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‘Gen V’ spins off ‘The Boys’ into a dark mystery about superheroes in training

<i>Brooke Palmer/Amazon Studios</i><br/>Chance Perdomo
Brooke Palmer/Amazon Studios
Chance Perdomo

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — After three superbly savage seasons, “The Boys” has graduated to the spinoffs stage, first with the animated shorts “Diabolical” and now “Gen V,” a supes-in-college series that’s every bit as nasty – in mostly good ways – as the flagship series. Cleverly drafting off the anchor show, this coming-of-age superhero satire in some ways feels like what “The New Mutants” should have been.

As usual with “The Boys,” the premiere roars out of the starting gate, offering a horrific demonstration of the dangers of uncontrolled powers and puberty. That toxic combination informs the back story of Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), whose strange ability involves wielding her own blood as a weapon, becoming the latest student at superhero training ground Godolkin University, or God U. for short.

Understandably reserved, Marie quickly falls in with the cool kids on campus, a group led by the appropriately named Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who appears to be on the fast track to not only graduate at the top of his class but earn coveted entry into the super-group known as The Seven, whose real unsavory natures are well known to viewers of “The Boys.”

Still, all is not as it seems at Godolkin, unleashing a shocking series of events and underlying mystery as what or who was responsible. That thrusts Marie into sort-of detective mode without being entirely sure who she can trust, other than her roommate Emma (Lizze Broadway), whose ability to shrink, Ant-Man style, is both played for broad laughs and a source of rather pointed social commentary.

Indeed, if there’s one underlying thread to the wider “The Boys” universe beyond the corrupting aspects of power, it’s the commoditization of superpowers, where everything is seen as a means of feeding the financial interests of Vought, the corporation that transforms babies into superheroes – and just as often, monsters.

At the college, that leaves all sorts of ways to potentially cash in on one’s powers, whether it’s crimefighting or entertainment, with the bosses at Vought acting as if there’s scant difference between the two. Saving the world or starring in reality TV, hey, it’s all showbiz, kids.

Setting this all around a college dorm is as deliciously fraught with possibilities as that sounds, although “Gen V” occasionally bogs down a bit on its “Riverdale”-with-superpowers soap-opera elements.

Fortunately, over the six episodes previewed (the first season will run eight), there’s enough momentum, with shifting alliances and relationships, to pull viewers along. Plus, the producers know their audience well enough to pepper the dialogue with clever pop-culture riffs, indulging in detours like debating the merits of “Waterworld.”

“The Boys” world surely isn’t intended for the faint of heart, but there’s method to its madness, and an underlying warning about greed run amok and parents letting their babies be turned into medical experiments, their values warped by the promise of riches at the end of that rainbow.

Of all the big-ticket franchises launched by newer streaming services – including Amazon’s massive bet on the bland “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” – “The Boys” has to be among the most valuable, and “Gen V” only provides further evidence of its fertile commercial potential.

Like the adults in this ruthless environment, the kids might be extraordinary, but they’re not all right. That formula might not quite equal “The Boys” at its best, but for those who sink their teeth into it, “Gen V” passes its admission test with flying colors.

“Gen V” premieres September 29 on Amazon’s Prime Video.

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