“Watchmen,” a new HBO series created by Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”), is set about three decades after the 1986 comic book series in an alternate reality where Robert Redford is president and baby cephalopods fall from the sky. Though based on the comic, the TV show remixes the superhero saga to explore racial injustice, policing, politics and family.
Some characters do return, including Agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), the former second Silk Spectre, and Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons), aka Ozymandias, once one of the richest people in the world and also the person who secretly sent a giant squid to kill half of New York in the ’80s in order to avert nuclear war. (We know, it’s a lot to untangle; here’s a deeper explainer if you’re confused.) However, the first four episodes of “Watchmen” focus mostly on a twisty story about new characters in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
A war is brewing in Tulsa between the mask-wearing white supremacist group known as the Seventh Kavalry and the also-mask-wearing cops trying to keep the peace. With everyone wearing masks, detective Angela Abar (Regina King), aka Sister Night, finds it nearly impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. The arrival of Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), a mysterious figure in a wheelchair who is tied to Abar’s past, complicates things even more. There’s also a trillionaire, Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), who seems to be able to predict the future and is building a giant clock for reasons yet unknown.
With so much going on, HuffPost’s Bill Bradley and Erin Evans decided to unmask some of the storylines on “Watchmen” so you could decide the ultimate question: Should you watch it?
The Bottom Line
Because “Watchmen” isn’t just a straightforward adaptation of the comic series/graphic novel, it gives both fans and newcomers something surprising around every corner. The series shines a light on class and racial injustice at one moment and then, somehow, showcases a giant blue vibrator by the end of the episode (and then puts the blueprints online). Viewers who stick around will be rewarded with a modern-day superhero mystery that’ll leave them questioning everything.
What Got Us Hooked
Erin Evans: OK, so admittedly, I didn’t know anything about “Watchmen” before it aired. And I only decided to watch it because I will watch Regina King open an envelope on TV. I’ve loved her since “227.” But the very first scene, about the Tulsa Race Massacre, immediately drew me in. I’ve read a lot about Greenwood, the city neighborhood known as Black Wall Street, but had never seen it portrayed on TV or film. Seeing this, in the guise of a comic book adaptation, hooked me.
Bill Bradley: The Tulsa Race Massacre opening was harrowing, especially because going into it, if you’re a fan of the comic, you may be aware the real world and the comic world of “Watchmen” split in 1938. But the show makes it clear right away this is 1921, so immediately you’re like, “Wow. This is real.” The whole series has clear comic tie-ins, but I kind of like that whether you know the comics or you don’t know it at all, everyone’s confused about what’s going on.
Erin: Right. If you’re like me and have no clue about the comic book series, it was helpful to do a little Googling after each episode. There are so many characters and masks and references to things that don’t make any sense. I mean, it is all based on an alternate history, like the comics. And from what I’ve read about creator Damon Lindelof and executive producer Nicole Kassell, they intended for it not to be an adaptation but an actual reimagining of the comics. Truly innovative and speaks to the cultural moment we’re in right now.
Bill: You mentioned this the other day, but Donald Trump tweeting that the impeachment inquiry was a lynching and then to have a show on right now that displays the actual horrors of mob justice is wild. The fact that it shined such a light on the Tulsa massacre ― the show is already a success. And then every once in a while you get a baby being pulled out of a lake or a giant blue vibrator.
Erin: That blue vibrator was huge. But it didn’t confuse me as much as the squid shower in the middle of Episode 1.
Bill: Yeah, I think the main takeaway I got from that is I’m glad I’m only allergic to shrimp. If it was a shrimp shower, I’d be a goner. Squid, I can handle. The squid shower is obviously one of those comic tie-ins. And I love a show with questions.
Performances To Watch
Erin: Louis Gossett Jr.! So good. Jeremy Irons as Veidt is weird AF and I kinda still haven’t figured out what’s going on with him. My boyfriend-in-my-head Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is whew! as Regina King’s husband. I love their partnership. What performances have stood out for you?
Bill: I really think there’s something going on with your bf Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Like, is he secretly Doctor Manhattan? Idk. They are both super buff. Listing out great performances in the show is like just listing off the IMDb page. Regina King, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr. and Tom Mison, who has to show his blue pee-pee, all great. But I also want to take a moment to recognize Panda, aka Jacob Ming-Trent. Panda’s got a tough job being the person in charge of whether or not the cops can use their guns. Nobody seems to like him, but he’s true to himself. And he wears a panda mask, hence the name. We need more people like Panda.
Erin: Jean Smart! Her character is really compelling and she’s like straight out of the comics, kinda, sorta, right? In Episodes 3 and 4, she really helps reel in the graphic novel fans with callbacks to the series, at least from what I recall from reading on the internet, LOL.
Bill: Yeah, also, for people who are overly confused, “Watchmen” kind of ingeniously gives us Agent Petey, who somewhat feels like a surrogate comic-loving audience member and fills in a lot of the background information from the comic that you need to know. There’s also a site called Peteypedia that further explains everything going on with the world offscreen, much like the 1986 comics had supplemental material.
Erin: Peteypedia! Wow, I’m just now realizing they uploaded more content since the first episode. See, I’m missing out on crucial information. Petey has been trying to help me all along.
Bill: For Pete’s sake, Erin! With so much going on, is there anything about the series that’s not connecting with you?
Where It Might Lose You
Erin: I’m largely still confused most of the time. But that doesn’t make me like the show any less. I love going on a ride for a show like this that gets at race, family and some weird stuff in between. Also, the episode explainers online — like the one you wrote after Episode 1 — have been really helpful.
Bill: Right. I’m all about shows I can get invested in. The early seasons of “Game of Thrones” were great, for instance, because you could theorize about the meanings behind every little thing. Like, what do those crazy spirals in “Game of Thrones” actually mean? And of course, we found out, oh, they mean nothing because the showrunners just never addressed it. No payoff is such a letdown. The “Game of Thrones” spirals were really just all my theories spiraling down into the toilet. For “Watchmen,” we’ve been promised a payoff by the show creators, but so far it’s TBD.
Erin: The show really is a mystery. The storytelling is really great, but I almost wish it wasn’t based on a graphic novel. It makes me think every little thing means something and that I need to find an answer to it, which can be a little annoying. Everyone is dissecting every little thing and I just want to enjoy the ride. I also wonder if I’d like it better if I could just stream the whole season over a weekend. I love a binge and this could work in that format, too.
Bill: Yeah, a downside to shows you can get invested in is you need to invest in them or else what the heck are you even doing. I like “Watchmen” and want to invest time in it. But sometimes it can feel a bit like work, and I mean other than this being my job.
So, Should You Watch It?
Erin: Absolutely. It’s a captivating show that taps into so many current conversations about our society, around race, policing and history, with an immense amount of intrigue. Plus, you can’t deny Regina King.
Bill: The show tackles race in a way that feels so relevant to right now and also showcases alien squid showers and lake babies that look like Lord Voldemort. I say, “Watch, man.”