I managed to take advantage of the HBO deal to watch their series Watchmen for free this weekend, in honor of Juneteenth (which, confidentially, I don’t honor… but that’s a story for another time).

Ozymandias, Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan, Nite Owl and Rorschach, by Dave GibbonsFirst, I’ll get this out of the way: Yes, Watchmen’s original creator Alan Moore didn’t approve of the series; but on the other hand, Moore has given his blanket disapproval to every non-comic treatment of his work (except one… V for Vendetta).  And considering how Moore has been equally hard on other creators’ characters, turnabout is fair play.  Deal, Alan.

That said, HBO’s Watchmen works.  It’s interesting that it was produced and written by Damon Lindelof, who helped give us Lost, the other series that depends a lot on time-jumping to tell its story, just like the original comic Watchmen.  That, and many of its visual aspects and photography, recalls Moore and Gibbons’ comic series and ties them together compositionally.

But thematically, the HBO series has found a different direction.  It opens years after the events of the original comic, the government is allowing Adrian Veidt’s original machinations to stand in order to keep control, and Doctor Manhattan may or may not still be on Mars.  But the story actually uses all that as more of a background, while it centers around the first costumed vigilante, Hooded Justice, who turns out to have been inspired by the events of the racially-charged and very not-fictional Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma… and here the story provides a significant twist on that character’s origin and his descendants.

Sister Night and Doctor ManhattanThematically, this is a family story, involving the characters from the original comic series and the newly-created descendants/survivors of the Greenwood Massacre, all still trying to create a better future, and how they are irrevocably intertwined.  These two families are brought together at the end, when essentially a new generation attempts to save the world from itself, in a method that appropriately recalls the plot of the original comic.

Though one particular element just seemed way out in left field—a sexual encounter between two of the heroes that seemed pointlessly shoehorned in—I had no trouble with any of the rest of the elements of the story. Plenty of it seemed odd… but given the source material, the oddness worked just fine. Still, I wouldn’t really recommend anyone see this who hasn’t read the original comic. (And no, seeing the movie isn’t a viable substitution for the comic. It’s just not.)

Still, the series’ production and aesthetic, and its treatment of the Greenwood historical context, was excellent, and earned it the accolades it’s received.  I’m aware that the highly-publicized Tulsa connection is strongly responsible for that, and probably the bulk of the audience it gained.  So be it.  When I first heard Lindelof was involved, I admit I was anxious; Lost started off well, but fell like a lead balloon by the end.  However, the HBO series was very well-crafted and (especially) concluded, making it far superior to Lost and its crap ending.  There’s a lot to HBO’s Watchmen; maybe a comic lover would’ve gotten more out of it, but that doesn’t lessen its value.