How The Boys Walks the Line Between Satire and Sincerity—Exploding Penis Included

The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke reveals how the Amazon superhero series manages to horrify and delight viewers without ever taking it too far: "We do an incredible amount of self-policing."

By Tierney Bricker Jun 12, 2022 12:00 PMTags
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Is there a rating beyond NC-17? Because The Boys just went there, bought property and threw a massive house party. 

In the Amazon Prime Video superhero drama's season three premiere, viewers were left with dented floors after their jaws dropped that far when lower-level supe Termite (Brett Geddes)—think a coked-out version of Ant-Man who can shrink himself down to the size of his namesake—accidentally shot back up to normal size after sneezing. He also happened to be inside his boyfriend's penis when this occurred, exploding his lover into bloody bits and pieces in the process. Houston, we've rocketed way past NSFW.

It was deranged. It was diverting. It was diabolical. And it happened less than 10 minutes into the episode. Isn't that The Boys in a nutshell?

"I am so delighted, it's been so much fun, just stupid amounts of fun," showrunner Eric Kripke told E! News of the response to the shocking scene. "Because you might say we've had that penis in our pocket for a very long time and we kept watching it with our hands over our mouths and couldn't believe the insanity we were getting away with. We were so curious what the reaction would be and the reaction is everything I wanted it to be."

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The mix of horror and delight wasn't reserved just for viewers either as Kripke also revealed his 15-year-old son's reaction after watching the episode: "He turned to me and he's like, 'What the hell is wrong with you?' I was like, 'That's a great review. That's one of the best reviews I've ever gotten, thank you very much!'"


Prime Video

Of course, big swings are nothing new for The Boys, which captivated viewers with its depravity and audacity when it first premiered in 2019 and has continued to push the envelope. While Disney+ is finally cautiously dipping a toe into slightly more mature content with the MCU's television series, Homelander (Antony Starr) is casually getting a handjob in the hospital from his bedridden and severely burned Nazi girlfriend. And that is the fourth-wildest thing to happen in the season three premiere.

After spending years tiptoeing around the FCC's rigid restrictions for TV content—Kripke created The CW's Supernatural and the NBC sci-fi dramas Revolution and Timeless—he is gleefully letting it rip on The Boys. But that doesn't mean he isn't concerned about taking things too far.

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"We were never given an external line from Sony or Amazon, so we really do an incredible amount of self-policing," Kripke explained. "We really do agonize over every call and, obviously, the giant penis was really far out there, so we had a lot of conversations about it."

Admitting that he lives "in fear of the show becoming gratuitous or exploitive without it feeling heightened and like a story well told and all of the things that it needs to be," Kripke said he often takes a step back from a shocking pitch and asks, "Will this make the show feel cheap?"

Amazon Prime

The key to walking the fine line between superfluous and servicing the story is "finding the right moments and it's also about balancing them with a lot of dramatic heft and character."

The Boys is also constantly steadying the scales when it comes to satire and sincerity, always using real-life events to service the heightened superhero story. Vought International used Queen Maeve's (Dominique McElligott) sexuality as a marketing ploy at their theme park—how timely during Pride Month!—and Black supe A-Train (Jessie Usher) recreated Kendall Jenner's infamous 2017 Pepsi ad in episode four.  Not to mention The Dawn of the Seven being a cheeky reference to the release of Zack Snyder's Justice League and The Deep (Chace Crawford) being dubbed "the next Leah Remini" by Malcolm Gladwell after his memoir, Deeper, is published.

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While The Boys often pulls storylines ripped from the headlines à la Law & Order: SVU, it always delivers them with either a knowing wink or a surprising sucker-punch of emotion, avoiding ever feeling like a parody that hit the cutting room floor at Saturday Night Live.

Kripke explained that nothing and no one is safe when it comes to being used as outlandish fodder so long as it can also land, both with its viewers and its writers.

Amazon Studios

"There's no real specific hard and fast rule outside of the writers tend to write whatever they're passionate about, angry about or frightened of as we're writing," Kripke said. "Generally, the more passionate a writer is about a thing, the more likely it is to make it into a story. We just go with our guts about what we're really horrified by."

"But the way it fits in, I wish I could say it was due to my brilliance as a writer, it is not. We are really lucky to have lucked into a metaphor with these celebrity superheroes that is just so durable and accurate for the moment we're living in," he continued. "It's very easy to say Homelander is giving a speech at a rally that is performative patriotic or that a corporation is marketing all this fake wokeness. It's so easy because we're right there."

A superhero show with an exploding penis becoming one of TV's most politically relevant offerings? Now that is jaw-dropping.

The Boys drops new episodes every Friday on Amazon Prime Video.

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