Watchmen Season 1 Episode 1: “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”
Director: Nicole Kassell
Starring: Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Irons and Jean Smart
Runtime: 61 Minutes
When I first learned HBO was going to create an almost-sequel, “remix” of Alan Moore’s Watchmen helmed by David Lindelof… I was far from excited. Leave Alan Moore’s work alone, you’ve done enough damage. After that, I made up my mind. This was dead on arrival. And, like many, I didn’t give the show a second thought until the premiere this past week. It was going to be a train wreck, so why bother?
I was wrong. I was so wrong. David Lindelof’s Watchmen series is stylish, intense, well-acted, searingly relevant and punishingly visceral. And, through it all, there’s a taste of Watchmen that, somehow, genuinely rings of Moore’s source material without ever using it as a crutch. Nestled narratives, timely social commentary, bleakly dark humor and the color yellow are in full supply. But, frankly, beyond that, there aren’t many Watchmen in this Watchmen show. Which may be its greatest strength: the dogged commitment to doing something new. Something determined to speak to our exact moment of social uncertainty. We’re finally out of the 80’s speaking to contemporary problems in a contemporary fashion, and it’s refreshing.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the production design is absolutely gorgeous. The various mask designs and costumes are stylish, unique and totally appropriate for the world. The Rorschach-clad 7th Cavalry is an eerie and frightening visual. Played against the yellow-scarfed police and entirely reflective Detective Looking Glass, the result is deeply mysterious and surreal. This highly stylized visual grounding is foundational to how that audience interprets this almost-familiar world. Everything else in the show is designed to keep you off-balance, to keep you guessing. In fact, it’s one of the more impressive elements of the show. We don’t know how history unfolded in a world with Doctor Manhattan. Yet, they start with a brutal depiction of the Tulsa race riots. We don’t know how much of the original comic has been retained. Yet, here we are, talking about trans-dimensional attacks as octopi rain from the sky.
Watchmen has weaponized audience expectation and confusion. Modern issues are driven to their most extreme so that seemingly familiar problems become intriguing and complex. As a result, what appears to be a checklist of hot-button topics – white nationalism, race violence, police violence, torture, and vigilantism – evolves into something that defies conventional understanding. There is cohesion within the universe, but the audience must wait to discover it.
The show is realized by a host of new and engaging characters. Everyone skirting the line between superhero and institutionalized vigilante; terrorist and freedom fighter. With the exception of Jeremey Iron’s Adrian Veidt, all of the actor-portrayed characters on screen are original. And you can’t help but wonder how they will butt up against the legacy of all that came before. That is Watchmen‘s greatest success. Yes, they’ve changed the packaging and the world, but the spirit remains. The result: a show that is fresh, contemporary and genuinely exciting. In the span of an hour, I went from being a begrudgingly dug-in nerd to a fully-fledged fan.
Watchmen Season 1 Episode 1
David Lindelof’s Watchmen series is stylish, intense, well-acted, searingly relevant and punishingly visceral. And, through it all, there’s a taste of Watchmen that, somehow, genuinely rings of Moore’s source material without ever using it as a crutch.