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Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson. photo: Mark Hill/HBO

NYCC 2019

NYCC ’19: HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ premiere feels like it could be ‘The Leftovers’ season 4

Our reaction to the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen.

New York Comic Con audiences were treated to a screening of the first episode of Executive Producer Damon Lindeloff’s new HBO sequel-ish series to Watchmen, loosely based on the beloved comic series by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.

Picking up decades after the events of Moore’s story, Lindeloff imagines an alternative 2019 that is at once bizarrely askew from the 2019 we know while also frighteningly reminiscent of our own world.

The result is an episode that owes as much to Lindeloff’s sensibilities as Moore’s with its unconventional introduction that feels both tonally and thematically similar to Lindeloff’s audacious opening sequence to Season 2 of The Leftovers. That season featured Regina King, who now stars in Watchmen as a masked police officer. All the police now wear masks after a violent incident where cops were targeted in their homes.

Regina King.
photo: Mark Hill/HBO

It’s unclear what role, if any, a white supremacist group called The Seventh Cavalry may have played in that attack. The gang’s members exalt Rorschach, wearing knockoff hoods based on the late hero’s iconic design, and chant his quotes at meetings. This is perhaps a clue to what happened to the journal Rorschach left behind at the end of Moore’s story that exposed the truth behind Ozymandias’ plot.

Speaking of Ozymandias, Jeremy Irons also stars as a yet to be identified man of extreme wealth we’re at least supposed to think could be the former vigilante. As for the rest of the familiar surviving characters from Moore’s story, a clip to an upcoming episode shown at NYCC suggest Laurie, aka the second Silk Spectre, is still around. And we’re given reason to believe Dr. Manhattan is living on Mars.

Jeremy Irons.
photo: Colin Hutton/HBO

From the opening minutes to the final seconds, racial strife seems to be a central component to Lindeloff’s new take on Watchman. This element allows the premiere episode to feel both universal and quite timely as one gets the impression this Seventh Cavalry would probably have been wielding tiki torches at Charlottesville in our universe.

Damon Lindeloff isn’t playing it safe here by trying to rehash Alan Moore. He doesn’t even seem all that interested in pandering to the long-time Watchmen fan. Like the last two seasons of The Leftovers, he’s taking big creative risks and challenging the audience. This is more Lindelof than Moore. I expect the show will have its detractors who feel its not Watchmen enough, but I appreciate walking away from the episode still uncertain how I feel about it. As long as Lindeloff is willing to take real risks with the material, for better or worse, I’m here for it.

Watchmen premieres October 20th on HBO.

Is it good?
This is definitely not what people prepared for a straight sequel to Alan Moore's masterpiece are expecting, and that may be among its best strengths. This is the main creative voice behind the last two seasons of The Leftovers riffing on the themes and taking the material in a totally new direction. If you just want Watchman, you'll be disappointed. If you want something bolder that challenges the audience, this may be it.
Regina King is a badass
Lindeloff's continued ability to mine the absurd for humor
Doesn't play it safe to easily win over Watchmen fans
If Irons really is Ozymandias, dragging out his identity seems superfluous
8.5
8.5
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