Last year, HBO’s Watchmen, both a sequel to and a reimaging of the famous comic book series of the same name, was aired to critical praise. It was interesting to see how this project was going to be pulled off, especially with writer/showrunner Damon Lindelof at the helm, who despite creating hit shows like Lost and The Leftovers has often not been an indicator of good quality (Tomorrowland and Cowboys and Aliens, as well as Lost’s finale, all come to mind). But I decided to watch it and was blown away, as HBO’s Watchmen is one of the best sequels I have seen in a while.
Set 30 years after original Watchmen member Ozymandias destroyed New York with a faked alien invasion, society has been forever changed. Tensions start to rise in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the return of the Seventh Cavalry, a white supremacist group that model themselves after dead Watchmen Rorschach. Masked police officer Angela Abar (Regina King) is part of the fight against them, which becomes more complex once she discovers secrets regarding the past and her life. Meanwhile, a Lord (Jeremy Irons) living in a strange manor house is slowly going insane trying to escape.
HBO’s Watchmen is a sequel to the original comic in the same way that Force Awakens is a sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, being a remix and a very referential tribute. However, this series does what that film failed to, which is tell a new story as well as properly continue the original story without making any elements of it pointless. There is one example of a character retcon, but it is one of the few I have seen that is not only justifiable but also adds to the original story.
The narrative is jam-packed with plotlines and mysteries, with this being the kind of show where once an episode ends you have a million questions, which is enticing enough to keep you watching. As the episodes continue, answers and twists are slowly dished out and all of them manage to be equal parts earned and unexpected. Whilst some episodes are slower than others, there is an impressive sense of tightness all around, to the point where the experience feels like a 9-hour movie. By the time it ends, you are left satisfied, yet there is still a final note of ambiguity that is perfect.
Characterisation and themes are also key factors in making this show what it is. The social commentary is well integrated into the storyline and the ideas of time, love, trauma, history, and societal conflict are explored in a lot of detail. The main characters are fleshed out, complex and interesting, with the returning characters are arguably more compelling than they were before. Laurie (Jean Smart) is far more entertaining and engaging than she was previously and whilst I cannot discuss what happens with surviving characters like Ozymandias and Dr Manhattan, what is done with them is perfect.
But the strongest aspect is the tone. The flaw with adapting Watchmen to film is that it is incredibly serious yet also surreal and goofy, but the show manages to balance both. Despite the seriousness of the story, this series has a great sense of humour. There are hundreds of “WTF” moments and some that would seem laughable in concept, but in execution, they are either intentionally funny or effective. This is helped with several other technical aspects, such as the masterfully atmospheric soundtrack/musical score and the direction of each episode, which despite using multiple directors and sometimes switching styles feels totally consistent.
The acting throughout the series is flawless. Jeremy Irons is having a lot of fun as a character you love to hate, Jean Smart is charismatic and hilarious and whilst Yahya Abdul Mateen II as Angela’s husband is initially just a standard husband character, he eventually is given a very challenging part that he nails spectacularly. The two standouts are Regina King and Tim Blake Nelson as Looking Glass, with King continuing to show that her Oscar win was fully deserved and Nelson managing to play a weird yet deeply sympathetic character perfectly.
HBO’s Watchmen is a contender for the best comic book TV series of the 2010s and the most impressive TV show I have seen in a while. Damon Lindelof has not only redeemed himself for the bad scripts he has written but has also made arguably his magnum opus, one that manages to live up to the original source material and even surpass it in a couple of ways.