Watching Watchmen: Episode Three

watch3“Hello. Hello? I can’t hear you, but I know you’re there. I have a joke for you. I know what you’re thinking, but this is a funny one. Damon Lindelof, you remember him? The guy who ruined Prometheus and co-wrote that horrible Star Trek Into Darkness, and was show runner of Lost who dragged that thing out to THAT ending. Well, he’s making a new show now, based on Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic book/graphic novel… the damn thing’s almost an actual sacred thing to comic book fans. You may have seen the movie. I KNOW you’ve seen the movie. You’re keeping quiet but I know you’re a big fan of that Snyder fella, well anyway, this show is kind of like that film but its not. Its really more to do with the Moore book, but it feels like the film and borrows its title font and how it throws episode titles up on the screen and it visually owes something to it…

“Well a lot of the third episode, it centres on a phone booth, and Laurie Blake is on the phone to Dr Manhattan, who’s on Mars ignoring everybody. Or he’s SUPPOSED to be on Mars but who knows for sure, Dr Manhattan is like God, he could be Everywhere. So Laurie -yes, she’s the Silk Spectre in the original book, but she’s 30-odd years older now and spandex costumes aren’t her thing anymore- well, she’s sold out to The Man, and she’s working for the Feds like her dad the Comedian did, or was that the CIA? Anyway, she’s hunting costumed heroes now, instead of being one. Set a thief to catch a thief, something like that. 

“Well, where was I? No, the question was rhetorical, I don’t expect you to say anything, but I know you’re listening. So Laurie is cracking a joke to her ex-lover, ex-costumed team-mate who’s maybe on Mars on the other end of the phone. Yeah, people can phone God in this show. I guess it cuts out the Middle-man, all that clergy nonsense. God is listening, they say, but they say it as ‘Dr Manhattan is listening’ but of course its all a matter of faith, the phone call just like prayer- maybe prayer for the 21st Century. I wonder if they charge Laurie’s credit card? Is it free, like reverse-charges or something? I guess God/Dr Manhattan would be good for it. Anyway, I reckon Dr Manhattan IS listening ‘cos he damn near drops a car on Laurie’s head at the end of the episode. No, that’s not the joke. Not this joke.

“No, this joke… hasn’t exactly got its punchline yet. Well, you see, this series so far, and this episode especially… its got all sorts of Easter Eggs for fans. There’s Laurie of course, and there’s mention of her boyfriend -her other boyfriend, this gal got around in her day- who was the Nite Owl II, who’s in prison now, apparently, and if Laurie does this job for this Presidential hopeful who hires her, well, he may be able to get her old beau Dan out of jail. So off she goes to Tulsa, where eps 1 & 2 took place. 

“I know, you’re waiting for the joke. I’ll get to it, honestly. Did I say it was funny? Well, maybe its more ‘funny peculiar’ you know how it is. See, the weird thing is, this show is deliberately arch and off-centre but in the Real World we got Trump with his thumb on the Nuclear Button and Boris over here in charge of Old Blighty, and Putin flexing his fishing muscles over in Russia, its kinda hard for film-makers and show-runners to trump reality, pardon the pun. We’re living in a Strange World so a show has to be VERY strange to seem strange, you know? Jeremy Irons, he actually gets into his Ozymandias costume in this episode, yeah, like in the comic, not the film version, and it kinda comes off like that 1960s Batman show, you know?I think that may have been deliberate, but yeah, Jeremy Irons in a superhero costume, how strange is that? As strange as Laurie carrying a giant Dr Manhattan dildo in her briefcase? I know, what kind of show is this?

watch4“So the episode returns to the main storyline with the Seventh Cavalry possibly being responsible for the death of the chief of the Tulsa Police and Laurie is investigating it and attends the funeral, and yeah, it continues the ‘Chief Judd Crawford shadowing the Comedian’s murder mystery’ thing by the funeral being very like the Comedians, except there’s a suicide bomber and it all gets messy. And Laurie knows something was in Judd’s closet but it seems Angela took it away. The two ladies don’t get along its like an Alpha Males thing, sorry, Alpha Females thing, very 21st Century. 

“Is this going somewhere I hear you ask? Well, no, I don’t hear you really, obviously, as you’re not talking and no, I’m not sure. You see, while this is a very (surprisingly) good show, it has our boy Lindelof behind it and he doesn’t end things well. Frankly he’s a bloody joke at endings. Oh no, did I drop the punchline already? Well you see the jokes still possibly on us. This is episode three and there is still six left and I’m fairly certain Jeremy Irons is being held captive on Mars or somewhere in space and fairly certain Dr Manhattan is behind it, and if Jeremy -sorry Adrian Veidt- gets out then humanity could be in trouble, but really there’s six episodes left and we’re all searching for clues and hints and wondering What It Means and Whats Going On and the irony is, when we get to the end we might have custard on our faces, this is Lindelof we’re talking about here. The joke might be on us, as we get carried away actually enjoying this thing until he pulls the rug from under us.

“I mean maybe the punchline is that there is no punchline and its all a big tease with a cliffhanger ending to leave us gagging for a second season. That would be cruel, almost as cruel as how GOT ended, but its a cruel world, you know? Disney owns Fox so the Mouse owns the Alien, I don’t know what Walt would have thought of THAT. But there’s something wrong about that, and yeah just how twisted do you think HBO could be, after what they pulled with GOT? 

“Goodness I’m babbling now and this call must be costing a fortune. Did I mention I’ve done this on reverse charge? No? Ha, well, maybe that’s a good enough joke. Possibly not really but maybe its good enough for now. We’ll see how funny things are after episode nine. I’m really enjoying this show right now though, so maybe I’ll give you another call next week…. 

 

Watching Watchmen: Episode Two

watch2.jpgHey, now. Hang on a minute. This was great. I mean, really, I thought the first episode was good but “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” , despite its absurdly extravagant title (originating from the painting hanging on Crawford’s wall that the camera finally lingers over), was a much better episode, cementing this series as a must-watch. I’m really excited by this series now and can I admit to being keen on an eventual 4K set on disc someday next year? The danger remains that the series will alienate and bore mainstream viewers unfamiliar with the comic or film, but for fans such as me, this is an early Christmas present, much better than I had expected.

Some of the parallels to the original comic are clearer to see- it would seem the narrative arc of the series will be the central mystery of who killed Police Chief Judd Crawford, mirroring the ‘who killed the Comedian?’ arc of the comic, the mystery no doubt unravelling into a much bigger conspiracy than one murder, just as what happened in the comic. I enjoyed the nods to the comic during Angela Abar’s search of Crawford’s home, with the secret compartment in the closet holding the Ku Klux Klan uniform (revealing Crawfords ‘true’ secret identity in just the same way Rorschach discovered the Comedian uniform hidden behind Edward Blake’s closet). Its clear the teasing hints at Adrian Veidt’s new scheme to ‘save the world’ parallel the slow reveal of that of the comic, and I’m pretty sure this will prove to be as deadly and horrible as his original effort that killed three million.

The glimpses of the American Hero Story television programme will function in a similar way to Tales of the Black Freighter in the comic and Watchmen movie, it seems (the background disclaimers and warnings from the ultra-liberal network airing the show were hilarious).

Indeed, its clear that Damon Lindelof has created a show that is really a Watchmen Remix. A labour of love, evidently but I suppose if it does leave the show open to criticism, in regards originality and perhaps at worst of being a disguised reboot. I suppose we need to see more episodes (possibly all nine if it builds to some great reveal) to see the ‘big picture’, so to speak, in just the same way as the Watchmen comic really works best when considered over its twelve chapters. Definitely looking very good so far though.

I’m not surprised, I’m actually shocked how good this is. Hope it keeps it up, but with Lindelof involved, a note of caution is required, even in the wake of The Leftovers.

Watching Watchmen: Episode One

watch1Casting 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.

watch2One 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.

