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HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ is one of the best shows of the last decade

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“Nothing ever ends.”

The original 1986 “Watchmen” comic from writer and sorcerer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons is many things: critically acclaimed, widely influential and politically charged among other things.  As a result, it’s become something of a sacred cow among not only comic book aficionados but for even those who don’t really consider themselves interested in comics as a whole. “Brazil” and “Fear and Loathing” director Terry Gillam declared it “unfilmable.”

That didn’t stop people from trying, however, and not only did we get Zack Snyder’s 2009 cult classic adaptation, but we also got a series of “Before Watchmen” stories in 2012 (they were fine), and a comic sequel to the original by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank to mostly positive reviews (I quite like it, to be honest).

Now disregard everything after the comic.

HBO’s “Watchmen” is not yet another rehash of the original, but a “remix” and sequel, continuing the original’s alternate history.  Since 1985, the U.S. has become largely left-leaning, with reparations paid to victims of racist violence, police being heavily regulated and despite a lack of internet, everything seems fine. However, occasional “squidfalls” rain down every so often to remind people of the extraterrestrial threat that could come back at any moment. Far-right, white supremacy terrorism has resurged, culminating in the “White Night” – an event on Dec. 24, 2016, in which the homes of 40 Tulsa police officers are attacked by one such group, the racist, Rorschach-wannabe Seventh Kavalary.

Thanks to this attack, the police officers of Tulsa now wear masks and some have even adopted costumed alter-egos. Three years later, during a routine stop-and-search, one masked cop is critically wounded by a member of the Kavalry. This results in Detective Angela Abar, A.K.A “Sister Night” (Regina King) launching an investigation which unearths a potential pile-up of conspiracies involving everything from the Kavalry, a nearby trillionaire, an elderly man (Louis Gossett Jr.), returning character Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) and a trail going all the way back to the 1921 Greenwood race massacre, plus more familiar characters. Meanwhile, at a stately manor somewhere, a man (Jeremy Irons) seems to be planning something sinister . . .

Whereas the original “Watchmen” satirized Reagan’s America, social issues and corruption in American politics, show creator, producer and writer Damon Lindelof and crew target the U.S.’s history of racism, relations with police and the current resurgence in racist-fueled violence on the far-right. This show makes no bones about how it feels about all of these issues and if this doesn’t vibe with you at all, it can be alienating. On my end, though, the nuanced ways in which they handled police brutality and racism was pretty refreshing. The depiction of the real-life Greenwood massacre was also a ballsy move that I respect, as it goes out of its way to show just how horrifying the event was while managing to not feel exploitative.

Another reason this show works so well is the world building: this show knows to not spoon-feed the viewer information or pile them with information dumps. For once, the viewer is trusted to be patient and let the show reward them. The reward, in this case, is to be enthralled in pulpy storylines and dynamic characters. Speaking of characters, the standout is easily Regina King as Angela Abar, a brash police Detective whose “Sister Night” persona has her beating the crap out of white supremacists while dressed as a cross between Batman and a nun. She’s believable not only as a hot-headed cop, but a caring mother with a friendly side and who undergoes a lot of emotional turmoil throughout the show, from cold rage to stunned sadness at the stuff that’s weird even for this universe.

Other characters I ended up loving included Tim Blake Nelson’s “Looking Glass,” the closest analog this show has to the original Rorschach. Not only does he have a pretty cool getup but even the character’s weary, line-heavy face communicates just how tragic past is and how weary he is of the world. Another favorite of mine was Laurie Blake, played by Jean Smart. Originally Laurie Juspeczyk, superhero name “Silk Spectre,” Laurie has not only taken on the surname of her dad (the psychopathic killer the Comedian), but she has become far more cynical and bitter about the state of the world since the comic. It’s fascinating seeing her take a rather natural route for her character and how she views and interacts with others after thirty years of having to have helped cover up a major catastrophe. Jeremy Iron’s character also carries his considerably more surreal segments with a nice mix of dry humor and sardonicism that was nearly endlessly entertaining.

There were some storytelling decisions I wasn’t sure how I felt near the end, in particular how they reveal one character was hiding during the show and sometimes the focus on police brutality gets a bit lost. The rest of the show, however, and even the episodes I feel were the weakest still held up on rewatch.

Not only was “Watchmen” my favorite show of 2019, I think it’s one of the best of the past decade. With conversations holding hidden meanings that reward multiple viewings, considerable depth in it’s themes and characters, it’s a testament to not only what superhero television can be, but what the best kind of television can be.

Final rating: 4.5/5

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Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily

Source: North Texas Daily

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