HBO knew what it was in for when adapting DC Comics’ “Watchmen” (1986–87). Depending on who you ask, Zack Snyder’s three-hour 2009 film adaptation is either genius or hot garbage, and the comic itself is revered by so many that showrunner Damon Lindelof had to either live up to an incredible merged vision of fiction and reality or make up for past failures.
Every sign so far indicates that “Watchmen” (2019–) will exceed any and all reasonable expectations that viewers set for it. What is so clever about its conception and shape from a viewer’s experience though is no matter how well-versed you are in the comic, you still don’t know what to expect.
Lindelof has been very public about the fact that “Watchmen” is not a direct adaptation, but rather a “remix.“ Set in present day, rather than in the 1980s like the comic, the show takes the events of the comic and then runs them to their logical conclusion of how things would be played out up to now.
This is an incredibly thoughtful move by Lindelof because it allows for more creativity and freedom with the story but also sticks to the themes and characters at the heart of comic. The present day context forces these themes to be infused with relevant issues, making the show feel even more alive.
And that gets at the heart of just what makes this show so great: thought and energy. Every frame feels carefully crafted not just with easter eggs for dedicated “Watchmen” comic fans, but with information for viewers trying to learn about the characters and the story.
Each character feels incredibly real and lived thanks to both fantastic performances and the revealing stories built around these characters. Although it should be reemphasized just how amazing Regina King, Jean Smart and Jeremy Irons’ performances are.
Set mostly in Tulsa, Okla., the set design makes this dystopian world feel not so distant, especially because its opening scene, a recreation of the Black Wall Street Massacre, is based in our very real American history.
Even if you don’t have the full knowledge of the “Watchmen” comics, the show is very intelligent in letting you know it does, either entirely or partially, have a purpose, which is incredibly comforting to realize.
The energy of this show is what takes it from just intriguing to electric. The score, composed by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, at its best compounds the tension of a moment or even creates it all on its own. It knows how to fit the mood so well. Whether it’s mysterious or aggressive, the score only makes you feel more bought into what’s on the screen.
The show is also professional in its other production components. The writing is well done. For a show that is so politically oriented, it never feels like it is overly simplistic with its characters’ feelings and how they do, or don’t, express them. All action and fight sequences are well choreographed and well edited and feel real and engaging.
It cannot be overstated enough how the level of detail and care that goes into every single frame is clear and obvious. It isn’t done just for the sake of gaining any sort of praise, but for actually entertaining and exciting the viewer. People without “Watchmen” background knowledge can do some reading if they like, but they really do not need to.
When all of its elements come together, “Watchmen” can run at such a high level of excitement that it makes you feel your blood is accelerating like a bullet train through your veins. Put it at the top of your must-watch list and start watching all the previously aired episodes.