Sunday, October 20, 2019

Who's Watching Watchmen?

Well, Sylvia and I are watching Watchmen, and we both found the new HBO series suspenseful, compelling, and even, as Sylvia put it, "dangerous." Dangerous because the show, at least based on the first episode, is about a long-simmering race war that's ready to boil over. In an alternate Oklahoma where black people seem to be finally getting ahead, a white supremacist backlash looms. Masked vigilantes work alongside the police, who are majority black and also masked to protect their identities from racist retaliation. But that protection seems to be ending, as violence suddenly and brutally strikes a police force that has seen peace for several years...

If this sounds nothing like Watchmen--the comic book--it's because the show is using the Moore/Gibbons story as backdrop rather than having it drive the narrative. Watchmen (the TV show) is set in the same alternate history as the original work, but the foci--geographic, character, and thematic--are all new and different. Veidt, Rorschach, the Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan and other characters from the comic are barely hinted at, seen in newspaper headlines or on televisions in the background. This storytelling choice delivers a fascinating look into a world that could have been, and how the people of that world are trying to come to grips with the challenges of racism, violence, and, judging by previews, human extinction--that last the plot driver of the comic. 

I was skeptical that Damon Lindelhof and his team could craft an adaptation that respects the original while seeming anything other than exploitative. So far, they've succeeded brilliantly. 

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