The first season of “The Boys” deserves to be recognized as one of the defining satires of the post-9/11 era. Like Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” the show imagined what America would look like if the beloved superheroes of “The Avengers” or “Justice League” were real. But instead of a bleak, 1970s America, “The Boys” focused on three main intersections of American culture during the War on Terror: militarism, religion and entertainment. “The Boys” also stood out for its over-the-top gore and hilarious irreverence. While the first season was not perfect by any standard, it still felt focused on the trials and victories of the main character and his crew (the titular “Boys”). The second season does not.
Following the shocking turn of events in the Season 1 finale, the titular Boys plot their next move to take down Vought Industries and scrub their records. This time, it’s chasing down a terrorist with superpowers. Ostensibly, this plotline is the main one, but only a fraction of Season 2 focuses on it. Most of the time is spent on Homelander (Anthony Starr, “American Gothic”), the Deep (Chace Crawford, “Gossip Girl”) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty, “Berserk”). While the first season centralized the main characters to bring out the themes of the show, now it feels like the show is sidelining main characters. Take, for example, Season 1, where the main character Hughie (Jack Quaid, “Star Trek: Lower Decks”) infiltrates an Evangelical Chrisitan convention for Superheros to gain insight on Compound V, a substance that imbues superheroes with enhanced abilities. In the episode, the audience can see the visual hypocrisy of the leaders of the Christian community who proclaim to love God as a front to make money.
However, in Season 2, the social commentary is watered-down. Starlight and the female members of the superhero team take part in an interview for an upcoming movie highlighting “girl power.” In the scene, the audience sees that feminist messaging in movies is less about actually empowering women, and more about appealing to a demographic to sell a product. The first season centered the main characters and spent entire episodes highlighting the absurdity and hypocrisy of aspects of American culture. The second season chooses to offer tidbits of social commentary in individual scenes from the perspective of side characters.
Season 2 of “The Boys” falls short of the potential in the previous season. In Season 1, Hughie and the Boys had things to do and purpose in the story. In this season, they feel like a rudderless ship blown around by the whims of Homelander and his crew. Season 2 instead chooses to focus on the less-than-unique subplots of various superheroes with themes that seem haphazard at best and completely irrelevant at worst.
In addition, many of the other weaknesses of the first season were not corrected in the second season. The dialogue of the show is frustratingly annoying. Characters emphasize their lines by swearing instead of acting. Some of the irrelevant subplots in season one are inexplicably continued into Season 2, like The Deep’s new life in Ohio.
While not perfect, Season 1 of “The Boys” had the potential to be one of the mainstays of American satire in a post-9/11 America. Indeed, at the end of Season 1, audiences expected the level of thrill and insight to continue into the next. Unfortunately, Season 2 feels weak and distracted, sidelining its main characters for themes that feel incomplete.