Casting aside my misgivings regards yet another IP being rebooted, HBO’s Watchmen series certainly seems promising on the evidence of its first episode (“It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”). Set 34 years after the climactic events of the original comic (and the movie adaptation, to a degree) the world of Watchmen 2019 is quite different from what we might have been expecting, but also uncomfortably familiar.
Watchmen in all its guises takes place in an alternative reality- in a similar way to the ‘future’ of Blade Runner, or the 1960s America of The Man in the High Castle, the depicted reality is one altered by alternate historic events. The comic’s 1985 is an America that won the Vietnam War and in which Watergate never happened so still has Nixon as President . HBO’s 2019 has Robert Redford as President since 1992, pushing racial reforms at odds with white supremacists who are running amok (in the form of a terrorist group who call themselves the Seventh Cavalry and model themselves after the masked vigilante Rorschach, who died in 1985). A few years prior, masked members of the Seventh Cavalry attacked off-duty police officers and their families, so now the police keep their identities secret too, wearing masks whilst on duty. The law has adopted the manners of the once-outlawed masked vigilantes of old. Masked heroes. Masked villains.
One of the biggest doubts about this new Watchmen is the fact that the show-runner is Damon Lindelof of Prometheus and Lost infamy. I’m prepared to cut him some slack mostly due to his earlier HBO show, The Leftovers, which was quite brilliant and a critical darling even if it failed to connect with a sizeable audience. The Leftovers was a poetic slow-burn and on the evidence of this first episode, Watchmen may follow suit. While it sets the mythology up of this alternate 2019 it does so slowly and doesn’t hand-hold the audience at all, which may intimidate some. It also seems to require some familiarity with either the 2009 Watchmen film (can’t believe its ten years already) or perhaps even more so, the original comic/graphic novel, which in particular may be a stretch. Jeremy Irons, for instance, turns up towards the end of the first episode and is clearly an aged Adrian Veidt, the man who masterminded a fake alien invasion that averted World War Three in the original Watchmen comic, but Joe Public unfamiliar with comic or film will be quite in the dark. Likewise lots of Watchmen Easter eggs are spread about for fans to note and feel clever about, but which will possibly leave many viewers bemused by some of the visuals.
Hopefully the mythology and premise will entice viewers to remain and stick with it. It seems very confident in being its own thing which does remind me of the sheer bloody-mindedness of the classic series The Prisoner. Its either a brave move or a reckless one, we’ll have to wait and see. Season One lasts nine episodes, and all being well I’ll be writing weekly reviews of each one.