The Boys Season 4 Review: The Superhero Series Gets Mired In Misery

In a time when superhero subversions are a dime a dozen, Prime Video series "The Boys" has stood out with its razor-sharp satire. Based on the comic book series by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, "The Boys" is a perverse, hyper-violent take on superheroes that riffs on everything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Fox News to Saturday morning cartoons. It follows the titular "Boys," a ragtag team of anti-superhero vigilantes under the leadership of ex-special forces soldier Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) as they try to take down the evil Vought corporation and its elite team of superheroes, the Seven. 

The show has become infamous for its ridiculous gore gags and sex jokes, testing the boundaries of good taste as often as superhumanly possible. Yet, for every moment where the series has been vulgar and juvenile, it has had an equal moment of smart satire. Season 3 was a nearly perfect season of television, balancing the show's very disparate elements in a tonal tightrope walk that made for some seriously compelling entertainment. 

Now, "The Boys" season 4 is finally here, with the first three episodes of the season premiering Thursday, June 13, on Prime Video. Following the major shakeups at the end of season 3 and the events of the spin-off series, "Gen V," season 4 has a whole lot of story to wrangle in only eight episodes and it mostly succeeds. After the brilliant heights of season 3 it's hard not to feel like this season is a bit of a letdown — but it's setting the stage for a potentially perfect fifth season. 

In The Boys season 4, the politics lack bite

After helping Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) escape into a life of obscurity following her defeat of the very first supe, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), Butcher can really set his focus on saving his wife's son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti) from his biological father, the vicious Homelander (Antony Starr.) The rest of the Boys are focused on taking down secret supe Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), who is running for Vice President and in league with Vought. While "The Boys" season 3 had a lot to say about generational trauma and toxic masculinity, especially through their place in pop culture, season 4 seems more concerned with interpersonal character development.

Each of the crew faces someone from their past that forces them to reconcile with something painful, making the moments surrounding the Boys themselves a real bummer. This is a show that's always been pretty bleak, but season 4 gets downright depressing in places. It's mean as hell without feeling as sharp or purposeful as before, as the Boys wallow in misery and the political commentary feels like a weird afterthought. Some of the shots at pop culture hit, especially the inside-baseball jabs at the entertainment industry, but the politics are muddled at best, which is a real shame. The main thrust of the season is Neuman's vice presidential run and her plans for office, something that should hit hard when we're in an election year ourselves, but it's all pretty toothless. There's even a joke about taking "critical supe theory" out of schools. C'mon.

Instead of the Boys, the Seven are the real stars of season 4

While the political satire is muted, the violence and sexuality are not. It occasionally feels a bit tedious and overwrought, especially when tied to the more depressing storylines, but when it's on the more comical side of things, it still really works. The secret MVPs of the season are Chace Crawford's The Deep, an idiotic man-child version of Aquaman who has an ongoing affair with an octopus, and Susan Heyward's Sister Sage, a newly introduced supe who is the smartest person in the world. Sister Sage really shakes things up at Vought tower and provides a fascinating foil to Homelander because she's so much smarter than he is, but they seem to want similar things. She's even more interesting when paired with Deep because, well, he's an idiot. 

The Seven (besides Homelander) and their horrible antics end up providing almost all of the comic relief in season 4, with the exception of a wild animal attack sequence that really ups the ante on the suped-up hamster from season 3. Everything surrounding the Boys is unrelentingly bleak, so those moments of vulgar, villainous humor can be real lifelines. Thankfully, the Boys themselves are still very lovable, even as the series complicates them and makes them a little more human. 

Flawed heroes are the beating heart of The Boys

Butcher has always been an antihero, and a big theme throughout the whole series has been whether or not he will drag Hughie (Jack Quaid) down to his level. Hughie, Frenchie (Tomer Capone), Annie (Erin Moriarty), Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso), and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) comprise the rest of the Boys, and they're all the kinds of characters you can't help but root for. They are complex, flawed people, and season 4 really highlights those flaws and pushes them into either growing or shutting down completely. It's pretty relatable to not want to face the painful things from your past, which helps ground the superpowered characters and even makes the human ones feel a bit more real, though it's not exactly pleasant to watch. Good-hearted Hughie ends up suffering the most of all, and in a way that feels almost unnecessarily unfair, which might taint the rest of the season for some audiences. 

We also get some more backstory for Homelander, and while it is just as brutally unpleasant as the rest of the trips down memory lane this season, it also helps us understand exactly why he is the way he is and offers a glimpse into just why he's so protective of Ryan. The humanization of Homelander while Butcher grows more monstrous has always been an element of the series, but season 4 feels like it's finally taking that idea towards its final conclusion.

The Boys season 4 is a fair mix of hits and misses

There is a lot going on in "The Boys" season 4. No one character gets preferential treatment, with characters like A-Train (Jesse Usher) and even Ashley (Colby Minifie) getting their chance to shine. This scattershot approach means that some of the plot threads work and some really don't, and it would have been nice to see more time spent on what worked instead of trying to squeeze everything into eight hours. For example, A-Train's potential path to redemption that started with his hilariously ironic heart transplant at the end of season 3 feels a bit too truncated and Mother's Milk doesn't get enough to do, though the moments they do get really work. Everything is spread just a tiny bit too thin, though it does feel like they're getting all of the pieces into place for a truly wild season 5.

Fans who felt as if things were wrapped up too neatly at the end of season 3 should be pleased with the chaos of season 4. It's mean, sometimes too mean, but it's still full of plenty of the things "The Boys" fans love. There are some fun faux-Fox News bits, some good Marvel goofs, lots of unconventional sex, Butcher saying swears I can't even write here bleeped out, and even a cake fart. "The Boys" is still really good, so here's hoping that they don't get lost in the misery porn of it all and can right the ship next season. The world is bleak enough as it is, so something this depressing needs to feel like it has a point. 

/News Rating: 7 out of 10

"The Boys" season 4 premieres with its first three episodes on Prime Video on June 13, 2024.