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Showrunner of the Year Eric Kripke on The Boys: “We Should Always Be Punching Up”

The maestro behind Amazon's hit series talks themes, needle drops, and Season 3

Showrunner of the Year Eric Kripke on The Boys: "We Should Always Be Punching Up"
Eric Kripke
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    Our Annual Report continues today with the announcement of Eric Kripke as our Showrunner of the Year. If you’ve missed any part of our Annual Report, you can check out all the coverage here

    Eric Kripke is anxious. It’s two days before Thanksgiving and the veteran showrunner is already hard at work on the third season of The Boys. He’s three episodes into scripting, things are moving, but something is gnawing at him from deep inside.

    “It’s become really fun and breezy to write again,” Kripke admits over Zoom. “That worries me. It’s feeling enjoyable. I should be in intense, deep introspection for this.”

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    Kripke has every reason to be precarious. In less than a year, he’s given Amazon a critical and commercial smash, and they’re running with it. They gave the early green light for Season 3, and they’ve even commissioned a spinoff series.

    Opportunity is expanding right before Kripke’s eyes — and fast. Fortunately for him, Kripke thrives amidst this kind of aggressive expansion, seeing how he more or less redefined the sandbox for television writers years ago with Supernatural.

    Like Supernatural, though, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s subversive comic series about misanthropic superheroes offers Kripke a chance to flex his muscles when it comes to world building. In fact, it begs for a guy like him.

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    The execution speaks for itself. Two seasons in, Kripke has strung together a pervasive web of heroes and villains, a complex arrangement that has afforded some of the year’s most scathing commentaries on our current culture.

    “We should always be punching up at the people who are more powerful than us and have more authority,” Kripke stresses. “I think that demonstrates a humanistic worldview.”

    That perspective isn’t lost on the show’s devoted fans, among them being Barack Obama. The former commander-in-chief recently praised the series online for “[turning] superhero conventions on their heads to lay bare issues of race, capitalism, and the distorting effects of corporate power and mass media.”

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    He’s not wrong, and those thoughts line up directly with Kripke’s own vision for the show. Read ahead as Consequence of Sound’s Showrunner of the Year breaks down his approach to the source material, chews on its myriad themes, shares his favorite needle drops, and explains why The Boys is the perfect Trojan horse for Trump’s America.


    On Capturing Trump’s America

    The Boys (Amazon)

    The Boys (Amazon)

    All good genre is subversive metaphor for the real worId. I think the writers and I stumbled into a universe that really perfectly encapsulates the exact second we’re living in — just from Garth Ennis’ incredibly prescient book from over 10 years ago. He presupposed what would happen if there was a complete blending of celebrity and authoritarianism, which was probably embryonic at that time and has since taken over the world.

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    We took that notion, and said, “Well, that happens to perfectly describe Trump, Boris Johnson, the populist movements, nationalism, America First, white supremacy, and white nationalism…” It was so perfect a metaphor that we just ran with that ball. We got very educated about current events, we were all news junkies, and very intentionally writing inspired by things that were happening in the news that frightened and infuriated us. Then we used the metaphor of superheroes to Trojan Horse it in the middle of this action show.


    On the Lack of Nuance in Modern Culture

    Amazon's The Boys Get Bigger, Bolder, and Bloodier in Season 2: TV Review

    The Boys (Amazon Prime Video)

    It drives me a little crazy. The problem is that our culture has embraced tribalism and villainizing someone who doesn’t agree with you, and looking at the world in black and white when it’s actually very gray. There are a lot of reasons, obviously, and it’s partisan politics and a sort of zero-sum way our leaders have encouraged us to look at the other side.

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    I think social media is just a huge, huge part of this. That ability to say whatever you want facelessly, without repercussion or responsibility, has just allowed people to express anger, and angry words affect people. They really do.

    Then on top of that, there are the algorithms that keep everybody siloed in their own world. It’s just wild that someone who is a right wing Fox News consumer can go through weeks of their life never reading any of the things I read and vice versa. America used to have, thanks to mass media, a shared experience. And that just doesn’t really happen too much anymore. It’s super horrifying.


    On Tackling Risky Subjects

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    There was never any resistance from my studio or my network. I think, by and large, the majority of viewers understood that it’s satire. And we have a very specific rule that we try to follow, which is, it was George Carlin who originally said it: “You always want to punch up. You never want to punch down.”

    So, sometimes a joke will make us laugh, and we’ll love it. Then as I ruminate on it, I’ll see that we’re making fun of somebody who or something that actually doesn’t have a lot of power. We shouldn’t be doing that. We should always be punching up at the people who are more powerful than us and have more authority. I think that demonstrates a humanistic worldview.

    Seth Rogen said to me, in the beginning, and I really took it to heart, “You can really be as outrageous as you want as long as you really make it clear to the audience that your heart is in the right place.” I feel like, by and large, that’s worked. The one thing I will say, though, and it says quite a lot about America, is that Season 1 had some hard targets, man. We were going after religion. We had to go after corporations and performative wokeness. Those are some heavy targets, and I got almost no blowback from the public.

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    [Regarding the threats I did receive], it’s only human nature to have to react to anger or hate directed right at you. I’m not gonna lie and say, “No, I think it’s funny.” It affects me. It troubles me and everything, but I think it’s part of my job to not let it affect the work and not let it force me to second guess myself and what I’m doing here. So, no, I take a moment, feel appropriately horrified, and then process my way past it and get back to the work of writing the show.

    Read ahead to hear more about Season 3 and what’s to come…


    On Both Supernatural and The Boys Being Anti-Establishment

    Amazon's The Boys Get Bigger, Bolder, and Bloodier in Season 2: TV Review

    The Boys (Amazon Prime Video)

    So much of what I have come to realize is my style and areas of interest. You learn in hindsight what your tone and style are. It’s only now looking back and seeing similar themes emerge that I’m like, “Oh, I guess I have a thing.” Every time, for so long, I was just trying to tell stories I was interested in, and if I do have a worldview — and I’m not sure that I do — it’s a very humanistic one.

    I really do believe the world gets saved not by winning the war, but by protecting the guy next to you in the foxhole. And, so to me, it’s like, you count on your family — chosen or unchosen. Natural family doesn’t end in blood. It may be the family you’re born into, or it may not be, but you rely on your friends, you rely on these quiet and mundane and very boring moments of heroism of just looking out for each other and taking care of each other. And that is how I define Good in the world.

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    There are so many other forces that pretend they know better, but ultimately, they’re just trying to either sell you something or manipulate you. Major forces mostly just want your money, but, if you can, go buy groceries for a sick neighbor. That does more good than a lot of supposedly highfalutin, grandstanding heroics. So, that’s kind of where I guess it all comes from.


    On the World-Building of The Boys

    Amazon's The Boys Get Bigger, Bolder, and Bloodier in Season 2: TV Review

    The Boys (Amazon Prime Video)

    I would say it was harder than on Supernatural, but a little more fun.

    The challenge with Supernatural, as near and dear as that universe is to my heart, because I love urban legends and this idea that there’s a world where every conceivable mythology is real… By the way, a lot of that’s inspired by Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and The Sandman and Garth Ennis’ run on Hellblazer — it has a lot of inspirations. That was such a fun world, but at least during my tenure on the show, there just weren’t many characters. And often, for many years, it was just [Sam and Dean Winchester], and it became very difficult to find other stories to cut to, or to get another perspective or point of view on the world, to show a little bit more of it or a strange little corner of it. We would find after we broke a story that we would be too short.

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    I have the opposite problem on The Boys. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and I have so many great perspectives on the world and so many opportunities to load it with detail and exploration that I run out of page count. The eternal struggle of The Boys is there’s 12 main characters, and they’re all good, and they’re all doing interesting stuff. So, finding a way to balance all of that, along with action and satire, is really challenging, but it’s like saying, “Here, here’s way too much cake.” It’s hard to get it all down, but it’s delicious!


    On Developing Season 2

    Amazon's The Boys Get Bigger, Bolder, and Bloodier in Season 2: TV Review

    The Boys (Amazon Prime Video)

    The second season was harder for me in a lot of ways, not because of the process, actually. The process was the part that we had started to figure out. We knew how to break out the story separately, and then what day to weave them together. There’s a process; we break every character’s storyline separately. Now, we know to keep them pretty much as short stories, and then you start threading them all together. But there’s always an A story; usually, it’s Butcher’s. There’s always a longer story, call it 10 beats or 12 beats, and then some of the shorter stories would be five beats, and then you figure it out. So, you understand the math of the equation probably more in Season 2.

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    I was really happy with how Season 1 turned out, and I was not at all confident that I was able to deliver a season as good or better, and I lived in constant fear of being a one-hit wonder on this show and have everyone say that thing about how “the first season was great, but he really shit the bed after that.” And then I’m out. So, I felt an extra pressure in a way that was healthy. I don’t think it ever became unhealthy, but I felt an extra pressure to analyze and stress test and really ask, “Is this the best possible version of this?”, because it needs to be better. I need to hit a bar.

    With Season 1, I think we were just so elated that it felt like this joy ride of coming up with all of this crazy stuff. Whereas, in Season 2, we had lost the element of surprise. Now it needed to be deeper and more expertly constructed. So, all of that created, certainly for me, more pressure. I actually did not know that most people thought Season 2 was better than Season 1 until it came out. Like, until that point, I was like, “I don’t know. I really think we fucked up.”


    On Working with Garth Ennis

    The Boys (Amazon)

    The Boys (Amazon)

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    He’s been amazing. In the very beginning, he was really available to discuss the show. I was really interested in his total inspirations, the movies and TV shows that inspired him to write the thing, and he was really great about sharing all that. Then, at one point, I approached him and said, “It’s a different medium. It’s going to have to be different.” And he knew, because he had been through Preacher, and so I said, “Tell me what’s important to you.” I had the same conversation with Darick Robertson, the illustrator and co-creator, and Garth was like, “Just get Butcher right.”

    So, I’ve really tried to do that. I’ve sent him every script to this day. I even just sent him episode three of Season 3 yesterday because, to this day, he wants to weigh in on Butcher’s dialogue. And I’m happy to have him do it because he knows Butcher’s dialogue better than I do, and he knows British slang way better than me, so I’m happy to have him pitch suggestions. He says Butcher is his favorite character that he’s created, so he’s very protective of him. But he’s pretty open to the rest of it. He gets it. He gets that it’s inherently a different medium.


    On His Favorite Needle Drops

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    My favorite needle drops in The Boys have been some of the Billy Joel needle drops.

    The way we used “Pressure” in the beginning to just set up the tension of the season and the corner everyone was backed into really played well. I remember, even as a kid, listening to that and thinking, I’m a little troubled by this song. It’s intense, and it’s got that weird, circusy, crazy organ. Then, I’ll take it to all the way at the end of the season, the way “Only the Good Die Young” kicked in as the door closed, and you’re leaving Hughie in there with a very dangerous person and pulling back over the world just as the lyrics kick in. I thought that was really, really wonderful.

    In Season 1, I really liked using “London Calling”. Obviously, we tend to score the music I’m into, so the main rule of the show is put in music Eric likes. But that said, I’ve tried in general to use needle drops in The Boys that are in specific character playlists, like Butcher would listen to punk, and Hughie would listen to some of the softer Billy Joel but also Aerosmith and some others.

    My “Billy Joel” is Led Zeppelin. I’m a Led Zeppelin maniac. If I could do Season 3 with literally nothing but Led Zeppelin songs… knowing how crazy I am about Zeppelin … that would be amazing. In Revolution, my Bad Robot show, [the band] was coming out with a new retrospective album. To promote the album, they gave us three songs at a huge discount, and you just had no idea what it meant to me. It was so incredible.


    On the Anxiety of Season 3

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    the boys jensen ackles Showrunner of the Year Eric Kripke on The Boys: We Should Always Be Punching Up

    The Boys (Amazon)

    The thing that has worried me about Season 3 is that it has become really fun and breezy to write again. That worries me. It’s feeling enjoyable. I should be in intense, deep introspection for this. I know, obviously, that every season of a television show gets a little bit harder because all of your original best instincts to explore have been explored. So, you have to start going to some of the areas that it wouldn’t at first have occurred you to go to in those stories, and those are always a little trickier to make feel as big and as fascinating as the stuff you hit early on. So, it’s challenging.

    I like my seasons when they’re over. When I’m making them, I’m like, “Man, how do we make this better?” I was telling someone in my Post department the other day that when I finally approve a cut, like the visual-effects shot, it feels like a defeat to me. It feels like a defeat to me because I have to now admit that either because we’re out of time or money, it’s just not going to get better. So, nothing makes me happier to say than, “Oh, I’ve got a whole bunch of notes. Go make it better, dude.” I’m not the guy who’s like, “It’s over, and I’m happy.” I’m just like, “Yeah, man. I wish I had another month with everything.”


    On Finding an Ending for The Boys

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    The Boys (Amazon)

    The Boys (Amazon)

    I’ve learned not to go hard on record with how many years. I have literally never been more wrong than any showrunner in history by saying Supernatural should go five seasons and out. So, I’m not saying this hard and fast publicly…

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