The only times “Watchmen” doesn’t feel calculated are when you can’t imagine the shot as a David Gibbons comic panel. Every couple minutes you can feel how the sequence of shots would feel as a Watchmen comic, showing how just because DC Comics could never figure out how to do it without the original creators doesn’t mean episode director Nicole Kassell and show creator Damon Lindelof can’t figure out how to do it while adapting it to another medium. Though, to be fair, the secret might be in adapting it. Especially since the show creators don’t just have decades of comic book adaptation tropes to avoid they’ve also got the actual Watchmen: The Movie as one hell of an example of terrible Watchmen adapting.
The show figures out what the movie couldn’t, primarily in terms of acting (get good actors and then get good performances out of them) and come up with a sound design not focused around selling a soundtrack album. “Watchmen: Episode 1” often sounds a little like an eighties John Carpenter movie, just with less synth. It’s disquieting in all the right ways.
In fact, there’s nothing the show does wrong but only because it’s positioned itself rather securely. Its ambitions are only in delivering itself as a product. “Watchmen” doesn’t allow itself performance anxiety, just a base execution anxiety. The show doesn’t worry about giving stars Regina King and Don Johnson great parts, it just worries about never giving them bad ones. It also gives Johnson Frances Fisher for a wife, which does a lot of immediate character development. Everyone else is background, even Tim Blake Nelson who seems like he’ll be great as the thing progress. So far Yahya Abdul-Mateen II—as King’s homemaker husband—is perfectly fine, which I was initially worried about because he was so bad in Aquaman. But, no, having a director who cares about acting helps.
The only Watchmen comic character to show up so far is probably Jeremy Irons as Ozymandias. Probably because they’re teasing it. “Watchmen: The TV Show” might try to get away with not explaining all the pertinent history. Lindelof has utterly changed the context—the show’s set in 2019 in the Watchmen: The Comic Book universe, some thirty years after the events, with Robert Redford being president for thirty years (vs. Nixon) and having gotten reparations through, which has led to a Rorschach-inspired white supremacist organization. So in “Watchmen: The TV Show” universe it takes actual reparations (and Black people apparently not having to pay taxes) to get white men so steamed up but in reality it only took a Black president, which would make for great, pseudo-intellectual water cooler talk, which is what “Watchmen” is sort of all about.
Lindelof, Kassell, and everyone else do their corporate overlords great service with the show… they’ve finally turned Watchmen into a crossover property, something not a single DC Comics creator could do.
Also, given the Black Wall Street massacre finally getting mainstream coverage… can we stop listening to white centrists from Oklahoma yet?