themes and the ever-present pressures that under-25s contend with. Social disconnection, peer pressure, and substance abuse are evident throughout its early entries but Gen V reckons with far more harrowing content, some of which may be triggering to certain viewers. Whether it’s shining a light on gender dysphoria through Jordan’s gender-shifting ability, self-harm, eating disorders, or sexual consent, Gen V tactfully tackles its highly sensitive and weighty material with aplomb. Full credit deservedly goes to the show’s young cast for their emotionally raw and empathetic performances in these scenes, too.
The Boys universe’s newest Supes don’t only deserve praise for the delicate execution of their acting during such sequences. The natural chemistry between them adds legitimacy to the variable dynamics among their characters, especially in Gen V’s first two episodes when, amateur sleuthing notwithstanding, competing for top spot in Godolkin University’s academic standings is the name of the game.
Indeed, it’s clear why comparisons were made between this live-action spin-off and The Hunger Games upon its initial reveal in September 2021. Sure, there’s less of a ‘fighting to the death’ mantra seen in Lionsgate’s hugely successful dystopian sci-fi franchise, but Gen V certainly possesses a high-school Hunger Games-like quality.
Its young, emotionally-damaged superpowered protagonists also bear pleasing similarities to The Umbrella Academy, another fantastic superhero series I’ve enjoyed on Netflix (I’ve read Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s graphic novel series, too). The latter’s superhumans are equally forced to contend with having abilities they didn’t ask for, solving a mystery alongside people they don’t necessarily gel with, remedying situations they’re ill-prepared for, and reckoning with how their actions can have potentially catastrophic consequences on the wider universe.
Like The Umbrella Academy, Gen V presents the opportunity for some ingenuity in the superpower stakes. In true The Boys style, some are nothing more than parodical takes on famous superhuman abilities, including Cate’s empath powers replicating those of the X-Men’s Jean Grey, and Luke’s fire manipulator abilities being a carbon copy of the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm/Human Torch. Meanwhile, Marie’s hemokinesis appears to draw inspiration from Jujutsu Kaisen, one of the best anime around.
There are occasions where Gen V’s superpower creativity shines through, however. Jordan’s ability to switch genders, for instance, enables them to tap into different abilities, based on whether they assume their male or female form. It’s an innovative spin on gender-based shapeshifting powers I’ve seen in other projects, such as Curtis Donovan in Misfits or Tina Greer in Smallville.
Backtracking to my point about The Boys’ wider world, Gen V maintains closer ties to the mainline show than Diabolical does. The latter isn’t a completely separate entity but, as The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke revealed upon Diabolical’s release, only three of its standalone episodes are canon. Compare that to Gen V’s positioning as The Boys season 3.5, its character cameos – some of them are truly wild, scene- and episode-stealing, believe me – and wider universe references, such as callbacks to the Red River Institute and Sage Grove, and this is an off-shoot series that’ll have a big say in events yet to come in the main show.
Gen V is a sassy, thematically dark, and riotously fun supplement to The Boys that’ll quench viewers’ thirst ahead of the latter’s fourth season. It pleasingly retains the raunchy and blood-filled tone audiences have come to expect from the outrageously entertaining and smart Prime Video show. However, it does so while adding its own youthful exuberance and attitude, hardcore college antics and R-rated puppets, and innovative sleuth-based slice of creativity to the wider universe.
With its curious story corner cutting and the breakneck speed with which it’s barreling towards its conclusion, though, I’m concerned that Gen V might not stick a superhero landing. Its adoption of the neo-noir mystery thriller formula, coupled with captivating performances and fearless thematic exploration, marks it out as a good TV show. But, when it veers away from those in favor of clichéd storytelling and by-the-numbers action, Gen V struggles to maintain its congruity or originality.
I remain hopeful that the final two episodes will deliver a fitting end to its mostly enthralling plot and set up some earth-shattering narrative threads to come in The Boys season 4. If it does, Gen V might cement itself as a splendid companion piece to the main show.
Gen V’s first three episodes debut on Prime Video on Friday, September 29. New episodes air weekly until the season finale on Friday, November 3.
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As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.
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