HBO

Bad Education (2019, Cory Finley)

Bad Education is the story of a junior in high school (Geraldine Viswanathan) uncovering the biggest school embezzlement case in United States history, something like $12 million dollars. Only it’s not Viswanathan’s movie. It’s Hugh Jackman’s movie, which makes sense because Hugh Jackman’s great in it. Not transcendent, but he’s really good. He can’t be transcendent because Finley’s direction and particularly Mike Makowsky’s script… it doesn’t let him be. Jackman’s got to be the star but can’t be the protagonist, can’t even be the main character, even though—in its final stumble—the film tries hard to force it for the postscript.

It’s disappointing, but the whole third act’s disappointing so, while maybe a surprise, not an unpredictable one.

Also a bigger star in the movie than Viswanathan is Allison Janney. She plays school district superintendent Jackman’s assistant superintendent. The one who handles all the money. Janney and Jackman are excellent together so it’s really too bad when they don’t get to have any more scenes together. Unlike everyone else Jackman plays off—school board president Ray Romano, accountant Jeremy Shamos, boyfriend (and former student, but we’ll get to this one in a bit) Rafael Casal, and then partner of thirty-three years Stephen Spinella, Jackman doesn’t bullshit Janney, so you get some insight into the character in their interactions. Because the rest of the time you’re just watching to see if Jackman’s going to turn out to be the sociopath he seems destined to turn out to be.

Plus… they make Janney sympathetic. She’s got genuine nice guy husband Ray Abruzzo looking out for her and if he loves her, she can’t be all bad. Right? Meanwhile, the film introduces Jackman being gay after him hooking up with former student Casal (who he coincidentally meets while at a conference). It makes Jackman look like a creepy closeted teacher—even giving him an apparently fake dead wife—when, in actuality, the Casal romance seems the most honest look we’re getting at Jackman. It’s humanizing, even as the movie presents manipulatively.

Compounding it being problematic is apparently it’s all fictitious; yes, the real guy was gay, yes, he had a long-term relationship, but he never hooked up with a student or faked having a dead wife. So… odd choice, bad choice, especially since when it doesn’t pan out at all it leaves Jackman’s only character development subplot unresolved.

Ditto some of the stuff about Jackman as educator, which might be hard to play—as it involves Viswanathan (Jackman’s encouragement is what gives her the self-confidence to dig as a school paper reporter)–and there’s a scene where Jackman kind of threatens Viswanathan and Finley doesn’t direct it well. Finley’s constantly showcasing Jackman when the attention should be somewhere else. It’s disappointing. Especially after it seems like Finley’s seemingly gotten past some of the problems and adjusted the narrative distance, only for him to fall back into the same techniques.

Good supporting performances from Shamos and Romano. Janney’s great. Not much of a part but she’s great. Hari Dhillon’s occasionally in it as Viswanathan’s dad. He’s good.

It’s simultaneously not creative enough and too creative while doing the docudrama thing. Finley gets good and better performances from the cast and his composition’s… fine, but his direction holds back the character development. And the script’s already got problems with it. Someone needs to be invested in the characters, not unfolding the story. Someone besides the actors.

Bad Education’s pretty good considering it’s all over the place.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Cory Finley; screenplay by Mike Makowsky, based on an article by Robert Kolker; director of photography, Lyle Vincent; edited by Louise Ford; music by Michael Abels; production designer, Meredith Lippincott; costume designer, Alex Bovaird; produced by Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Julia Lebedev, Makowsky, Oren Moverman, and Eddie Vaisman; aired by Home Box Office.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Frank Tassone), Allison Janney (Pam Gluckin), Ray Romano (Big Bob Spicer), Geraldine Viswanathan (Rachel Bhargava), Alex Wolff (Nick Fleischman), Rafael Casal (Kyle Contreras), Annaleigh Ashford (Jenny Aquila), Hari Dhillon (David Bhargava), Ray Abruzzo (Howard Gluckin), Stephen Spinella (Tom Tuggiero), Jeremy Shamos (Phil Metzger), and Welker White (Mary Ann).


In the Gloaming (1997, Christopher Reeve)

In the Gloaming is a qualified success. If you’re trying to go for humanizing a guy dying of AIDS while his upper middle class White yuppie family is slow to realize he’s a dying person who they probably ought not to avoid because they’ll regret it… it does that job. Gloaming is an hour-long HBO movie, based on a New Yorker story, all set in and around Glenn Close and David Strathairn’s picture perfect home in Westchester County, New York. Straithairn presumably works in the city, but it’s never actually clear. Doesn’t really matter. Just they’ve got enough money to have a gorgeous house but no servants.

And son Robert Sean Leonard has come home to die.

The film’s a series of what you know the filmmakers would prefer you think of as vignettes, as Close bonds with Leonard while Strathairn gets pissy. Close has to overcome the fear she’s responsibility for Leonard being gay because she was nice to him as a kid. She wasn’t as nice to his sister, Bridget Fonda, who grew up to be too much of a yuppie even for Close, off married with child, but the son and husband don’t come around because AIDS is gross and so’s Leonard being gay. But it’s okay because Fonda’s going to cry when he’s dead? Maybe. Not resolved. The vignettes are more like clips of the character development without any follow-up. Like when Strathairn, finally coming to terms with Leonard’s impending death, thinks it’s a good time to go for some martial relations with Close. No follow-up on that one.

