RELEASED: October 20th 2019 – December 15th 2019
DISTRIBUTED BY: HBO
SHOWRUNNER: Damon Lindelof
WRITTEN BY: Damon Lindelof, Nick Cuse, Lila Byock, Christal Henry, Carly Wray, Cord Jefferson, Stacy Osei-Kuffour, Claire Kiechel & Jeff Jensen
DIRECTED BY: Nicole Kassell, Stephen Williams, Andrij Parekh, Steph Green, David Semel & Frederick E.O. Toye
MUSIC BY: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
STARRING: Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr., Jean Smart, Hong Chau & Jeremy Irons
I can’t recall exactly how old I was when I first read Watchmen. I assume it was sometime between the ages of ten and fifteen. A friend of mine gave it to me to skim through while I was at his house, and I couldn’t put it down. I read the majority of it in one sitting, before not really thinking about it again. Despite being seemingly enthralled by the story, I didn’t really think about it much again beyond when I saw the movie sometime later.
I wouldn’t read Watchmen again until I started writing about comics, at which point I truly began to appreciate just how impressive a piece of fiction it was. I would later go on to read the sequel, Doomsday Clock, but the slow release schedule (I’m pretty sure it started in 2017 and the final issue doesn’t come out until this Wednesday, the 18th December 2019) meant I always forgot what had happened by the time the next issue came around.
And then during the wait between issues eleven and twelve, along came Damon Lindelof’s take on a Watchmen series, and while it may seem hyperbolic, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say it might just be one of the greatest TV series I’ve ever watched.
Although initially not wholly captivating, Watchmen starts off grounded and intriguing, setting up mysteries that promise to span the season. But then, with every subsequent episode, it becomes more and more consuming, as it gets weirder and more in-depth, poignant and amazingly entertaining. By episode four I was wholly committed, and I’m pretty sure every episode since (bar, perhaps, one exception) has only increased in quality.
Watchmen follows Angela Abar/Sister Night and her fellow officers in the Tulsa Police Department, who have been forced to conceal their identities after an attack by a white supremacist group known as the Seventh Kavalry. As the Seventh Kavalry (who have taken on the visage of the former vigilante Rorschach) return, Angela finds herself caught up in a conspiracy that dates back all the way to the appearance of the first costumed adventurer.
There are so many good things about Watchmen that it’s hard to know where to start. But perhaps the thing that stands out the most to me is that fact, that every part of it is well done. Usually, in a TV show, even one that you love, there will be something that detracts from it somewhat. For instance, for me, with Game of Thrones, it was the story of Bran (which is especially unfortunate in retrospect). Yet here, there’s nothing I don’t like. The central story surrounding Angela Abar is continuously intriguing and thrilling. The mysteries surrounding the former central cast of Watchmen such as Silk Spectre, Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan are all well seeded and executed. The flashbacks to the origins of costumed heroes like Hooded Justice and the Minutemen provide for a rich backstory that you may not glean from the comic.
Perhaps the reason for this is the way it’s structured. While there is obviously an overarching theme and each episode pushes the story forward, the way the story is cut up, with various episodes seemingly straying away from the main through-line to focus on different characters, makes it not only easier to get invested in said characters but also shows a clear reverence for the source material, in that it is written the same way as the comic. It’s a beautiful example of respecting what came before and really goes all-in on translating the graphic novel format to serialised television.
Furthermore, this excellent, layered writing is brought to life by a great production and excellent cast. I don’t recall ever being that moved by the plight of Silk Spectre, whether that be on page or on film, but here Jean Smart gives a sardonic wit that quickly made her one of my favourites. Similarly, lead Regina King makes our heroine a real admirable badass, while the zany exploits depicted in the Jeremy Irons starring side-stories would come off as ridiculous (in a bad way) if they didn’t have someone of his calibre bringing them that much-needed weight. Tim Blake Nelson’s episode is also worth mentioning, as it took a side character and made him perhaps one of the most relatable characters in the show. Even lesser characters like Don Johnson’s Judd and Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s Cal present a charm that makes them just as lovable as all the central characters.
Bringing it back to the production, the music, designs and all the other things that go on behind the scenes perfectly compliment Lindelof (and Watchmen‘s original creators’) vision, presenting something that in any other context could look somewhat ridiculous, but here just works.
But perhaps what really elevates this show is its intricacies. Despite moving from subject to subject throughout the episodes, its true strength is the way it builds up deep and fascinating mythology that perfectly slots into Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original story. There are twists and turns that are seeded episodes in advance, but still, seem shocking when they finally show up. One such reveal involves the name of a dildo of all things. It sounds weird, but reading into it really makes you stop and think ‘wow, they really poured everything they’ve got into this’ (don’t look into it unless you’ve seen the show though, cause I’ve noticed spoilers for Watchmen spread around the web like wildfire).
And furthermore, like the original comic, it has something to say. It doesn’t just want to show off dazzling super-heroics, it wants to subtly educate while it’s entertaining you, putting a spotlight on real, contemporary issues and making you think about what’s going on in the world outside your window. Truly excellent stuff.
All-in-all, I give Watchmen: