The Boys Presents: Diabolical Season One – Review

Ahead of its third season releasing this year, what better time than now to look back on The Boys? It premiered and soon became a flagship show for the Prime Video brand. Its uber-gritty, so-called mature tone set The Boys apart from the mostly homogenous pack that is the mainstream of the comic book and superhero format. It was a certainty that expansions would be made to the world overseen by showrunner Eric Kripke, and Diabolical, the first addition to the universe, is a hit. This eight-episode collection is a hybrid of canon-recognised narratives mangled in with the usual outlandishness that we’ve come to expect from Billy Butcher and company, resulting in an easily watchable and equally entertaining offshoot.

Aimed at an adult audience since the inception of Garth Ennis’ comic book series, The Boys has and always will be a vehicle to tackle themes and narratives that are uncommon in a format that’s typically perceived as childish. Diabolical is the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree, continuing the trend set by its parent property. Clearly taking cues from the works of its creatives and the outlets that once employed them, Diabolical has a variety of treats. From the parody of classic cartoons to short stories of corruption, moral decay and assassinations, it brilliantly leverages the animation format to give a stylistically unwavering assortment which couldn’t be any more on brand.

A rare exception to the phrase “too many chefs spoil the broth” with 12 credited writers and nine directors, Diabolical is an experiment that was arguably high-risk but one that ultimately returned a swathe of rewards. Capped to incredibly short runtimes, with the actual substantive content of episodes often clocking in at well under fifteen minutes, it can’t quite tackle themes of corruption, or critique capitalistic practice with as many layers or in as much detail as its live-action counterpart can, but as a side to the meal that is the main show, this goes down incredibly well.

While it may be closer to the surface on the exploration of the abstract, none of the charm is lost or even dulled. Diabolical is almost laugh-a-minute. It is just as action-packed and gory. Its appeals are two-fold, it preaches compellingly to the converted masses and doubles down while still remaining accessible. With fan service hitting the sweet spot of just enough as to not wear thin, and delivering more superhero content that’s counter to the mainstream norm, this is the rarest of the rare. A worthwhile universe expansion piece that actually has its own standalone value beyond a shallow sense of necessity to help keep abreast of the grander story.

In addition to that sense of integrity in its writing, the sheer quality of it is just as admirable. Employing A-List comedy names such as Seth Rogen and Andy Samberg, mixed with short-form masters like Ben Bayouth and Adult Swim alumnus Justin Rolland, it feels criminal to relegate a dream team roster to just a side project. As expected, they do indeed deliver and while there’s been an acknowledgement of only two episodes by Eric Kripke, it’s hard to not find quality in each. Diabolical does somewhat lack a consistent series tone, in what is one of a few flaws, but the human quality to each contained narrative is enough to prevent it from falling into the traps inherent to the anthology delivery mode where rifts of quality between episodes are usually very apparent.

Borrowing a lot of the framework that made its parent series a hit, Diabolical’s value is best found in its performances. A number of the main cast overlap, namely Antony Starr, Chace Crawford, Giancarlo Esposito and Elizabeth Shue. Even Simon Pegg returns to take the mantle of Hughie in the novelty episode I’m Your Pusher. Mixed in with those regulars Diabolical has what might well be one of the most star-studded voice casts ever assembled, boasting the likes of Jason Isaacs, Don Cheadle, John DiMaggio, Kevin Smith, Michael Cera and Christian Slater, all of whom perfectly realise their roles to give the spin-off a palpable sense of character.

That adds a little more worth to the show, especially when compared to the average production of this kind. Though season two of The Boys cast its net further afield in settings both temporally and geographically it failed somewhat in properly opening up its story world – Diabolical, because of that, finds itself doing a lot of heavy lifting. Detailing stories of the average joe and lower-tier superheroes, often simultaneously, it paints fine details into the big picture meaning that even the most throwaway or expendable from the collection has some value to add.

Interestingly, Diabolical as a show also reflects where the streaming phenomenon currently is in the industry. In an age where most online services, regardless of their niche or size, now have functional and operating production arms at work on an original output, this anthology follows in the footsteps of Netflix’s 2021 experimentation with the Fear Street trilogy. With pockets more than deep enough to foot the bill of the incredible talent involved and it naturally being an easier method of committing to a viewing than heading to a cinema or tuning in to a broadcast, the “no strings” feel that comes with a subscription gives Diabolical its identity. An easy binge that toys with animation style from episode to episode it is bound by few, if any, of the conventions traditional networks and outlets would impose, allowing it to effectively stand on its own two feet as light entertainment and a little more meat on the bone of The Boys’ world.

The first opening beyond the mainline works of Eric Kripke, season one of Diabolical was a welcome delight. Showing there’s more to the format of the superhero despite its incredible over-saturation and nicely complimenting the live-action efforts, if nothing else the animated anthology is a nice tideover that’ll make the wait for season three of The Boys that little bit easier. Its own merits, however, are comprised of stellar voice performances and top-tier writing to give worthwhile suped-up stories for those fatigued by the cookie-cutter mainstream of this niche.


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