HBO’s Watchmen is a sequel to the Alan Moore comic. No matter what showrunner Damon Lindelof and Dave Gibbons have said about the show not being a prequel, a sequel, or a reimagining of the comic, it’s a sequel. Dave Gibbons may have called it an “extrapolation of the comic” during the Watchmen panel, but it’s a sequel. Lindelof states that the show takes place over 30 years after the original series and examines what the world would be like after Ozymandias saved the world and the impact that the events of Watchmen had on this world. Unless I’m going crazy, that sounds like a sequel. Cut the pretense and just call it what it is.
Full transparency here; I’ve seen the first episode of the show and I have thoughts on it. I can’t write down those thoughts out of fear of HBO smiting me from existence as they were ejecting people from the panel if their phone so much as made a sound during the panel. The person sitting next to me was asked to leave for answering a text. The amount of secrecy they have for this show is ridiculous, with HBO refusing to let any info leak out, so while I can’t talk about the specific content inside the premiere, I can say that the show itself is going to be fascinating to watch, if only because of the content that’s shown off in the first couple of minutes. The first thing that came to mind after watching the premiere wasn’t about the content or the quality of the show, but how similar in concept that show is to D&D’s cancelled (?) HBO show Confederacy to the point where I wondered if parts of that series somehow made their way into the show.
There will be discussions regarding the show in the coming weeks, though I’m sure the conversations will be more productive and informative than the debates surrounding Todd Philip’s Joker. While the reception to Joker has been mixed due to its complicated depiction of the character and fear of potential violence stimulated by the movie, Watchmen feels more pointed and focused in its commentary. It knows the message that it’s trying to tell and it delivers it in a captivating way that will generate discussion. There’s no wiggle room in its interpretation. The Seventh Calvary represent exactly who you think they do and connect the show directly to our world in 2019, like an alternative history as Lindelof puts it. It’s a water cooler kind of show that I’m eager to watch more of in the coming weeks.
When the episode concluded, the cast took to the stage alongside Lindelof and eventually Gibbons and proceeded to have a discussion about the nature of the show and its characters. Regina King, who plays Sister Night, was always in Lindelof’s mind to star in the series, going so far as to personally deliver her a script of the show with an artist’s rendering of her costume before anyone else received scripts. The rest of the cast slowly fell into place, most notably with Jeremy Irons, who Lindelof took out to lunch and explained the premise of the show ad nauseum while Irons just nodded and ate his lunch. The rest of the cast joked that they weren’t good enough for Lindelof to take them out to lunch.
Nearly every actor was asked about their familiarity with the graphic novel with a surprising amount of cast members admitting that they had never read the comic prior to filming. Hell, some cast members didn’t even read the story until they started to film. Lindelof did gift the majority of the cast the graphic novel to read, but that approach of not making the reading mandatory seemed a bit odd, given how lavishes the graphic novel whenever he gets, holding it aloft as sacred text that is one step away from being worshipped. If the story is that powerful and important, why not ensure that the cast read the story before beginning filming? He did claim that he wanted the series to be watchable without the need to “do homework,” but for a touted project like this, it’s a perplexing approach to say the least.
The more Lindelof talked about the series, the more it’s clear that he adores Alan Moore’s story, but the less I’m convinced that it’s going to be as good as he says it is. Sure, the first episode was a proof of concept, but many shows have excellent premieres that fizzle out by the end of the first season. The cast is clearly game, with many of them committed to their roles and eager to work with one enough, but this is Watchmen. If it’s sacred text, as Lindelof makes it out to be, then he better be sure that he’s making a sequel worthy of one of the Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels of all Time that isn’t Watchmen 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Lindelof ended the panel by informing the audience that while this is technically “Season 1,” the show was designed to be entirely self-contained in its first season. There will be no lingering plot threads left over with no cliffhanger ending. Like the original book, it will tell a cohesive story that can be enjoyed entirely over the course of nine episodes. He’s not opposed to creating a sequel, but is firm that it’s something that shouldn’t be rushed and needs to be written carefully and deliberately, like the original story. I agree with that approach, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if there was no second season. TV nowadays is focused on continuing for years with no clear/definitive end point, just more content for the sake of content. Having more restrained and self-contained storytelling is refreshing, a statement I didn’t think I would need to say.
If you wanted to know if HBO’s Watchmen lives up to the hype, the answer is I don’t know. I don’t know how this series could turn out, though I am optimistic about how it’s structured and where it could go. Here’s hoping it doesn’t disappoint and all of this messianic praise is worth it.
Watchmen will premiere on October 20, 2019 on HBO at 9:00 p.m. and will air for nine weeks.