HBO’s “Watchmen” skillfully explores new territory while staying loyal to the novel


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Grant Wheeler

“Watchmen” is HBO’s newest series based on Dave Gibbon’s and Alan Moore’s 1986 graphic novel of the same name. For those who are unfamiliar with the source material, the graphic novel ‘Watchmen’ follows a group of masked heroes and takes place in an alternate 80’s New York City where vigilantism has been outlawed. The television series takes place in present day Tulsa, Oklahoma, 34 years after the events of the graphic novel, in a world where police officers are now forced to wear masks to conceal their identity.

This has not been the first attempt at bringing “Watchmen” to the big screen. Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation was the first R-rated film I ever saw in theaters, and captured much of the darkness and themes that made the source material so endearing. However, in retrospect film may have not been the correct space for this particular story to be told. “Watchmen” is a complex work of literature that challenges many different aspects of society – so much so that even a two-and-a-half-hour film can feel a bit crowded when trying to faithfully recapture all of those aspects and themes.

With five episodes under its belt, so far the HBO series has been intriguing and rich in atmosphere – it has stayed faithful to the source material while also being completely original. Damon Lindelof, writer and co-creator of the acclaimed shows “Lost” and “The Leftovers,” is at the series’ helm. When I first heard Lindelof would be the driving force of the series I was ecstatic, as his work is often dreadful and abstract, perfect for “Watchmen.”

The series follows police officer Sister Night, portrayed by Regina King, in a quest to uncover a vast conspiracy in the town of Tulsa. The rest of the cast includes Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart and Jeremy Irons. All of their performances thus far have been strong and interesting, leaving you wanting to find out more about the characters. Everyone plays their role with diligence and with a shroud of mystery. For example, Tim Blake Nelson is incredible in this show; he plays the character Looking Glass, an echo of the character Rorschach in the comics.

In the same vein as the graphic novel, the series is blatantly politically charged, but it always feels smart and never out of place. It confronts racism in a fresh and unique way that is rarely seen on screen, much to the writers’ credit.

The best aspect about the new “Watchmen” series thus far is how well the writers have built the world and atmosphere. It retains what made the comics great while treading new waters, making it my favorite thing I’ve seen on television so far this year.

There are still four episodes left and much is still a mystery, but the pacing is building the tension in the best possible way. Hopefully the payoff is as great as the buildup has been.

Episodes 1-5 score: 8.5

(By the way, if you want a great binge and introduction to the works of Lindelof, I recommend that you watch ‘The Leftovers’ on HBO if you haven’t yet.)