Television Man by Aidan Morgan

“If you hear anyone talk against a schoolmate because of their religion, race or national origin, don’t wait – tell them that kind of talk is un-American!”

This column contains spoilers for The Boys.

When I was young, the universe of television was small. Two channels in English, one in French and 10 grades of static in between them. Every so often, on the packed UHF dial beneath the VHF, a quality of noise that might have been speech, or music. Even the stations we received could be derailed by a bent antenna or interference from CB radios on the trucks passing by our town.

Cable television existed but it didn’t extend outside of the cities. Satellite dishes hung off the sides of houses and peeked through foliage, but not at our house. Television shows were few, and good television was an event.

I think of those times because the pandemic has slowed productions down and knocked television back to the experience I remember from 40 years ago. From an endless stream of new programs and entire seasons being dropped at our feet, we’ve been kicked back into a world where weekly schedules and limited choices rule our viewing habits. Netflix feels more like a shelf of VHS tapes than a source of new television, at least for the time being.

In this suddenly parched landscape, The Boys (Amazon Prime) stands out for its high production value and satirical nastiness. A tale of corrupt superheroes and the band of screw-ups determined to take them down, The Boys never stints on gore or gross-out humour in its quest to satirize a hyper-violent media culture of cartoonish and cartoonified values.

The question in the second season is whether it may have aimed at targets that it’s not equipped to hit. It’s one thing to have heroes Homelander (Antony Starr) and Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) let a plane full of passengers die, but it’s another to introduce a literal white supremacist (Aya Cash as Stormfront) into the mix and have her run around killing people of colour. The Boys has two episodes left in its second season and it’s not clear they’re going to stick the landing.

If you’re going to binge shows of olde, though, I have two recommendations: Golden Girls (Amazon Prime) or Halt and Catch Fire (Netflix). Golden Girls is still screamingly funny, even in 2020, and Halt and Catch Fire does a better job of explaining the present day than The Boys’ flashy pulp fireworks.