Pat Stacey: 'Soon, television will be a land fit only for superheroes and nothing else'
Amazon Prime’s new series The Boys, arriving on Friday, looks like it’s going to be great fun for those who like this sort of thing.
Based on the flashy, splashy, noisy trailer, which appears to have been edited with the sole purpose of inducing headaches and seizures, ‘this sort of thing’ means lots of fast-moving action and violence. And gore. Bucketloads of it.
People get punched, kicked, thrown around and riddled with machine-gun bullets. Limbs snap. Bones crunch. Eyes are gouged. Heads are crushed or pulped to a bloody mist.
In one scene, a man literally runs through a woman, causing her to disintegrate, with a puff and a squelchy plop, into a pool of blood and guts.
The only bits of her left intact are her hands, which are still being held by her distraught boyfriend, who’s howling with horror. The only thing more violent than the violence is the language.
Everyone talks as if ‘F’ was top of the list of most frequently used letters in the English language rather than lurking down in lowly 18th place.
By far the biggest F-er of the lot is the wisecracking Billy Butcher, played by Karl Urban (Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy in the rebooted Star Trek films) in a leather jacket and beard.
The New Zealand actor plays it with a fake cockney accent as broad as the Thames. He’s all ‘fack’ this and ‘fackeen’ that. It’s like listening to Dick van Dyke doing Ray Winstone.
Five years ago, the trailer would have been so eye-poppingly outrageous, so insanely over the top, your immediate reaction would have been: “Wow, this looks great! I have to see it!”
Trouble is, we’ve seen it before. The irreverent mixture of extreme violence and throwaway quips has become such a cliché in series based on comic books that it’s more likely to induce a shrug than a gasp.
Sorry, did I forget to mention The Boys is based on a comic book? Well, it is. One co-written by Northern Irish-born Garth Ennis, who also co-wrote Preacher, which was also turned into a TV series and features a hirsute hero, played by Dominic Cooper, an Englishman pretending to be an American rather than a New Zealander pretending to be English.
One thing in favour of The Boys is that it appears to be a satire of superhero stories. It’s set in a world where costumed heroes are plentiful and have become celebrities, with all the narcissism and selfishness that incubates.
The most famous of them is a group called The Seven, a bunch of venal, reckless, out-of-control arseholes who use social media and an army of PR publicists and fixers to cover up their violent transgressions, which often put the safety of the world at risk.
The Boys, led by Butcher, is a small, clandestine CIA squad dedicated to keeping the superhero fraternity in line — a job which often results in even more mayhem and carnage.
Maybe The Boys will surprise us by turning out to be an absolutely brilliant, unmissable series. Amazon could certainly do with an original blockbuster hit on the scale of Netflix’s Stranger Things or HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld.
But the bottom line is it’s still yet another comic book series, arriving at a time when television is already groaning under the weight of them: Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, The Walking Dead, Legion, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Gotham, The Umbrella Academy.
December will bring even more when Disney’s new streaming service Disney Plus unleashes a glut of Marvel series featuring secondary characters from the big-screen Avengers franchise, including Loki, Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch.
Soon, television will also be a land fit only for superheroes and nothing else. It makes you hungry for more television series in which characters keep their feet on the ground and their heads in this universe.