“Gen V” review: The superhero school spinoff should have more fun

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the season 1 premiere of Gen V, "God U."

Gen V, Amazon Prime Video's new spinoff series from the world of The Boys, begins much the same way as its predecessor did — with a burst of horrific, superhero-induced violence. But this time, it's the protagonist's fault. While Hughie (Jack Quaid) could only watch in horror as his girlfriend was obliterated by oblivious speedster A-Train (Jesse T. Usher), spurring him to join Billy Butcher's (Karl Urban) anti-Supe crusade, Gen V central character Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair) kills her own parents when her blood-bending superpower manifests for the first time. The opening scene of the new show is a flashback to young Marie's first period, which quickly became a horror show when her blood suddenly changed into blades that impaled both her parents when they came to check on her.

Gen V Season 1 Jaz Sinclair (Marie Moreau)
Gen V Season 1 Jaz Sinclair (Marie Moreau)

Brooke Palmer/Prime Video Jaz Sinclair as Marie Moreau on 'Gen V.'

Sounds cheery, right? Well, the scene is indicative of the tone of Gen V, which goes on to be a nonstop misery parade for all involved. A few years after that tragic accident, Marie is sent to Godolkin University, a college for young Supes raised on injections of the ability-bestowing serum Compound V. There, she meets fellow powerful people like Emma Meyer (Lizze Broadway), who can shrink to Ant-Man size; Andre Anderson (Chance Paderno), a charming nepo baby with the magnetism of Magneto; Cate Dunlap (Maddie Phillips), a blonde queen bee with the mental persuasion of Charles Xavier; and Jordan Li (Derek Luh and London Thor), who can switch effortlessly between genders.

Those references to Magneto and Professor X aren't accidental. As a superhero series set at school, Gen V would appear to have a lot in common with the X-Men. Even the title is a clue: Generation X was a '90s Marvel comic about a younger class of mutants learning and training at the Xavier School while the adult X-Men were off saving the world. It was this signature mixture of relatable school struggles with super-powered action — as well as the overriding theme of oppressed minorities coming together to protect each other from a prejudiced society — that made the X-Men enough of a pop culture phenomenon to justify such spinoffs.

Gen V Season 1 Chance Perdomo (Andre Anderson), Jaz Sinclair (Marie Moreau), Patrick Schwarzenegger (Golden Boy), Maddie Phillips (Cate Dunlap), Derek Luh (Jordan Li)
Gen V Season 1 Chance Perdomo (Andre Anderson), Jaz Sinclair (Marie Moreau), Patrick Schwarzenegger (Golden Boy), Maddie Phillips (Cate Dunlap), Derek Luh (Jordan Li)

Brooke Palmer/Prime Video Chance Perdomo, Jaz Sinclair, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Maddie Phillips, and Derek Luh of 'Gen V'

Gen V, unfortunately, doesn't have much interest in school. The first episode has hardly even set up its interesting social hierarchy (where an ongoing "leaderboard" literally ranks each student according to their professional superhero prospects, and Marie's mix of morbid history with an unsettling power keeps her at the bottom of the pyramid) before taking a hard right turn into a murder mystery, which is part of a greater conspiracy.

As the episodes go on, Gen V also adds "media satire" to its plate, targeting true-crime TV shows and red-carpet galas in addition to The Boys' standard skewering of Marvel movie culture. Suffice to say, the show has bitten off a little bit more than it can chew, and its different interests keep bumping into each other — such as when Marie's unexpected romantic encounter with a fellow student is quickly interrupted by a development in the conspiracy plotline.

What would be so wrong with making a fun show about superheroes going to school? Weirdly, Gen V isn't the first to fumble this ball. Last year's Disney+ miniseries Ms. Marvel also began with Iman Vellani's Kamala Khan walking the halls of Jersey City high school while reckoning with her newfound abilities… but the show went on to spend two of its six episodes in Pakistan. That storyline was admirable in its own way, but it meant the season finale (when Kamala's high school classmates join together to help her fend off government agents) rung hollow, because we hadn't spent enough time with that setting or characters.

Gen V Season 1 Chance Perdomo (Andre Anderson)
Gen V Season 1 Chance Perdomo (Andre Anderson)

Brooke Palmer/Prime Video Chance Perdomo as Andre Anderson on 'Gen V.'

There are bright spots to Gen V, especially for fans of The Boys. Like the earlier show, Gen V is very good at making superpowers look visually dynamic, as well as coming up with creative uses for them. What it lacks is its predecessor's diversity of tones. The Boys had plenty of bloody violence and deranged sex acts, but combining those with Butcher's British sarcasm and Homelander's (Antony Starr) unexpected fetishes keeps everything entertaining. Even when Gen V is cycling through one subgenre after another, the emotions remain the same: Everyone is miserable, every potential bright spot is cut off by an even worse disaster, everyone gets covered in blood.

At a certain point you have to respect the commitment to the bit, but it's important to remember you can make cutting commentary about corporate pop culture while still having some fun. That's a lessen they should teach at Godolkin. Grade: B-

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