Coming off his critically-acclaimed three season run with The Leftovers, which followed his smash hit ABC series Lost, Damon Lindelof could have done any project he wanted. Yet no one could have predicted it would be a sequel to Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen. Rather than try and outdo Zack Snyder’s uneven 2009 big screen adaptation, Lindelof’s story is set decades later, with old and new characters forging another story in a world where superheroes are real – and not always that super. Two years after it was first announced, the show is ready to make its debut on HBO on October 20. Will the series live up to its source material and the heavy burden of oversized expectations? Based on the first reviews, we should all watch Watchmen, especially because it’s going to generate some interesting conversations about major issues we face.
Haleigh Foutch at Collider praises the cast for their performances and Lindelof for creating a rich and compelling world dealing with serious topics.
“It’s provocative and challenging, posing hard questions with no easy answers, and the conversation around the series is probably going to get pretty… intense. But its greatest rewards are the strength of its perspective, the depth of its humanity, and the risky creative swings it takes to create an entirely new story that also feels right at home in the world of Watchmen.”
Charles Pulliam-Moore wrote about the pilot at io9, which had him worried about how the show presented one of its biggest topics.
“King is captivating as Abar. But her performance can only do so much to distract you from the fact the Watchmen (at least in its first episode) frames white terrorists and cops as being diametrically-opposed groups that have no ideological overlap. Because this is a show that’s meant to explore aspects of American society, that framing just doesn’t work, or rather it doesn’t work if you’re actually trying to think your way through the multitude of things Watchmen is attempting to comment on.”
He expanded on his thoughts after seeing more of the first season.
There’s something to be said for putting faith in a show’s cast and creative team knowing that they’ve got to stick the landing with a story that’s as complicated and painful as Watchmen’s.
But also, HBO was very seriously considering making Confederate, so. You know.
— Charles Pulliam-Moore (@CharlesPulliam) October 15, 2019
At The Daily Dot, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw doesn’t think the early episodes quite live up to the comic series, but there’s still plenty going on to make for a successful show.
“Watchmen arrives with high expectations and a lot of baggage, so I’m a little surprised to realize that it’s just… fine. It’s pretty good! You can’t go wrong with actors like Regina King, Jean Smart, and Jeremy Irons, and they get plenty of punchy dialogue to play with. Unlike the Watchmen movie, which painstakingly recreated the comic without understanding its deeper meaning, the HBO show does want to say something meaningful about race and law enforcement —and finds cinematic ways to translate the comic’s use of juxtaposed imagery.”
There is no question how highly Darren Franich at EW thinks of the show, which he praised for its handling of the source material.
“Credit Lindelof and his collaborators for telling a hyperbolic story shaded with good humor and sweet emotion. Like Lost, it’s a sci-fi tale shrouded in theory-provoking mystery. (Squids aren’t the only things falling out of the sky.) Like The Leftovers, it’s a vividly felt tale of generational sorrow, tapping deeper weirdness and structural experimentation as it goes along. Watchmen doesn’t overdose on nostalgia, like so many franchise extensions in our reboot-soaked decade. It’s dangerous, and invigorating. Like the proverbial Space Squid, it blew my mind.”
Kelly Lawler of USA Today thinks the show deals with the personal stories of its characters better than it does the the social issues it raises.
“This Watchmen is a huge undertaking, a complex story with as many plot threads as a squid has tentacles (and yes, there’s a squid). Like the original, it has a lot to say, and is gorgeously realized with strong writing and performances, particularly from stars Regina King and Jean Smart.
But its messaging is somewhat muddied. Like much of Lindelof’s work, Watchmen has conflicting themes, selective points of view and multiple timelines, which in the six episodes made available for review are balanced fairly well. But a show juggling so many elements always has the potential to come tumbling down.”
THR‘s Tim Goodman says the show is a “tour-de-force, no doubt,” but could prove challenging for viewers unfamiliar with the comic book.
“Again, the series will be utterly confusing (if visually astonishing) for newbies unless they brush up on their Watchmen backstory. That’s because the new series includes both references to and appearances by the superheroes of the original — including Irons as Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre and others. If you didn’t know that an alien squid landed on Manhattan and prevented World War III, that the United States won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon was never impeached (he actually served into the 1980s and was succeeded by Robert Redford, who is still president), or that even though it’s 2019 there’s no internet or cell phones and tobacco is illegal, then you should probably do a little homework.”
Over at IndieWire Ben Travers also praised the show, which he says “starts upending expectations and provoking conversation” throughout the first six episodes.
“Masks, identities, and the murky, muddled truth they form are central themes of “Watchmen.” If the cops and criminals wear masks, how do you tell them apart? Who’s the hero and who’s the villain? Who, in other words, do you trust? Looking beyond the veils people share with the world, “Watchmen” finds fundamental truths about an America divided by a lack of faith in itself, its people, and its institutions. The series’ scope is astonishing given its subject matter, and even more so given its relentless entertainment value. Through six episodes, “Watchmen” has already provided a bounty of intelligent theories to study and debate, but it’s designed to be one helluva good time, as well.”
At /Film, Chris Evangelista writes the show is one of the year’s best, and lauds its pacing and handling of its biggest ideas.
“Watchmen unpacks all of this information gradually, and, most impressive of all, organically. There’s no sudden rush of exposition; no on-screen title cards to fill in the blanks. Instead, show creator and writer Damon Lindelof and his team have managed to overload Watchmen with intense world-building that comes naturally. This is no easy feat – just look at the dozens upon dozens of movies that attempt the same thing, with terrible results. Even if the narrative and the mysteries Watchmen has to offer up ended up disappointing, the world-building elements alone might be enough to knock the series into the stratosphere.”
Based on these early reviews, the show is going to generate a whole lot of conversation, but there seems to be one question that has already been answered: we want to watch Watchmen.
Featured Image: HBO