The Boys stands among television’s best because it excels in so many ways. It seamlessly combines character-driven stories, insightful social commentary, and wildly entertaining, wildly inappropriate humor. A single episode can feature intimate scenes between family, meaningful explorations of corporate malfeasance, and a room full of exploding heads. But episode four of season three, “Glorious Five Year Plan,” highlighted how the show can also combine all those elements to create perfect moments of stupidity. Because even on a series that requires building massive realistic genitalia, The Boys most unbelievably dumb moments come directly from the real world.
And they kept that tradition going in “Herogasm” by recreating the pandemic’s most ill-advised celebrity singalong.
Homelander is literally the most powerful man in the world. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. If—as he threatened he would in the previous episode—he ever decides to take over the world nothing can stop him. He doesn’t have to carry the nuclear football with him. He is a nuclear weapon.
That’s why his latest appearance on the Vought News Network’s The Cameron Coleman Hour was patently ludicrous. Homelander’s company, the most powerful in the world, has its very own propaganda news network. He was a guest being “interviewed” by a corporate shill whose only job is to make the superhero look good. And why was Homelander there? To address legitimate criticism of something terrifying he said on live television. He wasn’t taking responsibility, though. Nor was he fairly addressing his critics. He was claiming he’s a target of unfounded “lies peddled by the mainstream media.” And who is actually behind these “attacks” on him? Rich and powerful “people you’ve never heard” who “operate in the shadows,” of course. It’s those unnamed, secret people—who are “everywhere”—that actually pull “the strings” of power. They’re always trying to silence an invulnerable god with laser eyes. Naturally.
That scene’s lack of shame would seem too over-the-top if not for the fact it plays out in the real world every day. Politicians and the uber-wealthy, those with actual power, do the same thing all the time. They use “news networks,” whose real purpose is to operate as a wing of the party, to amplify their endless list of grievances. Those stations let powerful people get their message, even the most heinous, out to millions of people unchallenged and unquestioned. Like Homelander, they’re so deplorable they’ll go on TV and deny what they’ve done even when there is tape of them doing it.
And it’s not enough to lie and never take accountability; they act like victims. You can have all the power in the world, get everything you ever wanted, and still sell yourself as the aggrieved underdog. All with a straight face. Forget fictional superheroes. No one does fake victimhood like real politicians.
But while that absurdity plays out every day on basic cable, the episode’s most embarrassing moment parodied one of the singular most ill-conceived moments in advertising history. A-Train’s exploitation of social justice movements to sell a drink really did happen.
In 2017, Pepsi quickly pulled a commercial starring Kendall Jenner. If you’ve never seen the infamous ad, which appropriated the Black Lives Matter movement, congratulations! You have truly lived a better, less annoying life than the rest of us. (Especially if you’ve never watched the full version.) But that also means you didn’t get to appreciate just how accurate A-Train’s parody was. They’re the same commercial. Except for his super speed, The Boys didn’t need to exaggerate a single aspect of the ad. The fictional version might actually be less mortifying.
How someone ever came up with the ad’s concept—let alone pitched it, got it approved, found people willing to film it, and then got it on to television—-remains one of mankind’s greatest mysteries. The Pepsi ad was so obviously asinine and offensive that, even within the world of The Boys, the parody stood out. A Wolverine-like supe murdering people with superhero sex toys? Sure, totally believable. But thinking you can pass off a reality star bridging the gap between protestors and the police by handing a cop a can of soda without anyone knowing how craven that is? No, that would be too much. Or it would be if we hadn’t already seen it.
(At least we now have A-Train’s commercial to go along with Beck Bennett’s pitch-perfect SNL sketch about it. We both want to never think about that Pepsi ad again while also making fun of it forever.)
People often say “we live in the dumbest timeline,” and The Boys certainly doesn’t disprove that. But that’s why we love when the show uses real events for humor. It’s a lot easier to laugh at things when it happens in a fictional world and not our own. And it’s not like we can’t still appreciate when the series invents its own absurd moments. Like when a blonde-haired racist sociopath tried ingratiating himself with a Mexican-American by serving him a taco bowl.
Could you imagine if someone were stupid enough to do that?! We can’t either! That’s why we’re laughing at the idea right now instead of staring off into nothingness while wondering how long humanity can survive.
Only The Boys can make a fictional buffoon incapable of genuine human empathy funny. But that’s why Homelander is both the show’s best villain and its best idiot. He’s too stupid to know why that is offensive and embarrassing. He’s also the last person we’d want to see become the most powerful person in the real world.
But we do have to give Homelander credit for one thing; he didn’t join in on The Deep’s off-key, celebrity-and superhero-filled rendition of “Imagine.” The opening to “Herogasm,” one of the most absurd television episodes ever, began by making fun of one of the most absurd singalongs in history.
At the start of the pandemic, a well-intentioned Gal Gadot and her famous friends clearly didn’t about the optics of their unifying musical message of hope. If they had, or if someone had realized how bad of an idea it was, they would have thrown themselves in front of the song’s release.
They also would have thrown hundreds of other people, a fleet of buses, and two cruise liners in front of it. No one needed to see that.
Or so, we thought. Turns out we really needed that performance, because without it we wouldn’t have seen The Boys pitch-perfect parody.
Sure, it was too absurd even for a show this absurd, but it sure was funny. And it’s a lot more fun to laugh at fictional versions of real life’s dumbest moments than to think about the world that created them.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.