In a world dominated by corrupt superheroes and the industrial complexes that manage their image, Gen V introduces a new type of protagonist: the undergrad. The Boys spinoff series explores the first generation of superheroes who know that their powers are from Compound V, as they fight for top ranking at Godolkin University, a superhero-only college. Trained in everything from criminology to PR management, the school looks to ready the next generation of heroes in the series developed by Craig Rosenberg, Evan Goldberg, and Eric Kripke.
Considering its relation to The Boys, there’s little surprise in the boundary-pushing nature of Gen V, as well as its dedication to skewering the prototypical hero story. Our main protagonist, Marie (Jaz Sinclair) is running away from her past, hoping to make an honest name for herself in college all the while keeping her head down and out of trouble. Of course, trouble finds her anyway, and soon she’s ensnared in a plot to unravel the mysteries of the university and the nefarious business that’s been taking place there.
Something that adds an extra spark to the series is how the powers the characters possess deviate so drastically from those of The Boys. In this regard, there’s almost something more in common with My Hero Academia or X-Men than The Boys or Justice League. The powers these characters have are more mutations. Where The Boys played on superhero archetypes—super strength, super speed, the ocean guy—Gen V looks at what happens when powers aren’t flashy, or have their own level of stigma. From Marie’s ability to bend blood, often having to cut the palms of her hands to do so, to her roommate, Emma (Lizze Broadway) needing to purge in order to shrink, there’s a distinct lack of allure to their powers. The series even has its own Rogue, with empath Cate (Maddie Phillips) having to wear gloves lest she doesn’t actually impact anyone she loves.
Those such as Luke, aka Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger) with his flight and strength, or Andre (Chance Perdomo) with his metal bending, fit our expectations more naturally – fitting, as they’re top of the class. But then, there are those like series highlight Jordan Li (played by both Derek Luh and London Thor) who are just as strong as the number ones, yet, aren’t seen as being “good optics” due to their ethnicity and the fact that their power is gender shifting. The Boys tells the story of what it would mean to live in a world where the most powerful were corrupt, while Gen V makes the decision to tell the story of what it would mean if being powerful wasn’t glamorous, and often hurts as much as it helps. It’s one of the strongest decisions the series makes.
The cast of characters only grows more intriguing as the episodes go on. The premiere fails to demonstrate this, filled with wooden delivery and overly expository sequences. But as the actors grow more comfortable, the series finds its legs beyond the general mystery of what those in power at the school are doing in what is dubbed “the woods” where one of the character’s brothers is being kept. Despite the carnage and brutalist way in which these characters can wield their powers, there’s a necessary level of heart and humor. Broadway helps lessen the dark nature of Emma’s storyline due to an off-kilter delivery while Sinclair, Luh, and Thor grow a tremendous amount of warmth in their dynamic, especially as they begin to find their footing as friends.
Despite this, however, the series suffers from some sloppy and poorly done VFX and special effects work. Andre’s metal bending lacks impact, with the effects of his crushing a school statue tempered, creating the effect of crushing styrofoam rather than steel. Meanwhile, Emma’s power creates some strong, emotional storylines but looks, frankly, terrible in action, especially when she’s surrounded by crowded backgrounds. Her scenes using her power are best when she’s a lone figure against a singular object or vacant background.
The writing doesn’t always succeed either, as it tries for modern pop-culture references that come across as glib, rather than biting. There’s a Johnny Depp reference that doesn’t make any sense with how they use it, rendering it a vacant attempt to utilize a recent headline for the sake of a joke. In the end, all it means is using a woman’s real-life trauma for a throwaway punchline. Even the constant jokes about those who study acting at Godolkin seeking roles at The CW and the People’s Choice Awards seem nastier in nature than necessary, especially when so many of Gen V’s cast came from CW sets. There’s plenty of room to play with indicting, scathing remarks about the Hollywood industry, but it needs to be better than simply grabbing from the headlines or going after lower-hanging fruit. One of the best jokes of its ilk in the series is the casual introduction of Vought+, a streaming service from the big bad company in charge.
The series also has a tendency to introduce darker thematic material and promptly forget about it or move it out of the way to tackle other stories when there’s room to write about them in tandem. From Marie’s search for her sister and how it relates to her past, to a night out that almost gets a woman killed that no one seems to dwell on, there are implausible twists to get the characters to where the series needs them to be for the bigger picture. That said, the characters in general are interesting, especially the core group. So is how their stories are impacted by older generations who thrust these powers upon them, stripping them of their agency in a world that already allows so little of it. When Gen V focuses on these moments and the intricacies of how Marie, Andre, Jordan, and company navigate the superhero infrastructure and their parents’ negative impact on them, the series excels.
Bloody, bold, and blazing with the intention to startle, Gen V refuses to hold back, taking aim to knock The Boys off its pedestal as the most shockingly violent series airing. While the series takes its time in developing the relationships of these characters and in finding out the greater mystery that hovers around them, there’s a distinctive charm that makes it an easy, engaging watch from Episode 1. It’s rough around the edges, but Gen V is a strong addition to this world, especially as it continues to unveil the corruption of superheroes and those who stand behind the desks in the ivory towers, enacting their own rules for the sake of profit, no matter the wreckage it leaves.
Gen V premieres September 29 on Prime Video with new episodes every Friday.
Bloody, bold, and blazing with the intention to startle, Gen V refuses to hold back, taking aim to knock The Boys off its pedestal as the most shockingly violent series airing. While the series takes its time in developing the relationships of these characters and in finding out the greater mystery that hovers around them, there’s a distinctive charm that makes it an easy, engaging watch from Episode 1.