After years of toiling in development hell, HBO has finally blessed the masses with a “Watchmen” adaptation. With “Leftovers” showrunner Damon Lindelof at the helm, the adaptation is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma 30 years into the future. In this timeline, masked vigilantes are still outlawed and Doctor Manhattan has yet to come back to Earth.
The first season mainly follows Angela Abhar (played by Regina King), an ex-cop who’s gone undercover to investigate a group of right-wing extremists called 7K. As the show moves on she uncovers a deep conspiracy that will affect the world. The show exemplifies the rule “show don’t tell,” filtering exposition and world building through many of the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout each episode. It makes the show somewhat rewarding to hardcore fans of the original comic while making the show very “rewatchable” for fans both old and new.
Even with the show’s setting, members of the original cast still play crucial roles within the show’s plot. We get to see Adrian Veidt, Doctor Manhattan and even Laurie Blake, who gets the most screen time out of the three. Blake, also known as the second Silk Spectre in the comic, is now working with the FBI cracking down on vigilantes. She embodies the jaded cop trope to a tee and, like The Comedian, is a nihilist with a penchant for dark humor.
Adrian Veidt (codename Ozymandius) is played by Jeremy Irons, a role that he plays to perfection. In him we see a much older, disaffected Ozymandius realizing that his utopian vision for humanity might never happen. Throughout the comic, he hides under the veneer of a wealthy, socially progressive entrepreneur. On the show the façade is ripped off and we see in real time the stuck-up tyrant he truly is.
Despite the show being set several years into the future, the writing is sharp enough to translate much of the cynical and incisive social commentary that’s a hallmark of the graphic novel. Many overarching themes are explored in the show. In several scenes, characters muse about the “genetic trauma” that’s been passed down to them. Without blatantly spoiling the comic and show, it’s clear that Adrian’s plan to “save humanity” came at the cost of harming millions of people.
In the show’s timeline, African-Americans are given reparations through the liberal administration of Robert Redford. Tulsa’s setting grounds a lot of the big themes established in the first few episodes, along with adding interesting commentary on race. Even with a progressive president, racism and poverty still persist. Much of the racism depicted in the show coming from working class whites, parallel to the sentiments that caused the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, the same event that was depicted on episode one.
The thin line between vigilantes and law enforcement was illustrated very well. In the graphic novel, laws were passed banning superheroes, with public sentiment at the time souring on the idea of law enforcement working behind a mask. In their crackdown of 7K, we see Tulsa PD conducting police raids in working class communities and despite having stricter gun laws, the cops have become even more violent.
Many parallels were made between HBO-original characters and characters from the comic. Angela shares a lot in common with Rorschach, another member of the Minutemen. Like Rorschach, Angela’s traumatic past informs much of her worldview. Through certain flashbacks we see not only how Angela became a cop, but how other characters played a part in forming it.
While off-putting to some, the politics of the show are very on brand for “Watchmen.” Given that Alan Moore (the author of the original comic) has expressed anarchist leanings in the past, it’s very apparent that his work was a critique of mainstream political ideologies. The writing staff understood this very well, and through that gave interesting critiques of far-right ideologies displayed by 7K and the authoritarian aspects of liberalism displayed through Redford and Senator Keene.
The soundtrack was diverse and got the job done. Each action scene is punctuated by synth pop. Ozymandias’ commanding presence is announced by grandiose classical compositions.
The writers did well in preserving the essence of what made “Watchmen” a beloved story. The soundtrack was solid and the writing was interesting, intricate, and didn’t hold the viewer’s hand. For viewers that are into superheroes and engaging storytelling, for nine episodes, “Watchmen” will give you an experience worth the Hulu subscription.