Created by Damon Lindelof
Based on the comics by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Starring: Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Don Johnson
Not only is it a sequel to one of the most influential comic books of all time (one whose author considered the work “unfilmable”), it depicts racial issues in America with unflinching precision, airing on HBO only months before George Floyd’s death.
I actually watched the first episode when it aired! Then HBO became HBO Max (Update 7/6/23: and now just Max…) and wasn’t supported by any of my devices. 18 months later, I saw it on sale in 4K for $10. I couldn’t say no… then binged the entire series in two days.
The first thing to know is that this series is a SEQUEL to the Watchmen graphic novel. If you’ve seen Zach Snyder’s Watchmen (2009), you’ll understand almost all of it (though the movie has significantly fewer “alien” squids than the source material). The events of the first Watchmen took place in the 1980s while the 2019 show extrapolates the world and the characters 30 years into the future.
In both the show and the comics, America’s urban dysfunction spawns generation after generation of vigilantes. They eventually create leagues and become folk heroes. That all changes when, after a disintegration experiment gone wrong, America creates a literal Superman, a glowing blue entity named Dr. Manhattan. President Nixon uses Dr. Manhattan to handily win Vietnam, making it the 51st state of the union. These actions save Nixon from any scandal and helps him to overpower the two-term limit. After the events of the comic books/movie, the U.S. and Soviet Union become best friends, Nixon retires, and Robert Redford becomes president for the next 30 years.
Angela Abar is a retired police officer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s retired because nearly all of the police force was killed on Christmas Eve three years ago. Now, she’s an aspiring baker.
Of course, that’s all a front—Abar continued her civic duties as a sanctioned vigilante named Sister Night. After Abar discovers her police chief lynched and a 100-year-old man as the only witness, she uncovers an insidious plot going back to the 1920s, one that will suck the Watchmen back into superhero life and make Tulsa, Oklahoma, the possible site of an apocalypse.
Who watches The Watchmen? You should, the reasons being twofold. Firstly, marvel at the fact that HBO created a diamond of a show when, by at least a dozen metrics, they should’ve tripped face first onto a pile of Lego. Watchmen (2019) joins the recent ranks of spectacular nostalgia-fueled reboots like Cobra Kai… and that’s it.
Secondly, Watchmen (2019) gets to have its cake and eat it too: it forces its viewers, especially Americans, to reconcile the actions of our society’s ancestors with the reality of the present. Hiding behind the guise of a dystopian mirror-America, though, viewers will rarely feel specifically called out. Just when I met my squeamish limit regarding police overreach and backroom Senator deals, a glowing blue man came down from outer space or a supervillain plotted from his Antarctic base.
True, green heading, but one of the privileges that we have in our current media landscape is that a person can easily go back and find the original material a sequel is continuing. Watchmen (2009), for instance, is available with either HBO Max or Hulu. Barring those options, it’s available to rent everywhere else for $5 or less.
On the production end, television creators have more freedom with the length of projects than ever before.Watchmen (2019) is nine episodes with near zero waste. Will we ever get a season two? Unlikely, as everyone else has moved on to other projects. I certainly don’t want more for the sake of quantity. Compare this to another superhero show: Arrow’s 2016 season had a gripping villain, strong characterization, and interesting relationship dynamics—or it did for about 16 episodes. Arrow Season 4, however, is 22 episodes. To fill the space, the writers convoluted the villain’s plot, killed off a main character, added a tone-deaf wheelchair storyline, and forced one of the actors to sit on a couch for two episodes listening to sound loops. It didn’t matter that Arrow Season 5 had a welcome upswing in quality; many viewers considered the show to be tainted and left. A glittering diamond displayed alone on a pedestal is better than surrounding it with lackluster rocks. Unless you’re trying to deter Catwoman…