 

The Umbrella Academy (2019)

umb2Okay, I admit it, I am beyond surprised. I won’t tempt fate by titling this post with ‘Season One’ because we have yet to see if Netflix will greenlight a second season, but surely it’s inevitable, because this series is great- it’s possibly the best comic book show on television I have seen, and lord knows there have been so many over recent years.

Much of my praise is because I am such a huge fan of Watchmen and the movie based on that graphic novel, and the fact that The Umbrella Academy is so close in tone and approach, putting messed-up superheroes in a real-world situation contesting with a looming apocalypse. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a Watchmen fan, its right up my street, and may actually have stolen some of the thunder from HBO’s own genuine Watchmen spin-off which is due later (?) this year (on the other hand, I really had my doubts that anyone could pull off something like Watchmen on television, but The Umbrella Academy patently proves otherwise so it’s actually gotten more excited for what Damon Lindelof and HBO might come up with).

The Umbrella Academy is based on a comic book from Dark Horse that I am utterly unfamiliar with so I cannot judge how faithful it is or how many liberties have been taken with the source material. I certainly would not suggest the series is perfect-  it’s a little overlong (eight episodes would have paced it better than the ten we are given) and while most of the cast are great there are a few weak spots, but on the whole its great, with some genuinely interesting characters, some surprising diversions and real scope (it’s an endless surprise to me just how cinematic HBO and Netflix stuff is). The allusions to Watchmen do keep popping up (one characters experiences in Vietnam, another suggestion about the JFK assassination, the apocalyptic denouement at season end, a character’s ability to shift through time offering him an almost Dr Manhattan perspective on things) but I suspect they are in the original comics? If not it’s clear that the shadow of the Watchmen movie looms large (in a good way) with  the series real-world setting (emphasis less on silly costumes and gadgets than on consequences of the powers), the clever use of source music, lots of moody rain, the realistic art direction- and yet at the same time there are sometimes hints of an irreverent, almost Pythonesque tone that is very unlike Watchmen’s very dour, serious approach to deconstructing its genre so I’d say the show maintains a fairly unique identity.

umb1Some of the twists can be seen a mile off but I don’t think it detracts from the show at all- there are some genuine surprises and some intriguing mysteries that are not explained which I hope augurs well for them being delved into in a second season. There are at least three plot points mentioned in the series that I had expected to be developed but weren’t – and indeed one major tease thrown in at the start of the final episode that really wound me up (in a good way).

On the whole this was a really promising series and I was both surprised by it and left excited for what may follow. Maybe the comic book future is not wholly in the hands of Marvel Studios despite the best efforts of DC to screw things up.

We don’t need another Watchmen… do we?

watchmenIt seems quite crazy to be even considering this question. As someone who was blown away by the film during its cinema release in 2009 and subsequently brought the film on Blu-ray in its theatrical, directors cut and Ultimate Cut, I simply cannot understand why anyone would ever want to remake/reboot it… especially when only eight years have gone by. It feels like the ink is still wet on the page, the paint still wet on the canvas.

And yet Damon Lindelof (who, okay, I will cut a little slack following The Leftovers) is working for HBO at creating a mini-series of Watchmen, presumably as a big-budget replacement for HBO’s soon to conclude phenomenon Game of Thrones (as if Westworld didn’t already fit the bill).

Watchmen is perhaps the classic, definitive comicbook. It’s like the War and Peace of superhero comics. I know some have had reservations (or downright hatred) of the film version, but far as I am concerned, the damn thing was definitive. It did everything right. It was faithful (to the extreme) to the comic- set in an alternate 1980s America, it had a fantastic cast that was incredibly close visually to the comic. It even portrayed Dr Manhattan naked, pretty amazing for a mainstream Hollywood superhero film. They even did the pirates comic-within-a-comic Tales of the Black Freighter as an animated cartoon and included it in the Ultimate Cut which runs for something approaching four hours. I mean, it may have its faults, but being unfaithful or disrespectful to the original is not one of them (unless you are one of those that criticises the film for just that).