Plus Whoopi Goldberg’s just around as the nurse, who eventually makes Close feel better about herself.

The film’s… comprised. Screenwriter Will Scheffer does not have the chops to make the strained manners of the bourgeois somehow say more than if Strathairn actually sat down and had a conversation with Leonard. They talk a lot about how it’s going to happen, then never does. Because Strathairn’s a terrible guy, even though he grows tomatoes for Close to cook him even though he doesn’t like tomatoes much. But we’ve got to understand Strathairn’s position–he just wanted what must be a macho man in Westchester County 1997, a tennis playing gardener man. Instead he got son Leonard, who went off to Berkeley and became gay. Meanwhile, why doesn’t anyone love Fonda enough, she’s doing her part, working full-time and wearing pantsuits and being mean to her own son so he doesn’t turn out gay.

Yes, Gloaming is from 1997. Yes, it’s from HBO. Yes, it’s from a New Yorker story (but 1997 New Yorker so… I mean… right?). But it has a lot it’s not willing to address. Scared to address. Leaving Strathairn, Fonda, and Goldberg with somewhat pointless parts. Fonda’s scary good as the shittiest human being and Goldberg’s at least likable. Strathairn’s just tiresome. He’s a one note caricature, with some “details” thrown in to round him. Doesn’t work.

So after two paragraphs dunking on it, why is In the Gloaming a qualified success?

Because the stuff with Leonard and Close, as they bond and work through his imminent mortality—mind you, they don’t get real character development in the script because of that vignette structure–it’s great work from Close and Leonard. The script limits them, sure. But Reeve works the hell out of their scenes together. And it resolves their relationship just right. Then ruins it with the actual last scene, which is an eye-roll and a half.

But Leonard and Close. They’re real good. They do so much with… not so little, but so… comprised a material. They refuse to let it limit their performances, which is cool.

Reeve’s direction is fine. He likes crane shots and doesn’t get to do enough of them. Good photography from Frederick Elmes. David Ray’s editing is a little too hurried, which is strange because of the the oddly manipulative nature montages–it’s like HBO is slamming their affluent viewers over the head with, “It could be your sons too, White women ages 45-55 who like Glenn Close!”—but then Ray’s got no sense of cutting when it comes to the dialogue scenes.

It’s like Reeve tried to direct it as a stage adaptation but without the play backbone.

Very heavily Scottish-influenced Dave Grusin score, which is weird (and figures into the plot); it’s a good score, it’s just a lot.

But it’s definitely a missed opportunity overall. It’s aged like flat root beer.

So, technically, earnestly, but unenthusiastically:

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Reeve; teleplay by Will Scheffer, based on a story by Alice Elliott Dark; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by David Ray; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Andrew Jackness; costume designer, Jane Greenwood; produced by Nellie Nugiel; aired by HBO.

Starring Glenn Close (Janet), Robert Sean Leonard (Danny), David Strathairn (Martin), Bridget Fonda (Anne), and Whoopi Goldberg (Myrna).


Watchmen (2019) s01e09 – See How They Fly

I’ve been trying to gin up enthusiasm to write about this “Watchmen” finale all day. Though, if I think hard enough, I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with a compliment. Something like… thanks to “Watchmen: The Series,” Robert Wisdom’s most… unappreciative recent casting is no longer “The Alienist.” Wisdom shows up in this episode as the newspaper vendor who gets to do a newspaper vendor stand-in for the end of the world (again), though this time he gets paired with Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons).

And, I guess if I’m continuing on the qualified compliments… Irons is a lot better this episode than expected. Sure, it’s because Hong Chau is not, but it’s not like Chau is James Wolk or something. Wolk is truly godawful. Chau’s just disappointing.

Jolie Hoang-Rappaport’s still good as Chau’s assistant though. “Watchmen: The HBO Event Mini-Series”’s successes are few and few between. Cherish them. Even if they don’t make the viewing experience any less ponderous. Though, yeah, if you’re willing to let “Watchmen” get away with a lousy Clair de Lune accompaniment, maybe you’re going to let it get away with a 2001 rip-off. I mean, after the Schindler’s List thing, doing an obvious 2001 callback… well, no, the former is just an excruciatingly cynical eye-roll, the latter is actually comically godawful.

But if you’re willing to cut “Watchmen” that amount of slack already… who cares if the ending is an intentional cop-out, but before that cop-out lazy and trite. I mean, at least the original score functions like an old John Carpenter score again?

I do like how little respect the show has for its audience, when it draws attention to things and tells the viewer to pay attention, then does a flashback anyway because it doesn’t trust them to pay attention. Just like Watchmen the comic. As well as short-changing the entire cast. Because Watchmen the comic did the… oops, no. No, it did not.

The show uses some cheap tricks to get things done in the episode, which “corrects” the ending of the original series. Or something.

