If Amazon’s The Boys is an R-rated riff on Marvel Comic’s The X-Men, then its new spin-off, Gen V, effectively serves as a similarly twisted take on The New Mutants. Given that both shows are about a universe where superhero content is relentlessly churned out by a soulless megacorporation determined to mine every last cent from its most famous IPs, there’s a certain irony to Gen V’s very existence. But any serious reservations are quickly blown away by how effectively it iterates upon The Boys’s winning formula, serving up another raucous blend of pitch-black humor, extravagant action, and emotional storytelling.
Gen V follows Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), a blood-bending super with a tragic past, as she enrolls in the prestigious Godolkin University School of Crimefighting. Run by Vought International, the shady organization that drives this world’s superhero-industrial complex, Godolkin is supposed to be Marie’s ticket to fame, glory, and acceptance. Naturally, she soon finds that this school for gifted youngsters isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Throughout the school year, Godolkin’s students are ranked based not only on their crimefighting prowess, but also on their marketability. That’s bad news for Marie, whose superpower just doesn’t have the kind of four-quadrant appeal that her teachers are looking for. But this ranking system works just fine for students like Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a handsome young super with a dazzling smile and a fiery power that looks great on a poster. (Having the offspring of a real-life Mr. Universe playing Vought’s new prodigy is a clever bit of meta-casting, though Schwarzenegger doesn’t quite have the screen presence of someone who’s supposed to inspire awe wherever he goes.)
The school’s ranking system quickly throws Marie into the path of another student who’s been disadvantaged by it, Jordan Li. Jordan can freely switch between a shockwave-throwing female form (London Thor) and a super-strong male one (Derek Luh), but despite being one of the school’s most formidably powerful supers, Vought’s higher-ups make it clear that there’s no way “a gender-shifting Asian with pronoun fuckery” will ever top their leaderboard.
The shrewd thing about Gen V is that it never tries to use the stories of characters like Jordan or Emma (Lizze Broadway), who can change size by forcing herself to throw up, as exact analogues for transgenderism or an eating disorder, respectively. Instead, it uses them to explore the ways in which powerful institutions like Vought exploit these things.
Emma is constantly pressured to talk about her “eating disorder,” no matter how many times she says that she doesn’t have one, because that’s a narrative Vought can sell. And while Jordan’s experiences aren’t exactly akin to that of a trans person, the way Vought handles them is depressingly familiar: The organization wants to be seen as diverse and inclusive, but only right up to the point that doing so might threaten its ability to sell stuff to bigots.
The first season of Gen V initially seems like it’s setting itself up to follow Marie on her quest to reach that top spot on the leaderboard while slowly uncovering the dark secrets about her school. But the final moments of the first episode, “God U.,” do what The Boys always did so well and explodes those expectations in spectacular, bloody style, leaving Marie and her friends to sift through the gooey, red chunks that are left behind.
At a time when mainstream audiences are more familiar than ever with the tropes of conventional superhero storytelling, it’s hugely enjoyable to find a series that’s willing to zig and zag in such dramatic fashion. Later in the season, a new character is introduced seemingly as a major villain, only for them to be quickly foiled by an unsavory sexual compulsion. Another episode ends in tragedy because someone bumps into a metal-bending student named Andre (Chance Perdomo) while he’s using his talents to impress a girl. Here, bloodshed usually isn’t the result of an epic battle between good and evil, or a heart-wrenching choice about who to save. Rather, it’s the product of some drunk teenager tooling about with their power.
Gen V fully leans into the chaos that a world filled with supercharged adolescents would experience and the result is a series that’s constantly surprising and devilishly entertaining. But it also makes sure to give us real characters to care about amid all this carnage. The way that the likes of Marie and Jordan, who come into the show so spiky and closed off, slowly open up to one another feels authentic thanks to the actors’ layered performances and writing that knows just how to consistently balance irreverence with sincerity. They ensure that for all the perversity and the violence, Gen V never descends into pure edge-lord extremism, providing a sweetness to counterbalance the show’s acidity.
Since 2001, we've brought you uncompromising, candid takes on the world of film, music, television, video games, theater, and more. Independently owned and operated publications like Slant have been hit hard in recent years, but we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or fees.
If you like what we do, please consider subscribing to our Patreon or making a donation.