‘Watchmen’: What Critics Are Saying About the New HBO Series
Few graphic novels in history have been as influential or revered as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Previously made into a divisive feature film back in 2009, its story serves as a brilliant deconstruction of the superhero myth but also presents a definitive conclusion.
So when news of HBO’s Watchmen TV series broke, fans were curious to see how creator Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) would build on the source material. Now that the show has premiered, let’s take a look at what critics are saying.
‘Watchmen’ successfully builds on the graphic novel
Watchmen‘s series premiere earned a solid, if unremarkable, 1.5 million viewers across all platforms. It also turned in the highest digital numbers for a series debut since Westworld premiered in 2016. We’re not sure how the show will fare long-term, but if nothing else, it’s shaping up to be a critical favorite.
Chris Evangelista of Slashfilm calls it “one of this year’s most compelling shows.” HBO’s Watchmen, he said, “(captures) the superhero deconstruction elements that stood out in Moore and Gibbons’ work while also expanding on their world-building.”
Meanwhile, over at The Hollywood Reporter, Tim Goodman believes that the show will manage to appeal to both fans of the 1986 graphic novel and more casual viewers. “Ultimately, getting into the minutiae will be for uber-fans,” Goodman said. “Everybody else will probably just roll with the joyfully creative explosion of weirdness that sits within.”
Importantly, HBO’s Watchmen distinguishes itself from both the comics and the film adaptation. According to Patrick Melrose at Comic Book Resources, “Lindelof’s Watchmen is bold, creative, and challenging, maintaining a faithfulness to the source material — or its spirit, at least — without being overly reverential (we’re looking at you, Zack Snyder).”
Regina King is on the road to an Emmy
In keeping with the narrative structure of Moore’s work, this Watchmen too is an ensemble piece. As Kelly Lawler of USA Today points out, “The strength of Watchmen is its talented cast – which also includes Don Johnson, Hong Chau and Tim Blake Nelson. Like Lost, the best episodes are character-driven and laden with flashbacks.”
While the cast as a whole is earning praise, critics are singling out the stellar work of recent Oscar winner Regina King as Detective Angela Abar. “King is nothing short of amazing,” writes Ben Travers of IndieWire. “Yes, she’s got an Oscar and three Emmys, but she puts even more range on display in a turn that effortlessly pivots between invulnerable and vulnerable.”
In many ways, King’s role is the heart of the show, creating the prism through which viewers take in Watchmen. “Though an ensemble piece, the story always circles back to Angela,” Keith Phipps of TV Guide said, “and King plays her beautifully as a woman determined to work for justice who has to continually reevaluate what that means.”
Audiences don’t necessarily feel the same way
This Watchmen takes place in an alternate 2019 — one without social media — and uses the Tulsa race riots as a jumping-off point. But it is loaded with just as much political commentary as previous iterations. As such, the series was always likely to prove controversial among general audiences.
The series premiere proved to be the latest bit of entertainment to divide audiences and critics right down the middle. On Rotten Tomatoes, Watchmen holds strong with critics at 96 percent Fresh. Audiences, on the other hand, are less enthusiastic, giving the series just a 45 percent positive rating.
Perhaps this disparity will work itself out over the coming weeks. After all, critics received several episodes at once. Given the dense material in Watchmen, the show will certainly benefit from a big-picture view of its story. Then again, Lindelof’s work has a history of frustrating audiences.
We’ll know in time if Watchmen has the staying power critics are hoping it does.