TV Review: Watchmen!
From the moment it was announced, signs pointed to HBO’s Watchmen being unlike anything we’ve seen from other comic book adaptations. After a fairly successful adaptation with Zack Snyder’s 2009 film, you’d be forgiven for wondering what was left to mine from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ masterwork. But Leftovers creator Damn Lindelof signed on board, with the promise to do something “unique and different” with the project, and I’d say that he’s definitely accomplished that so far.
Picking up over 30 years after the events of the comic, Watchmen takes place in the most unlikeliest of locations for something based on such a well-known and celebrated comic: Tulsa, Oklahoma. Opening on the race riots of the 1920’s, then fast forwarding to modern day, this new show is less intrigued with showing us what we’ve seen before in the comic and the movie and instead wants to show us what comes AFTER. How would our world change if superheroes existed and a giant squid alien came down and caused a massive near extinction event? The opening episode of Watchmen doesn’t give us an info dump, instead teasing out information in lines of dialogue, background posters and images, and on TV news screens in the background. To the people of this world, superheroes and vigilantes are just mundane background noise, and that makes for a fascinating take on the most celebrated comic book of all time.
Watchmen stars Regina King as Angela Abar, a retired cop who moonlights as the sanctioned vigilante Sister Night. In this world, cops wear masks to hide their identities after an organized attack, and detectives are given more leeway with their outfits and identities. When a local officer is murdered by a member of the Seventh Calvary, a white supremacist group that looks up to and idolizes a certain ink-blot mask wearing character from the original story, Sister Night is brought in to help investigate, and it quickly turns into a case that is definitely more than meets the eye.
If you think that’s a brief description, I feel like you’ll thank me later. One of the things that makes Watchmen so fascinating is that much of it its plot has been kept as a closely guarded secret by Lindelof and HBO, so much so that by the end of this episode I realized that a huge chunk of the footage I’d seen in the trailers and TV spots came from this very episode. That devotion to secrecy means that you really have no idea where this story is going. Even reading the comic probably won’t help you piece together what happened, but it may help you get context for the many Easter eggs and nods to the original text.
Everything about this show is impressive, from the acting to the design to the soundtrack (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross no less), to the killer direction from Nicole Kassell, it’s clear that HBO is hoping this is viewed in the same lens as Game of Thrones and Westworld, so much so that they’re not skimping on the budget at all. This thing looks expensive as hell, and we haven’t even gotten to anything really insane yet.
Simply put, this is a show that I had high hopes for, and this opening episode gave me something I wasn’t expecting, but now desperately want more of. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the return of Twin Peaks two years ago, an event that felt like nothing on TV before, and sparked tons of debates online and in person about what it all meant. There’s been one episode of Watchmen so far, and I’m already pouring over theories and checking out the new background materials that HBO has released to help piece together the sequence of events from the end of the comic to now. I’m definitely going to watch this again, and I can’t wait for episode two.