Gen V review: The Boys spin-off is a depraved triumph in its own right
Gen V is as brutal and disgusting as The Boys - and just as gripping.
Oh, this could have so easily gone wrong.
Spin-offs are tricky at the best of times - even more so when you're not carrying across any central characters. Throw in the success of The Boys with its authentically off-the-wall brutality and Gen V - which is a college-based show set in the same world - could have easily felt like a watered down knock-off.
Thankfully, fans will soon find there is nothing watered down about this series, which is just as gory, obscene and outrageous as its sister series.
More importantly than that - it's actually good.
Gen V stars Jaz Sinclair as Marie Moreau, a young Supe with a tragic backstory, who we follow as she starts her first semester at Godolkin University, an educational institution specifically catering to super-powered youngsters.
There she intends to train in crimefighting and eventually become the first black woman in The Seven, although this isn't the case for all of the school's intake. Godolkin also teaches classes around acting, media work and other potentially lucrative fields, all under the watchful eye of Dean Shettey (Shelley Conn).
After arriving on campus, Marie soon meets a host of Supes who become our core focus, including Lizze Broadway's Emma, Patrick Schwarzenegger's Luke, Maddie Phillips's Cate and Chance Perdomo's Andre.
Thankfully, it's in its character work that Gen V truly excels. You won't be missing Hughie or Butcher for long, as you'll soon find yourself getting attached to this winning group of leads.
Part of this is, as with The Boys, due to the innovative power sets on display, whether it's Marie's blood manipulation or Emma's shrinking ability.
As with The Boys, it also uses these to effectively examine social issues, such as with Derek Luh and London Thor's Jordan Li, a Supe whose central power is the ability to switch between male and female forms, each of which has a different additional power set of their own.
This may not be a particularly subtle way to explore gender fluidity, nor are some of the other ways the series examines modern, real-world society, but they were never subtle in the original show. It's both shows' ability to turn obvious and frank metaphors into a strength, and not make them feel lecturing or crass, which is perhaps their greatest superpower.
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However, the primary success of the character work here is down to some well-written arcs and a superb, highly likeable cast. From Sinclair down, every cast member manages to make their characters feel relatable and affectingly vulnerable.
This is similar to the narrative - you can have all the sex, gore and depravity you want (and trust us, there is plenty), but the key making us care about what's actually going on.
Thankfully, the show does just that by neatly setting up the setting and character dynamics in the first episode, only to upend this going forward as a central driving mystery emerges.
The mystery is neatly constructed and suitably gripping, and each characters' involvement feels natural. The only issue is that by shifting the focus of the narrative to a larger conspiracy, and by becoming more character-based, it does mean we somewhat miss out on exploring that central superhero college premise.
It makes sense given the eight episode run, and you certainly won't feel as though we're wasting time or the show is moving at a sluggish pace. Still, it would have been nice to see more of the day-to-day on campus and the way in which the Supe ranking system actually works (including some teased but rarely seen Battle Royale-type situations).
Then, of course, we come to what you've all been waiting for - those links to the wider world of The Boys.
Yes, they are there, and yes, they are frequent. Gen V feels every way in piece with the original show, with highly publicised cameos from the likes of A-Train and Ashley Barrett used to give a sense of cohesion. They are, for the most part, neatly interwoven, and in no way do they take away the limelight from our young leads in their own show.
Unfortunately, the one cameo that doesn't really work is the much-vaunted appearance of Jensen Ackles's Soldier Boy, which feels tacked on and, honestly, a little groan-worthy. It doesn't help that it comes during a weaker outing for the series, which features a clunky premise seen far too many times before.
Regardless of some minor missteps, Gen V is still an accomplished and compelling first live-action spin-off to The Boys, which both enriches the world of the central show while also telling its own, distinct story.
It's also highly binge-worthy - with the first three episodes releasing at once and the others being released weekly, those are going to be some long waits in between outings, with the series delivering some excellent cliffhangers.
It may not reach the heights of The Boys' most recent season, but could we really have expected it to? Sitting neatly alongside it and not feeling like a lesser alternative is impressive enough.
In achieving what it does, Gen V neatly bridges the gap between The Boys season 3 and the upcoming fourth outing, while also setting out its stall as a unique, rollicking superhero satire in its own right.
Gen V will stream on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 29th September. The Boys seasons 1-3 available to watch now – try Amazon Prime Video for free for 30 days. Plus, read our guides to the best Amazon Prime series and the best movies on Amazon Prime.
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