To me, it was bloody amazing and I still pinch myself that it even exists, and that they went to all the trouble of filming that Under the Hood doc and the Pirates animation and all the rest that it did so right. A bit like the Blade Runner sequel we got this year, it just seems too good to be true, even now. When you consider how the DC superhero films have struggled these past few years it’s clear how badly wrong the Watchmen film could have turned out. But it didn’t. It turned out great.

So why even revisit Watchmen, nevermind so soon? It just feels redundant to me, when HBO could be going off and working on all sorts of other intellectual properties. In anycase, the film Watchmen hardly set the world afire so it’s rather tempting fate, like pushing more good money after bad. I don’t know. In a world of remakes and reboots, this feels the most unnecessary one of all.

They’ll be telling me that hack JJ Abrams is involved next, and this special circle of hell will be complete.

Melancholy Apocalypse: The Leftovers

left2017.61 & 62: The Leftovers Seasons Two and Three

There’s all sorts of ways to interpret The Leftovers. It’s a strange/ambient series akin to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, with the peculiar weirdness of The Prisoner thrown in (particularly towards the end), so it is rather fitting that The Leftovers finished the same year that Twin Peaks returned and The Prisoner celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.

Fans of either of those shows will take me to task for this, but one thing that The Leftovers has over both of them is better acting and better, more rounded characters- or at least, more rounded battered psyches. Everyone is damaged goods in The Leftovers. The Leftovers is a study of loneliness, melancholy and grief, and how fragmented personalities/lives try to make sense of a senseless world after a massive, biblical event.

Biblical, yes- the chief supposition of The Leftovers, at least as how I personally see it, rather than how it might seem to others, is that God does exist, but it’s a God that we cannot really understand, and that the world is therefore stranger than we can possibly know. The Leftovers to me is an intensely religious series, its conceit being how would our modern pragmatic world respond to a Biblical event- the Sudden Departure, in which 2% of the planet’s population -millions of people- disappeared. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children… there is no connection, no reason, no scientific explanation. There were here, then suddenly in the blink of an eye, gone. Gone where? Or have they ceased to exist? Should they be mourned, or should they be searched for? Was it random, or were they chosen? Who were the blessed, those that departed or those that remained?

Of course, some might believe it’s a bunch of crazy scientists whose experiment went massively wrong (in the third season, some scientists claim to have a machine to send people to another universe), but I think it’s more likely God (in the third season, you see God get mauled to death by a lion).

Ah. Yes, you read that right. And I’ll write no more about it. At turns enthralling and frustrating, amazing and confusing, there are many mysteries in this series. Inevitably for a show with such twists and turns and layers upon layers as this one has, I’m hesitant at this point to discuss the series in any great detail. The beauty is in its ambiguity and discovering its secrets. Surely one of the appeals of this show is the fact it is just three seasons long – three precious miracle seasons- with episodes as intense as anything else on television.  So its not expecting you to sit around for several seasons and outstay its welcome.

Personally, I feel the shows producers nailed the ending (Damon Lindelof! Who’d have thought it! He nailed an ending!)  although I do know some fans felt shortchanged. Some people like to be shown, to see something, rather than have it suggested to them- me, I’m okay with letting my imagination work , extrapolate the suggested possibilities. There are depths to this show that I am sure will reward repeated viewings.

One of the best tv shows I have ever watched, basically. More pointedly, it is possibly the best tv show that no-one else seems to have watched.  I hope it will pick up an increasing audience with time. That’s the beauty of tv box-sets, whether via streaming or on disc (the latter being the rub- season one had a blu-ray release over here, but my second season is an Australian disc and the third season an American disc, and not many people are going to go to such lengths). Its beautifully acted, lovingly shot and directed and scripted. Like any object of art, I’m certain it will raise string responses and that some will hate it as easily as other fall in love with it, but nevertheless it’s worth searching out and discovering and experiencing.  Yes, The Leftovers is an experience and one that you will not forget.