Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Watchmen (2019) s01e04 – If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

I’m not sure what would be a more unpleasant way to spend an hour, listening to “Watchmen”… “creator” Damon Lindelof talk about Alan Moore or listening to him talk about way too influential screenwriting professor Robert McKee. McKee has some profoundly insipid advice on writing and the creative process in general, which Lindelof seems to have imprinted on his DNA, if this show is any indication. Because this episode is all about the show’s “stakes.” Turns out they’re really low.

It starts with the reveal last episode’s OMG moment with the space junk falling out of the sky is actually a message for Regina King and not Dr. Manhattan still caring about vigilante turned Fed Jean Smart, which just teams up King and Smart, who have even less chemistry as strong women working together than they did as strong women not working together—most of it is the writing (starting last episode and continuing into this one, “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” is shaping up to be far more what one would expect than the first couple episodes). But then there’s also a draining of the import of Don Johnson’s secret Klan history. Of course he’s a racist in the Klan, he’s a white man in Oklahoma. What did King actually expect? It seems like it should be a problematic plot point but… it’s not. It also seems like it’d piss off the Oklahoma film office and the tax breaks but maybe they demanded any white man in Oklahoma be shown to be in the Klan.

Anyway. There’s a scene with Tim Blake Nelson, because all he gets are single scenes. It’s nice to see him out of costume since you can’t see him act in the costume. And he and King do have some solid rapport.

Much of the episode involves new player Lady Trieu (played by Hong Chau, and named liked Lindelof telling you how he’s better than Alan Moore would be worse than the McKee mansplain); she’s building some mysterious giant clock in rural Oklahoma because it’s all connected. She also knows Lou Gossett Jr., who it’s still nice to see in such a big production but it’s wasting his time. In some ways, wasting Gossett’s time is worse than wasting King’s time, since King will go on to good projects after this one. “Watchmen” could be it for Gossett and non-Christian movie projects.

What else… oh, Jeremy Irons. We get more about his situation. Lindelof and co-writer Christal Henry are all about revealing the weird stuff in Irons’s life, which is all just for shock value. Steampunk-y shock value. Eh.

At least Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is still good. And it’s not like King is ever not going to be excellent, she’s just wasting her time. Also… does Lindelof really think the tick tock clock motif is the most important thing from Watchmen? He did go to NYU film school back before it was clear NYU film school wasn’t actually going to produce many good, much less great, filmmakers… so… yes?

Watchmen (2019) s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

Watchmen (2019) s01e02 – Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

As good as “Watchmen” gets at dissecting the comic book, learning from its anatomy, figuring out how to adapt it to live action—though this episode is nowhere near as uncanny as the previous one with composition—the show, pardon my French, fucks with the viewer. Alan Moore comics don’t fuck with the reader, they explore and they reveal (without ever being about the reveals). “Watchmen: The TV Show” is all about narratively cheap but big budget cliffhangers. It’s not exactly frustrating or disappointing—because it’s HBO after all—but means whatever the show creatives learned from the comic… they didn’t learn enough. And “Watchmen: The TV Show” is going to suffer from it. This episode, written by Nick Cuse and show creator Damon Lindelof, is all about surprises, even when they should be obvious to the characters if not the audience.

“Watchmen: The TV Show,” like a TV show, is going all in on the money shot reveals, where it’s stage play Dr. Manhattan’s junk or the clone reveal or… the flashbacks to the cops getting attacked by the white supremacists. Turns out Regina King and husband Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he’s really the guy from Aquaman, I can’t believe it, he’s good in this show) didn’t adopt some white kids because it’s a better reality but because the kids are her dead partner’s kids. It’s One Good Cop. But without Michael Keaton and Rene Russo.

Makes you wonder how their Batman Forever would’ve been.

Anyway.

The show also reveals—again, the show’s exposition is all about the reveals too, whether it’s DNA tests or tough talking cops—the reparations are for victims of hate crimes or descendants of hate crimes. The show opens with a newsreel about the destruction of Black Wall Street. It’s not clear how Black Wall Street is going to figure in to the Watchmen aspect of the show, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good plot device and, actually, completely reasonable for big budget Watchmen fanfic. I don’t think Moore would’ve ever done it because Lindelof’s exploiting the idea whereas Moore never exploits things. So Tulsa because White people in Oklahoma are racist who aren’t ever going to take responsibility for their great-grandparents’ murderous racism so they Klan up to take on the federal government only with Rorschach masks. Kind of a big deal, but also something the show is happy to keep as ground situation, which is concerning. How seriously is “Watchmen” going to take this aspect of the story, which is the whole point of Regina King so don’t end up giving her a shit part.

Like Tim Blake Nelson. He’s maybe going to have a shit part. Or not even enough of a part to have a shit part. Don Johnson’s got some “say it isn’t so” reveals in this episode but you know he’s going to come out of it fine because Don Johnson can do amusing shit-stain.

All of a sudden I really want to watch Tin Cup, which isn’t out on Blu-ray, which is dumb.

Yeah, Nelson… Nelson’s either going to really pay off or he’s going to be a waste. He can be a waste in a few ways, but so far it’s unclear how he could pay off. “Watchmen: The Limited TV Series” is nine episodes; we’re almost a quarter done. There’s only so much time; the longer the show goes on more concerned with turning Easter eggs into plot points… the less it seems likely the show’s going to add up to anything. And there’s a very low bar here. “Watchmen” just has to not screw up its actors’ performances, it just can’t screw up the production design as far as the adaptation, it never actually has to be good. It just can’t be embarrassing. DC and Warner Bros. have been humiliating themselves on Watchmen adaptations for what seems like decades but really has only been eleven years.

King is shouldering the globe, but it’s far from steady.

It also doesn’t hurt, despite not great material, Lou Gossett Jr. is awesome.

Watchmen (2019) s01e01 – It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice

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?

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