College is meant to be a time for having a good time, going out, and making poor Jell-O-related decisions. But in the superhuman universe of “The Boys,” it’s just a bit of a drag.
The coming-of-age spinoff of Amazon’s delightfully dark action comedy series “Gen V” (out of four; streaming first three episodes Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT on Prime Video, weekly thereafter) follows a group of strong children reliving their traumas and Scooby-Dooing their way through a main mystery. It has a rich cast of characters and, like the humorously bonkers “Boys,” drenches its audience in extreme violence and exploding private parts. But “Gen V” suffers terribly to maintain a constant focus and tone because it takes itself way too seriously, especially at the beginning.
People don’t get fancy skills as a result of radioactive spider bites or gamma radiation mishaps in the “Boys” universe, where superheroes are primarily dangerous psychopaths and corrupt jerks working for the evil corporation Vought International. Instead, the powers are obtained by a substance called Compound V. A new generation of super kids whose parents have given them this serum enroll at Godolkin University (also known as God U) in the hopes of landing endorsement agreements and becoming recognizable members of the band The Seven.
An incoming freshman named Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), who has the ability to use her blood as a weapon, is attempting to move behind a sad childhood. In college, where fiery Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger) is the Big Superman on Campus and rivals compete to advance up the list of top students, she has a cool roommate in super-shrinking Emma (Lizze Broadway), but she struggles to impress crime-fighting professor Brink (Clancy Brown) and fit in.
Marie reluctantly finds herself in the spotlight after an incident in which one of her fellow upcoming “supes” dies in public fashion. She starts to unearth Godolkin’s biggest and most sinister secrets with the help of a new group of friends. There are hookups, betrayals, lots of drama, and even some odd puppet shenanigans.
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When things go weird and sleazy at a dorm party, “Gen V” feels more naturally at home in the larger context, even though it’s not quite as astounding as a “Boys” superhero orgy. Other adult characters from the original “Boys” comic books make their debut, including Tek Knight (Derek Wilson), an evil mashup of Batman and Sherlock Holmes. Some well-known characters from the main show make appearances, including Jensen Ackles’ Soldier Boy in a spectacular cameo.
The Godolkin superteam, sometimes known as the G-Men, was modeled after the X-Men in the comics, and “Gen V” evokes the entire Marvel X-vibe, from its social criticism to the idea of different kids coming together for the common good. Emma must purge if she is to reduce in size and gain significant social media likes. Jordan Li, a classmate, can flip between male (Derek Luh) and female (London Thor) personalities, each with their own set of abilities, but their traditional parents disapprove when Jordan “chooses” to be a woman.
Most of the prominent personalities are distinguished by a tragedy or family problem of some kind. When Marie’s skills began to show during her first period, her life underwent a drastic turn. Andre (Chance Perdomo), a magnetically-powered person, feels the strain of measuring up to his super-dad Polarity (Sean Patrick Thomas), while Cate (Maddie Phillips) has the ability to make people do whatever she wants if she touches them, which contributed to her own trauma growing up.
If “Gen V” were a straightforward superhero drama, everything would function better. However, inserting an outrageous sense of humor and over-the-top antics causes issues that “The Boys” doesn’t have: The original series cleverly blends together gore and perversion while delving into more complex issues like fascism and white racism.
“Gen V” has some work to do in that regard.