Any person coming in fresh to this spin-off of the superhero satire The Boys should know that this isn’t going to be fairies and roses. This, after all, is the kind of universe where you pack an umbrella, just in case blood starts getting flung about in the street.
And yet – Gen V still manages to surprise. Following hot on The Boys’ heels and set (of all places) at a superhero university named Godolkin, it is not a show for the faint of heart. Heads get torn off, faces punched in, and spines flung about with abandon; one particularly surreal action sequence is carried out by muppets. After a while, all the violence becomes normal – but the minute you’re desensitised, Gen V hits you with a whole new level of horror. Like somebody getting a rather intimate part of their anatomy blown up, for instance. Yikes. I hope the SFX team is getting counselling.
The action here is set after the events of The Boys’ second season, where protagonists Starlight and Hughie leaked the news that superheroes were being made (by being injected with hefty amounts of Compound V as babies) rather than born. For those who haven’t watched The Boys, the lore is deep, but basically: Compound V is a drug manufactured by evil supercorporation Vought, who also happen to have a stranglehold on the entire business of making and creating superheroes (they sponsor this universe’s Avengers, dubbed The Seven, and cynically control/ stage manage everything they do).
These days, in Gen V, kids know they’re not chosen ones, but they’re still going to uni to try and make something of their powers (amusingly there are only two tracks: crime fighting and acting).
This is where we find our heroine, Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair). Marie has the rather grim power of being able to control blood; as a child, she orphaned herself by accident when her period started. The less said about that, the better - either way, Marie is here to study hard and become, as she says, “the first black woman in The Seven.” But fate has a funny trick of getting in the way, and of course there’s something dodgy going on at Godolkin that she’s soon wrapped up in. Is there a dodgy Dean? Of course - Victoria Neuman’s Claudia Doumit is beautifully creepy, as is the revolving cast of Vought board members interfering in the university.
So there is a central mystery to unravel here, but that’s not where the fun is. Plucked as this is from the mind of Craig Rosenberg (executive producer on The Boys) there’s also madness galore. Are there drugs? Hell yeah there are; bongs litter the floor like fag butts. People are going at it like rabbits. And there’s enough buckets of fake blood sloshing around here to make Jackson Pollock weep with envy.
Gen V also takes every opportunity to gleefully splash around in subjects that more cautious TV shows wouldn’t dare enter, even with a rubber ring and inflatable lifejacket; as one character screams at another, “I'm going to Johnny Depp someone so hard they're going to want to crawl into a hole and die!” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: over the course of the episodes, we meet Emma (a superhero whose power to make herself small is linked to her eating disorder), Jordan (a gender-fluid character who is able to switch between male and female bodies seamlessly) and Sam, who is super-strong but also happens to have schizophrenia.
That’s before we even get into the weeds of racism, sexism, a guy who has date rape powers and kids fighting with their parents. Gen V has a lot to say, and the result sometimes feels like being stood against a wall while somebody yells at you with a megaphone. Plus, there are other issues. Some of the plot holes are large enough to put your foot in, while one budding bad guy is politely shuffled off the stage way before he stops being a) entertaining, or b) threatening, which seems like a massive shame. Honestly, the show could have been another episode longer; at least it would have given all the requisite subplots time to breathe.
But hey, when the ride is this fun, it’s easy enough to forgive. These kids are clearly making the most of their misspent youths; just like them, it’s time to crack open a flat can of beer and enjoy it.
Gen V is streaming on Prime Video from September 29