Right from the get-go, in the very first opening moments of the very first episode, Watchmen, HBO’s latest binge-worthy show based on the popular Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic book series, has something important to say. Its brutal depiction of the infamous Tulsa race riot, where white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District on May 31 and June 1, 1921, sets the tone for the series. This isn’t your conventional superhero story. While there might be guys in capes and tights heroing about, the focus is instead on the current political climate and the ugly history of American racism.
Anyone who has read the original Watchmen comic book series created in 1986, or seen Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie adaptation, will know that the franchise is set in a cold, gritty and depressing world where history has taken the turn for the worse. That’s still the case with Damon Lindelof’s intriguing new series, which takes place 34 years after the comic ends and follows on from some of the events cemented in the previous adaptations.
Here the legacies of the previous heroes, like Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Rorschach, and the Comedian, continue to inspire and shape the world all the years later. Robert Redford has been the President of the United States for the last 28 years and, in that time, he has blocked the internet and stopped all major technological advancements, including the invention of the smartphone, and allowed the descendants of racially-driven subjugation to live tax-free. At the same time, Rorschach has somehow inspired a white supremacy group, not unlike the Klu Klux Klan, who call themselves The Seventh Cavalry.
The fantastical story closely follows Regina King as Detective Angela Abar, the nun-costumed Sister Night, a supposedly retired undercover black police officer who survived an attack by the supremacist group as she investigates the murder of her police captain, Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson). Aside from that, we also get a look at the life of Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons) and Silk Spectre (Jean Smart) post the events of the film and comic book. Ozymandias seems incredibly bored living a life of luxury and Silk Spectre has made her living capturing caped vigilantes.
While there might already seem like there’s a lot going on, Watchmen has even more subplots that touch on politically charged topics like justice, truth, slavery, terrorism, dictatorship, police violence, adoption, and public safety, among others. It’s a show filled to the brim with lessons, ideas and oddities, like squids periodically falling from the sky, that keep you entertained and transfixed on the both beautiful and utterly devastating universe. It’s not for the faint of heart. If you’re not a fan of DC’s dark side, then this isn’t necessarily going to change that.
That said, you’ll be hardpressed to find a better superhero TV show airing right now. Watchmen has it all – big action set pieces, heart-wrenching moments, complex heroes and villains, incredible performances, clever writing and storytelling that feels like it is purposely building towards an end goal. At the core of the series, Lindelof explores different beliefs and ideas, both right and wrong, and how those faiths, creeds and lies are spread. Unlike CW’s offerings, or even Netflix’s Marvel selection, this is a show that works hard to pose those difficult and provocative questions to viewers. Expect to be challenged.
Watchmen is highly recommended for DC fans, or fans of the original comic book series. Damon Lindelof has managed to capture the heart of Moore and Gibbons universe. It's controversial, bold and beautiful.