When HBO first announced that Damon Lindelof would be creating a TV show based on the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel, Watchmen, our reaction was unsurprisingly skeptical. Lindelof has earned himself a divisive reputation since his days with Lost and Watchmen stands as one of the most infamously anti-adaptation comics of all time--it's not that it's a particularly challenging translation from page to screen, but it's been a personal crusade for Alan Moore for years to fight against any and all efforts to give the Watchmen universe the franchise treatment. And that's to say nothing of the dubiously stylish 2007 movie version of the source material that left a lot to be desired for Watchmen fans everywhere.
So, no, the initial announcement of the show didn't have us all that excited. A little curious, sure, but mostly nervous, which certainly wasn't helped by the fact that both HBO and Lindelof kept the actual premise for the series tightly under wraps, even as the first trailers began to drop. It wasn't until the first episode actually aired, shown to the public for the first time at this year's New York Comic-Con, that we finally got some idea of what the Watchmen TV show would be--and just how wrong we were to ever doubt it.
Rather than attempt to adapt the graphic novel, the Watchmen show was a sequel, treating the comic like the real history of an alternate universe. The show posited what a modern-day Watchmen universe would look like in 2019, had caped crusaders actually had a hay day back in the 50s and 60s, an atomic superbeing named Doctor Manhattan actually existed, and three million people actually been wiped out by a fake psychic monster attack. The result was fascinating--a setting that was all at once totally familiar and completely alien. But that was only half of the equation. In order to really make use of this new and fascinating world, Watchmen had to actually have a story to tell that was worthy of the one that came before. That was the real challenge, and one that Lindelof and his team executed better than we could have ever hoped.
By focusing the modern-day Watchmen story not on any familiar comic book characters, but an entirely new star, a police detective in Tulsa, Oklahoma named Angela Abar (Regina King), Watchmen crafted a story that felt fresh and unique, even for viewers who have been steeped in Watchmen comic lore for the last thirty-plus years. Angela's journey, which eventually intersected with some of the biggest and most iconic characters from the comic in totally unexpected ways, both added to and interrogated the legacy of people like Ozymandias, Rorschach, and Silk Spectre. But perhaps more importantly, her story felt worthy of the Watchmen name--a twisting, turning, mind-bending path full of hard-hitting social commentary and an unflinchingly honest look into the nature of things like history and legacy. She may not have existed for Gibbons and Moore, but she was undeniably as much a product of that world as any of their original vigilantes.
Add to that HBO's clever answer to comic book backmatter (the essays and stories you'd find at the end of each Watchmen issue to flesh out the world) the Peteypedia, and you've got yourself the recipe for a puzzle box-style story that just keeps you coming back for more. Sure, it may have been dense and packed to the brim with self-referential Easter Eggs and the sort of tiny details you'd only catch after multiple viewings, but it never felt like a burden. Watchmen wasn't trying to make its viewers do homework--it just asked for your full attention, and rewarded you wholeheartedly when you gave it.
At the end of the day, Watchmen threaded the needle. It provided a perfectly paced, poignant nine-episode run that told a complete and satisfying story in a rich world that was a joy to watch. With any luck, it'll be the sort of TV that will continue to fuel conversations, both about the story itself and about the real-world issues it attempted to tackle.
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