Who watches the Watchmen? The unadaptable has been adapted once again, with Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen blessing our television in the form of HBO’s “not a sequel” sequel. This was one the most anticipated shows of last year, and it did not let down across its eight-episode run.
Set near forty years after the events of the comic, Watchmen centres on the small southern town of Tulsa, where an ink-blotted reincarnation of the KKK, raining baby squid and a force of masked policemen and vigilante are part of the rising racial tensions in the town. The central theme of racism may be unexpected when starting to watch a ‘superhero’ show. Some may be turned off by its commentary on police brutality and racism, but any knowledge of the comic will show it is rife with social commentary for an entirely different generation, and writer Lindelof isn’t trying to produce a turn-your-mind-off superhero show. This is a show that wants to be talked about, whether that be for its themes or its storyline. While it is never nuanced in its explorations of these themes, neither is it cheesy, fitting well within the framework of a comic book world.
With racism a central focus, the tone may seem set, but it switches and mixes how it wants you to feel. It can be funny, borderline wacky, sad, intimidating, exciting, or brimming with tension. It is exactly as you would expect for a world where racial mass-town massacres and the KKK exist, as well as a big, glowing, blue deity. It mixes the real with the surreal to a stunning degree, in a way that felt like a natural extension of Moore’s comic.
When talking of that comic, the question on a lot of viewers minds will be “do I need to have read it to get the show?”. The answer is a mix of yes and no. There are certain plot lines that play out with newcomers in mind, and which may throw fans of the comic – a part of an episode acts as a reveal to a character’s true identity, where fans will suspect it to be that person the whole time, as an example. However, readers of the graphic novel stand to get far more out of this show, through its countless hints, nods and Easter eggs. There are events, characters, and locations mentioned and featured from the comic that could go over the heads of new viewers, and entire episodes that will lose elements of their importance.
Regina King as Angela Abar a.k.a Sister Night is a true bad ass, being every bit as sensitive as she is rough. Her performance is central and steers the whole show, surrounded by a collection of excellent actors playing riveting characters (old and new).
Watchmen delivered a natural expansion of the comic’s world, in a way that kept the comic’s identity while still being its own thing. Slow to start, by the half-way mark any wait for the next episode feels like a strenuous task. It sinks its teeth in as you puzzle yourself over why it rains squids, and how these two characters are connected, and where that person is trying to escape from, culminating in a highly satisfying and surprisingly emotional finale. Will there be another season? There doesn’t need to be, but it would be a fantastic addition to HBO’s already impressive line-up. Who watches the Watchmen? You definitely should.