October 28, 2019

CABLE | Doomsday and Gloom – HBO Watches the 'Watchmen'

"I got a nose for white supremacy and he smells like bleach."
Damon Lindelof | Watchmen HBO

HBO's new episodic television sequel adaptation of the landmark 1986 DC Comics graphic novel Watchmen, written by the legendary (and notoriously cantankerous) Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, aims to take the source material's deeply layered exploration of the history of America's sociopolitical ills and further bring a contemporary urgency to it.

Created for television by the sometimes divisive Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, the new series is set in an alternate version contemporary Tulsa, Oklahoma where the events of the comics happened long ago and judging by its initial premise and world-building, it's nearly exciting as the original story it takes inspiration from.

The seemingly random Tulsa setting is explained by the forgotten but historical recreation of the 1921 race riot massacre and inclusion of various Oklahoma! musical references including the pilot episode's title, "It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice".

Starring the excellent Regina King as the new masked vigilante Sister Night, this version of 2019 takes place after the teleported squid monster finale of the graphic novel where cops, who now live in fear, wear masks and operate in secret as a Rorschach-inspired white supremacist group of vigilante terrorists (called the "Seventh Kalvary") threatens the peace. King is sensational, powerful, and sexy as our de facto protagonist driving the mysterious story forward.

Regina King Tim Blake Nelson Damon Lindelof | Watchmen HBO

Alongside an interesting cast of character actors, Don Johnson and Tim Blake Nelson as supporting characters, Sheriff Judd and deadpan masked cop Looking Glass, help ground the fantastical in an everyday mundanity that allows us to follow the building action like any stylized mystery. In addition, veteran Jeremy Irons shows up bizarrely as a mysterious seemingly older, reclusive version of original character Ozymandias to keep the looming reverence for Moore and Gibbons' work clear.

Initially directed by filmmaker Nicole Kassell (also an executive producer), the show's general look has a spooky yet fun feeling to it. Added to the interesting remix of pop culture and historical fiction is the moodily appropriate musical score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Lindelof has so clearly thought out every element of his new show to both create something new and honour what he considers the greatest work of popular fiction.

This new "remixed" version of Watchmen sets white supremacy firmly as its foreground threat the same way the Cold War's looming nuclear conflict did. It's so exciting both how familiar and refreshing this adaptation feels. What happens next and the plotting of characters, motives, and solving the central crime amidst a hyper-surreal fictional historical setting is just so delightfully thrilling.

Watchmen airs weekly on HBO and is available to stream on Crave in Canada (and on HBO Max in the U.S.).

More | YVArcade / Atlantic / AV Club / Esquire / Polygon / Vox

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