The Boys – S1: TV Review

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One of the most pleasant surprises of last while in the world of television, The Boys is a new Amazon Prime series based on a comic book series of the same name. The concept turns the glittering golden super hero formula right on its head; the story takes place in a world where super heroes are not only relatively commonplace, but celebrities. Supes are ruled by social media and public opinion in the same way politicians are, and are contracted by a private company called Vought. What comes with that turns out to be a lack of accountability and abuse of power. The show is about the diabolical intentions of Vought and its Supes, as well as the effort of a small group of vigilantes – The Boys – to bring the truth about Supes to light. The show, which stars Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, and Erin Moriarty among others, and is written by a team including Eric Kripke and Seth Rogen, runs for 8 hour-long episodes, and was renewed for a season 2 before season 1 even had the chance to air on Amazon Prime.

The Boys was, for me, the most pleasant surprise to hit streaming services since Sex Education. I was a little bit sceptical going in; the idea was good but it ran the risk of being a little edgy for the sake of being edgy. The first fifteen minutes of the first episode don’t exactly help, I didn’t love the way they handled the actual event of Robin’s death, it didn’t hit all that hard and it came across super gimmicky. It felt like they were aiming for the shock value. By the end of the first episode, however, the quality of the concept and characters turned me right round.

It’s all about the characters. Hughie starts off as the obvious protagonist, but that dissolves pretty quick into an all-around ensemble delivery. Hughie actually didn’t start off all that likeable for me, but that changes as well with a pretty strong performance from Jack Quaid. Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher is, on his own, a very good reason to watch the show. I wouldn’t call his backstory much other than typical, but he plays it really well, and, with some really strong projected writing over the course of the season, it’s really something to see. He blends the right amount of comic relief and dramatic intensity to make it, in a lot of ways, a dream role (if they recast Wolverine, not that they should, as anyone, after this, I’m sold on Karl Urban). The rest of The Boys are equally strong if not holding as much of the spotlight. Despite that, Frenchie goes through some serious development and turns into as fleshed a character as Butcher. His relationship with The Female is well done, but it ends up being the most her character is relevant to in the first season. Presumably we’ll see more for her in season 2, as well as M.M, who, despite being a very likeable and relatable character, doesn’t actually arc particularly much. The Seven are just as interesting. Antony Starr as Homelander is incredible. His relationship with Elisabeth Shue’s character was weird, but creepily effective, and his ability to inhabit someone so deeply and enigmatically evil with the exterior of Jesus’ second coming was more than a little bit scary. Queen Maeve is maybe the most underrated character in the show, she’s an interesting dilemma, especially in relation to Starlight. I found Starlight likeable from the get go, and Erin Moriarty does a fantastic job of delivering her hopeful, almost naïve persona. The Deep is just funny in a depressed way. There’s something deeply, deeply sorrowful about him which makes for some of the best comedy in the show. Black Noir is, apparently, the most powerful character in the comics, even more powerful than Homelander. He’s another one that we might want to see more of in season 2, after a virtually (and literally) silent season 1.

I’ve already kind of touched on the conceptual strength of the show. It’s the kind of thing which, done well, could be something special, and I believe it is. The storyline flows really well; there isn’t a lot of buffer or filler time in eight episodes worth of content, resulting in the show being perpetually engaging. Side plotlines like Maeve’s visits to Elena, Mesmer, The Female, etc. are all interesting enough to sustain stories of their own. Butcher’s whole character is fascinating to me, and I even finally came back around on Hughie and Annie’s relationship after it feeling a little forced at the bowling alley. The relationships in the show are all generally strong, even though Homelander and Stillwell is completely inexplicable. They do an interesting thing in alluding to a lot more backstory, through characters like Mallory and leaving the specifics of Homelander’s upbringing. The Boys is littered with interesting plotlines and character dynamics that are enough to sustain on their own, and amount to an extremely exciting 8 episode series.

The cliff-hanger at the end of season 1 is devastating, but it does, at the very least , promise more. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess. There are about a thousand things they could do, with a select few of them wise. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll keep details away with a ten foot rod, but some mentally transformative truths might be coming Butcher’s way, and I absolutely cannot wait to see it. All in all, The Boys is one of the most pleasant surprises in my recent memory. I’d recommend it to anyone, given that they’re alright with some pretty intense gore, and, for that matter, some other screwed up stuff as well. The Boys is one to watch.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score –  85/100

Big Little Lies: TV Review

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One of the biggest winners of the 2018 awards season, with buzz for a second coming after the recent conclusion of season 2, Big Little Lies is a television mini-series stars and all-star cast including the likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgard, Adam Scott, and, in season 2 only, the one and only Meryl Streep. The show touches on some startlingly real subject matter; exposing the air of deceit and confusion that underlies the seemingly picture-perfect lives of five mothers in an affluent neighbourhood in California. It brings to light conversations about abusive relationships, obsessive parenting, social hierarchy and power dynamics, and the nature of marriage to name a few. The show is based on the novel by Liane Moriarty and is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and Andrea Arnold, having been created by David E. Kelly.

I had been waiting quite a while to see this one. It’s reputation preceded itself, of course, and with a cast like the one that signed on to this, it was hard not to jump at it. I should say right off the bat that Big Little Lies is a fantastic show, it really is. At a bare minimum, it’s first rate social commentary. The themes I mentioned in the intro are just a few of the main ideas that are addressed in every single episode. The fact that they communicate such a range of ideas so effectively with only 14 episodes is a testament to some fantastic adaptation and teleplay. That comes across in the syntax of it just as much as it does on the more conceptual level; the show is deftly written, striking just the right tone. There’s just enough believability in the way the narrative unfolds for the reality of the situation to come across. A lot of the tone comes with the visuals, which I’ll get to in a sec, but first and foremost I have to acknowledge the phenomenal job done by a cast of actors that absolutely left it all out there to be had. A combination of quality writing and showstopping performances from nearly everyone on screen – from the Monterey Five to Adam Scott, the unsung hero of the show in many ways, to the child actors –  gives rise to some of the strongest character work in such a short period of time that I’ve seen in a long time. I really wish I could get into specifics, with the benefit of hindsight I might have done season by season reviews; next time I suppose.

I do the feel the overall strength of the show is just a little bit weaker in the second season as compared to the first; still fantastic, but just a little less interesting. The narrative structure of the first season, with the constant jumping back and forth between the build-up and the aftermath of what ends up becoming the chronically anticipated fundraiser setting allows for a lot of dramatic tension which the second season just doesn’t have. I don’t mean to say the second season isn’t dramatically tense, it certainly is, but it plays into some amount of predictability in the way that it develops. What the first season doesn’t have, which the second season resoundingly does, is Meryl Streep. That woman is just something else. The two seasons actually contrast each other in a lot of ways. The first season is, of course, a batshit zoo circus at times, where the town of Monterey more closely resembles a battle ground veiled in glitz and marble. The second season actually sees, in many ways, a little more internal solidarity for the Monterey Five, in spite of their own worlds falling apart by ways of marriage troubles and bankruptcy and custody and the crushing guilt of murder. It’s a slightly tense show.

It’s got some stunning visuals. There are some supremely clever editing tricks and flicks in there which might go unnoticed if you’re not looking for them, but beyond that they’ve chosen a hell of a place as location for the series. The visuals in general, particularly the lens filter, does a lot to add up to the mood of the show, which is, undoubtedly, a pretty gloomy one. There’s an interesting balance struck between being not especially upbeat at any particular moment, but staying just on or close enough to the fringe so as to not overload the audience’s emotional capacity. It takes some clever writing, and some stellar character work, but they sit hard on that balance and it plays for them in the relatively short amount of time the show runs for.
I really don’t enjoy writing TV reviews; I really want to get into specifics and the nitty gritty about the shows but I also don’t want to bore you. I think I’ll be changing the format soon, reviewing shows on a season by season basis. In the meantime, this ones serves primarily as a strong recommendation for the shows as opposed to a proper review of it. We’re looking at a fantastic cast of actors who deliver hard on character arcs across both seasons, supported by some first rate writing that manages to find and hold on to the balance between strong character and strong thematic perspective. Big Little Lies is a fantastic show that warrants all the attention it’s getting. A part of me hopes it doesn’t come back for a third season. I won’t give away the end of the second season, but it feels like an adequately closed loop at that point. All in all, a nuanced and effective commentary about a part of our society we don’t often see commented on, at a confluence of some of the strongest writing and acting talent in the game right now. A must-watch.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score: 86/100                                                             Aryamaan’s Score: