Review: HBO's WATCHMEN Series Premiere

Credit: HBO
Credit: HBO

Watchmen Series Premiere
Written by Damon Lindelof
Starring Regina King, Don Johnson, Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Louis Gossett Jr., Hong Chau, Tim Blake Nelson and Yahya Abdul Mateen II
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

When Watchmen was released in the 1980’s – the comic book and superhero landscape was changed forever. Watchmen showed that the world wasn’t black and white, and it put a spotlight on the characters’ moral struggles as they navigated the underlining layer of Cold War paranoia that ultimately led to the world’s demise. The HBO television series is not a retelling of that story, but instead a continuation of that very world with characters dealing with the political tensions of 2019. HBO's Watchmen hones into the thematics that made the comic an important piece of literature for a modern TV landscape, but with less gripping characters.

The strength and weakness of this pilot is the loss of Watchmen’s original superhero narrative. It isn’t average citizens that wear a mask and fight crime, it’s the police that are forced to hide their identity and become “superheroes.” The superheroes of yesterday, are literally just played as background noise. I don’t know how to feel about this change. It allows for a much bigger social commentary by making the police the morally grey superheroes of this world, but it loses the essence of one of the most important elements of the superhero genre – these are people like you and me who want to do their version of the right thing. I’m curious to see how this major change will affect the deconstruction of the genre. The source material never traded the superhero genre for political intrigue – what made Watchmen such a great series is how Alan Moore was able to marry the two and show comic books could be just as “serious” as any other medium. It would be prudent for the TV series to maintain that idea. 

Credit: HBO

The TV show plays with Watchmen’s morally grey world, by focusing on racial tensions in America. The pilot’s most gripping scene is its opener, where it focuses on an old school Western film. The hero isn’t wearing a white hat, but instead is a black man wearing a black hood. He wounds the sheriff, who would be your average “hero” of this old black and white film. It’s a beautiful transition to our hero, Regina King’s Sister Night. She’s an African American woman who wears all black to go up against a group of white supremacist that use Rorschach’s white mask as their symbol. But unlike, the old black and white film – the sheriff of this world, Chief Judd Crawford, is Detective Angela’s best friend. They have dinner together with their families, they trust each other with their lives, and tell each other things they don’t tell their spouses. As individual characters, they still feel a bit hollow, but their dynamic puts a whole new light to their character work. A black woman and white man working together in the police department in the world of "The Seventh Cavalry" was a really powerful message, and literally shows that not everything is so black and white. It puts the source material’s famous morally grey world on its head.

Credit: HBO

When leaving my Watchmen screening, the first word that came to mind was “torn”. I felt torn because of my love for the source material and the very new take of HBO’s adaption, but the show itself also felt torn. It doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be yet. It finds success when focusing on the very real topics that we face today, but the Watchmen aspect, the superhero tale it’s based on, feels like an afterthought.

Watchmen debuts October 20 on HBO.

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