For Eric Kripke, ‘The Boys’ Was Always a Commentary on Trumpism

Eric Kripke was photographed May 10 in Los Angeles.

As the showrunner grows his darkly comic satire into a franchise — and spoofs a certain trial and presidential election in the new season — he says he’s fine losing the viewers who just figured out his social agenda: “Go watch something else.”

Eric Kripke had a Midas touch long before the Hollywood establishment gave him credit for it. In 2005, he created Supernatural — one of the 10 longest-running primetime dramas in history, only wrapping in 2020. But it was a cheap, genre show on an unsexy network, The CW, so even an ensuing string of doubles (RevolutionTimeless) did little to move his needle. Then, he sold an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ hard-R comic book The Boys to Amazon. In other hands, it might have been Diet Deadpool. But Kripke crafted a scathing satire of 21st century America where Homelander, the chiseled superhero in the American flag cape, is an authoritarian proxy for Donald Trump. Critics immediately took a shine, but its commercial success — the most recent season earned more eyeballs than The Rings of Power, with 106 billion minutes viewed in 2022 — made Kripke a priority at the streamer. There, he’s swiftly built out the franchise with a spinoff (Gen V), an animated anthology (Diabolical) and several more projects in development. So, as he prepares to launch season four of The Boys on June 13, Kripke, newly 50 and THR‘s TV Producer of the Year, talked about the bliss of alienating woke-phobic viewers, the TV industry’s great market correction and spoofing late-stage capitalism on the very platform that shares its name with the “everything store.”

This season of The Boys features a presidential race being undermined by fascist forces. Coincidence or good timing?

We were already heading there anyway, but we’re talking about an election and a president and when the votes are counted in Congress. It’s odd to call it good luck, but sometimes we feel like we’re Satan’s writers room.

Was that always your intent?

When Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] and I took it out to pitch, it was 2016. We just wanted to do a very realistic version of a superhero show, one where superheroes are celebrities behaving badly. Trump was the, “He’s not really getting the nomination, is he?” guy. When he got elected, we had a metaphor that said more about the current world. Suddenly, we were telling a story about the intersection of celebrity and authoritarianism and how social media and entertainment are used to sell fascism. We’re right in the eye of the storm. And once we realized that, I just felt an obligation to run in that direction as far as we could.

They’re very different series, but sometimes The Boys‘ prescience or parallels to current events remind me of Homeland.

It’s happened now almost every season, and we write them sometimes close to two years before they air and again we’ll find that the news is accurately reflecting whatever we’re talking about. It’s not a spoiler to say that first episode [of season four], Homelander [played by Antony Starr] is on trial. A big concern is “Can you convict someone that powerful of a crime?” And what does that mean for the various supporters or the people protesting him? Did I know it was going to come out during Trump’s trial? Of course not. But we write what we’re either scared of or pissed off about. Someone asked me last year, about season three, “How are you so prescient with cops and over-policing in Black neighborhoods?” Well, it’s been a problem for over 100 years. It was a problem five years ago, and, unfortunately, it’s going to be a problem five years from now. It’s always the same shit.

Eric Kripke, who’s had an overall deal with The Boys producer Sony Pictures Television for nearly a decade, was photographed May 10 in Los Angeles. PHOTOGRAPHED BY DANIEL PRAKOPCYK

How did you digest the uglier reaction to that? I saw multiple headlines with the word “woke” in them.

I clearly have a perspective, and I’m not shy about putting that perspective in the show. Anyone who wants to call the show “woke” or whatever, that’s OK. Go watch something else. But I’m certainly not going to pull any punches or apologize for what we’re doing. Some people who watch it think Homelander is the hero. What do you say to that? The show’s many things. Subtle isn’t one of them. So if that’s the message you’re getting from it, I just throw up my hands.

Do you think that satire in film and television can really influence anything, or is it just catharsis for the people who make and watch it?

It’s catharsis. I have no illusions about my job. I’m somewhere between a carnie and a court jester. I am not particularly up my own ass, so I don’t know if it’ll ever change minds. If it does, that’d be fantastic. Look, I am a big proponent of genre — good genre, which doesn’t get enough respect. Through the metaphor of superheroes or space or whatever, you can say subversive things that you’d never get away with in most straight dramas.

There’s a version of this show that could be quite cynical. What’s your big-picture worldview? Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

I’m a humanist. I think it’s important that a show have a lot of heart. We took great pains to create the moral universe of this show. It’s not nihilistic, as much as people say it is. If the show had a message, it’s that anyone who stands in front of you and says they can save the world is lying.

There’s a stigma to genre and the WB/CW shows. Now that you have a bona fide hit on a premium platform, do you feel Hollywood’s perception of you has shifted?

I don’t know. I’m still certain that my next script is the one where they’re finally going to realize I’m a fraud. That hasn’t gone away. What has changed is that, up until The Boys, I’d made a nice little career out of cult hits. This is the first one where I’m finding fans among various executives and producers. It’s a lot easier walking into a meeting — whereas before, I think they’d politely pretend they saw [my work].

It seems like cult hits, in certain respects, were easier to make work five, 10 years ago.

Supernatural was not an expensive show to produce. The Boys‘ budget is quite a lot bigger by a factor of … a couple. (Laughs.)That’s part of the corner that I think streamers have found themselves in — for better or worse. Audiences now expect feature film quality, especially their genre stuff. Supernatural did just well enough that it just wasn’t in the red. And when we started, it was the network of Gossip Girl and 90210. We were the one Goth kid in the back of the class — but, by the time we left, the entire place was genre-nerd central. Now the market demand is to just make really expensive stuff — like us, Fallout and House of the Dragon.

But playing with a big budget is more fun, no?

I prefer spending a shit ton of money on big shows and having three times as long to shoot them. My blood pressure has really been a beneficiary of that. But, especially for young showrunners, I do wish there was still that Syfy channel and CW model of learning how to stretch your dollar, both in terms of writing and producing. That’s a boot camp that really helped me, and I wish there were more people coming up in the business who were trained that way. It would lead to a more robust business and people who have the ability to handle the big jobs when they come along.

“People pitch me crazy shit all day, but I’m more interested in the psychology,” Eric Kripke says of his cartoonishly violent show. “Once we figure that out, we get to the fucking bananas moments.” PHOTOGRAPHED BY DANIEL PRAKOPCYK

From what you hear, purse strings are tightening most everywhere except Amazon and Apple.

Purse strings are tightening at Amazon.

What does that look like when you’re making expensive shows?

We’ve been lucky in that The Boys has become one of their flagships. We get a level of freedom that it’ll be hard to repeat anywhere. That said, we have budget battles. But, ultimately, we figure out a way. We made Gen V for a lot less money, and there’s a target that we have to hit on that show — whether we like it or not. There’s a couple of things in development. You have to pre-negotiate the budgets, and those budgets are a lot tighter than what we’ve had in the past. So, we’re feeling it.

It’s been more than a year since the WGA strike began. And I’m not suggesting it’s related, but the entertainment marketplace is a disaster right now. Do you feel like the strike was worth it?

I’m a moderate and little agnostic about any club that’ll have me. I don’t always think strikes are worth it, but this one was. And this market correction was always coming, strike or not. You just can’t sustain 500 scripted series or whatever the insane number was, so this was always going to be become a shit show. I don’t want to sugarcoat it. It’s harder than it’s ever been for a young writer to get a job. I don’t envy them. But once it corrects, and it might take a minute, I think it’ll stabilize. One good thing about the ad model in streaming is it encourages longer seasons and more seasons, which means more writing staffs and longer runs.

This is the first season you’re airing with Amazon’s ad tier. Did you get a say in where the commercials are inserted?

Do I love that there are commercials airing during my show? (Laughs.) I left The CW to get away from that. But I understand that it’s part of the search to be profitable, and we’ve been able to pitch them where we want the spots to go.

In one episode of The Boys, a character says “Fuck Fresca.” Could you get away with that now?

I should talk to the ad department. It would be amazing if he says, “Fuck Fresca,” and we go to a Fresca commercial. And, for the record, I drink a lot of Fresca.

When you sold The Boys, I’m assuming you didn’t realize you were going to be asked to build out a franchise with multiple spinoffs. You’re now doing that at a time when Marvel movies, Hollywood’s most prized comic book IP, is in crisis mode. How does that influence the decisions you’re making?

Boys and their spinoffs, none of them are really superhero shows. They have the suits and powers, but The Boys is a show about celebrity politics and late-stage capitalism. Gen V is a coming-of-age story about the college experience. If you look at the early dominance of the Marvel movies, every single movie was totally different. Iron Man is almost a fast and loose indie movie. Captain America is a World War II movie. Winter Soldier is a spy thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy is this crazy space adventure. They were great. All superhero movies — not just Marvel — start to flag when it’s just a superhero movie. Then they feel the same as every other one, and the one thing audiences can’t stand is monotony.

Jaz Sinclair stars in The Boys’ first live-action spinoff, Gen V BROOKE PALMER/AMAZON STUDIOS

One of the Gen V leads, Chance Perdomo, died in a motorcycle accident in March. How do you move on from that?

It’s the worst kind of tragedy — for his family, his friends … to be 27 years old, talented and have your whole life in front of you. It’s a genuine nightmare. Any other issue that arises out of this pales in comparison to that.

Still, you’ve got to make the show.

We weren’t going to recast or replace the character. We didn’t feel good about that. That put us in a situation where we had to re-break and rewrite quite a lot. So, we shut down for five weeks.

You’re a fan of many things, but you’re also poking a lot of fun at fandom in your work. How do you reconcile the two impulses?

I’m not ridiculing fans. God knows my Supernatural fan base is a massive, loving and terrifying force. I don’t dare cross them, and I’m grateful for their existence. But The Boys is about people that are fans of politicians or demagogues or movements. Even then, to me, the problem isn’t the followers. The problem is the leaders manipulating people, shamelessly, to solidify their own power — to the point where it’s worth it to rip the country apart for the gain of a couple fragile egos, a couple corporations and a couple billionaires. The regular person is out-the-fuck-gunned.

Do you think that you’re a bit of a Trojan horse in that respect? Your platform is owned by one of those monolithic mega-corporations.

Here’s what I will say about Amazon: Never once have they censored any of my political points. I’ve even come to them and said, “Hey, just so you know, in this next story, I’m going to satirize this specifically about the company.” They always say “great” and laugh. I’ve got to get the word out there. It doesn’t help if it’s just me writing fan-fic in my room.

Antony Starr (right, with Cameron Crovetti) plays the most aesthetically unlikely stand-in for Donald Trump in the parent series. JASPER SAVAGE/AMAZON STUDIOS

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