It’d be easy to call Gen V the live-action X-Men show we’ve always wanted. This spin-off from The Boys takes a group of superpowered college students and explores them and their powers in a way that far exceeds 2017’s tepid The Gifted, 2015’s overwrought Legion, or 1996’s grungy Generation X.
But a truer comparison is that The Boys sidequel Gen V is the mutant Marvel series Disney would never condone. It’s too horny and grotesque, psychological and lewd. There’s almost as much full-frontal male nudity as there is blood splatter, and a lot of time is dedicated to the characters discussing each other’s trauma.
A short-lived parody from The Boys comic morphs into a heartfelt, darkly humorous, uneven story about a group of young people who quickly learn not only is the world unfair, it’s built on lies and incompetence, and they’re shouldered with the responsibility of changing it. Gen V has pathos in a way that’s refreshing amid the constant MCU barrage and whatever the hell the DCU’s doing, and going by the first six episodes, it’s easily one of the best TV series of the year.
We start with Marie (Jaz Sinclair), a teenager in a boarding school for wayward supes because the activation of her powers led to the death of her parents. Miraculously, she gets into Godolkin University, the premier college for heroism where some of the Seven were educated. Lucky to get in, she promises to focus on her education so she can move on from her tragic past.
Even if this wasn’t associated with The Boys, you could guess she winds up in a nightclub with some other students, where things go awry. Marie’s powers of blood manipulation allow her to mend the situation, granting some unwanted attention, but creating a bond between her and popular kids Luke (Patrick Schwarzenegger), Andre (Chance Perdomol), Jordan (Derek Luh and Jordan Li for each respective gender), and Cate (Maddie Phillips).
Marie has a shrinking roommate, Emma (Lizzie Broadway), who completes the circle. They all bond over binge drinking, and before too long realize their backgrounds are remarkably similar. Not tragic to the extent of Marie’s, but fragmented and difficult nonetheless. Cate caused an irreparable rift when her sibling was the one who found out what she was capable of. Jordan’s parents refuse to acknowledge them as happily non-binary, notably always defaulting to he/him pronouns.
Meanwhile, Emma’s mother wants to turn her into a reality show, exploiting a palpable analogy for body dysmorphia. They’re drawn together through bad timing and common levels of self-loathing, similar to Billy and his cohorts. But they hold a more nuanced perspective on superheroes because of their experience.
None of them like how they got their powers, but they’re at Godolkin to do good in the world. These are young people who wish to be the change they want to see. Marie makes for a great evolution of Hughie, someone who finds themselves lumbered with powers they didn’t choose, causing side-effects they can’t reverse.
Eric Kripke always approached The Boys with greater complexity than the original text, painting grey over Billy’s understandable but fundamentally fascist anti-supes view. Gen V moves that forward, looking at the superhero-breeding apparatus from the inside. More importantly, excavating what having powers does, and doesn’t, change about becoming your own person.
Marie, Emma, and Jordan provide the greatest success in this vein. Their storylines complement each other and build out the plot in exciting ways. Sinclair and Broadway’s performances are the strongest among a great bunch, with Luh and Li deserving considerable praise for handling the same character without missing a beat whenever Jordan transforms. It says something when more than one character could be the driving force without losing any fundamental quality, and Gen V has that.
The wit and satire of The Boys remain strong, and Kripke, Evan Goldberg, and Craig Rosenberg continue to find ways to shock and awe. Some moments had me shouting with glee, and so far one scene caused an impulsive rewind to make sure of what I just saw. As the chief architect behind our best zombie movies list, I can tell you there aren’t many filmmakers who manage that.
It says so much that Gen V justifies itself at all. Most spin-offs fail to get off the ground because their story just doesn’t seem all that necessary. Here, that danger becomes tenfold since The Boys is one of the best sci-fi series of all time – a cultural phenomenon that only seems to grow from season-to-season.
Gen V could very easily standalone, and I very much think you can come to this without seeing The Boys and have a wonderful time (if you’re OK with exploding penises). As an addition to The Boys, though, it helps forge a universe that begs for more branches that take on other angles. What are the Godolkin equivalents in other continents? How are other underrepresented communities impacted by Compound V?
Wherever The Boys ends, Gen V makes it seem like we could be spending a lot more time in this universe, and if it remains this good, I’m all for it. Those in charge might be completely irredeemable but one thing remains certain: the kids are alright.
Gen V premieres with three episodes on Friday, September 29. You can check out when the main show will return with our guide to The Boys season4 release date, and brush up on Hughie and co with our look at The Boys cast.
Gen V quickly casts aside the shadow of The Boys to become an awesome, heroic TV series that’s fresh but just as satirical.