October 21, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Watchmen”


WATCHMEN:  Sunday 9PM on HBO

The Damon Lindelof/HBO WATCHMEN provides a new wrinkle to the world of IP exploitation.  It’s not an adaptation of the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel (a la Zack Snyder’s all-too-reverent 2009 film) or even a reboot, but a newly conceived work that’s more like a spin-off or a sequel.  Set 30 years after the events of the original Watchmen but in that story’s universe, it’s very much a tale of 2019, centering on white supremacist villains and a black heroine.

She is Angela Abar (Regina King), a member of the Tulsa Oklahoma Police Department in an era when it’s so dangerous to be a cop that their their identities are literally masked, and they’re given cover stories to explain where they are during work hours.  (The pilot begins with a depiction of the real-life 1921 Tulsa riots, where African-American citizens were killed in the streets, demonstrating that this crisis is far from fantasy.)  Angela, who for unexplained reason gets to wear a much cooler outfit than the other police, is particularly close with the force’s Chief, Judd Crawford (Don Johnson).  Together, they work to find the member of the Seventh Kavalry racist militia–which wears masks modeled after the one worn by Watchmen comic’s Rorschach–until, as pilots often do, the last moments feature a startling twist, this one being the lynching of the chief.

Watchman‘s opening hour is compelling, but it’s not entirely clear what the tone and scope of the series is intended to be.  The pilot is set almost entirely in Tulsa, and unlike the comic’s ensemble cast, the episode is centered around Angela, aside from one eccentric sequence that features the original character Ozymandias (here played by Jeremy Irons), who lives in a schloss and writes plays in the nude on his manual typewriter.  There’s one large-scale action sequence in which a police hovercraft battles a Kavalry airplane, but otherwise the feel is more like Lindelof’s mournful The Leftovers than a superhero story.  Nicole Kassel’s direction includes nods to the comic’s tropes (a briefly-scene smiley face, a droplet of blood), although the only truly surreal touch so far is a squid-rain that refers to the grand finale of the comic.

At the moment, masks and technological quirks aside (there are pagers but no cell phones, an audio-visual lie-detection chamber resembles the test for potential assassins in The Parallax View), the new Watchmen storyline could almost be a straightforward procedural.  The main sparks of the opening hour are from King and Johnson, who carry the bulk of the episode between them, and who are more than enough to keep the show watchable in the short term.  Whether Lindelof has something larger-scale in mind remains to be seen.

HBO is seeking its way back into Game of Thrones domination, and at first glance, for all its timely themes and high-quality execution, Watchmen feels more constricted than that kind of phenomenon would need to be.  It seems to be merely a fine, moderately inventive TV series, and that may be enough.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."