Episode 13: It Is I Who Watches

Television Man | by Aidan Morgan

“In the future there will be no men or women, just television-human hybrids who wear fancy antennae and talk about what’s on each other’s screens. There will be no more history — only increasingly good production values.” —Television Man: The Novel

Now that Fleabag is done, the nation nervously casts its eyes around for the next brunch topic. May I suggest Watchmen (HBO/Crave), Damon Lindelof’s update/remix/adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel from the mid-’80s? It’s a complex and decidedly weird bit of television, as dense and difficult as the source material but also massively entertaining.

Watching The Watchmen

Hollywood’s weedy graveyard is cluttered with failed attempts to adapt Watchmen. Name directors including Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky were attached to the project at points. The eventual 2006 Zack Snyder–David Goyer version proved how difficult it is to bring Alan Moore’s non-linear storytelling to the big screen. Their (mostly) faithful adaptation inverted Moore and Gibbon’s critique of the fascistic impulses behind the glorification of superheroes.

Lindelof’s solution to Watchmen’s difficulties is the kind of Gordian knot-cutting that Ozymandias would applaud: move the action to 2019 and update the world of the graphic novel with new characters and concerns. In place of mid-’80s Cold War paranoia, Lindelof explores white supremacy and its relationship to authority.

In this alternate world, Robert Redford has been president for decades, the Internet is nowhere to be found and the police wear masks. Detectives are straight-up superheroes, with names like Sister Night (an excellent Regina King) and Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson). The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 figures prominently in the stories of the main characters. Meanwhile, alien squids fall from the sky and Jeremy Irons plays a mystery character who grows tomato trees and habitually murders his staff.

What’s not to love?

His Snark Materials

For every Watchmen, there’s a His Dark Materials (HBO/Crave), a lumbering adaptation of Philip Pullman’s YA trilogy that sugars out every subtlety in an effort to produce a palatable hour of television. HDM pipes a gorgeous palette and excellent casting (Ruth Wilson as the sociopathic Marisa Coulter is an inspired choice) onto a script that mostly consists of people explaining the plot to each other.

With any luck, subsequent episodes will leave the exposition behind and let Pullman’s world come through.

Watchmen and His Dark Materials air Sunday and Monday nights, respectively, on HBO.