If Damon Lindelof had any gumption, he would’ve done a show about trying to adapt Watchmen and why everyone fails at it and sequelizing it. Or do something about how DC and Warner Bros. screwed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, lying to them for years. Not to mention propping up the Watchmen trade sales while waiting for Hollywood to figure out how to exploit the property.

But he doesn’t. Because Lindelof’s got no gumption. No spoilers but he’s a lot more Return of the Jedi-era George Lucas than anything else… which makes him perfect for a “Disney Star Wars” show.

I think the most disappointing thing is I really thought the show was going to give Lou Gossett Jr. a great mainstream role.

It does not. But it gives him even less of one than expected. And expectations have been dwindling for a while.

As for Regina King… she doesn’t make it worth watching, which is a travesty. It wastes her. Completely.

Back when the Watchmen movie came out a friend who I don’t think had read the comic said it (the movie) proved you could do a different kind of superhero narrative, even if Watchmen didn’t do it successfully. The TV show doesn’t even reach that level; it doesn’t prove its conceptual case, much less do it successfully. It really does make me wonder how people experience reading the comic book, because clearly they’re getting something very different from it than I ever do.

All that said, I really hope I remember not to get roped into Season Two in a few years after they say they’re not doing another season then do another season a little later than expected; maybe an HBO Max exclusive.

A sellout’s adaptation of Watchmen needs the sellout Alan Moore and Damon Lindelof is not the sellout Alan Moore. I mean, have you ever read a Damon Lindelof comic book? They’re terrible. Like his TV shows. Sellouts can make good sellout product, which Lindelof utterly fails at doing here.

Watchmen (2019) s01e08 – A God Walks into Abar

This episode of “Watchmen” gets, quite nicely, to the heart of the matter. As the episode goes through its meme-ification of Dr. Manhattan (albeit prestige HBO series starring recent Academy Award-winner Regina King memes), where King and Dr. Manhattan—who’s always visibly obscured when he’s not assuming the appearance of his surprise reveal identity—sit and talk (he walks into a bar to find her, her name’s Abar, it’s… really dumb writing) and there’s not just no chemistry between King and the disembodied voice in the performances, there’s none in the direction or the script. More on Nicole Kassell’s direction in a bit.

But in general, the episode reveals that great conundrum of Watchmen, i.e., what the hell do people who like terrible things like “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” like about Watchmen the comic book and is it the same thing as people who don’t have terrible taste and, if so, where’s the disconnect. I get the show is mimicking Alan Moore’s narrative devices for Dr. Manhattan only doing them shitty and nonsensically on television but so what. Damon Lindelof’s story for the show is basically the same as what they did in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; you, fanboy turned show runner, can’t imagine what comes next so you just regurgitate the source material and package it in a new shiny, then stir the vomit for nine episodes.

“Watchmen” goes the extra mile of adding the racial subtext so it can claim some indisputable seriousness but… no. Really no.

This episode reveals not just the inevitable creative bankruptcy of the project, which—frankly—has already been laid bare (so I guess this episode just revels in that shiny bucket of puke), but also how little scope Lindelof had for it. Less, arguably, than any other Watchmen spin-off. Insert eye-roll emoji.

Oh, right, Kassell. So besides the not great direction between King and Dr. Manhattan on their various encounters, there’s also the Regina King with an automatic weapon taking out white supremacists action sequence, which the show sets up—in dialogue—to be some spectacular action sequence.

It is not. It’s not incompetent, but it’s also not any good. It’s long enough to get boring, boring enough to wonder why it isn’t better directed, better choreographed, better written. “Watchmen” manages to stay out of the incompetent—the actor playing Dr. Manhattan does way better than he should, all things considered (his scene with Jeremy Irons presents the first sympathetic Irons in a while, because the show reveals the bad Irons ideas aren’t Irons’s), even if it comes at the expense of King, who just got the show taken away from her permanently (she’s now an entirely unreliable narrator)—but it’s always in the inept.

At least since the third episode or whatever.

I’m so glad no one listened to me when I said watch the show after the first episode. I’d be so embarrassed.

Watchmen (2019) s01e07 – An Almost Religious Awe

Seriously, they couldn’t come up with anything better? This episode has a bunch of reveals and every time it’s… really, this reveal is the best thing presumably well-paid writers could come up with. Worse, it starts like it’s going to be a Regina King episode and therefore safe but… no. King doesn’t get her own memory flashback episode to herself, she has to share it with the regular cast because… it’s unclear. I don’t think I’ve used this many ellipses for effect in the same paragraph in a long time. Because, I suppose, nothing’s deserved it. But “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series?” Seriously… they couldn’t come up with anything better?

Why even bother.

King doesn’t even get the biggest shaft it turns out. Jean Smart’s experienced vigilante turned experienced FBI agent is a numbskull who walks into very obvious traps. It was already a pointlessly thin part in a vanity series but it gets even worse this episode. Pretty much everyone gets worse this episode.

Like Hong Chau; she’s not good this episode, partially because it all hinges on a mystery involving Lou Gossett Jr. but also because she’s being super-secretive with impromptu patient King. See, even though Gossett was helping Chau bring about whatever end of the world type thing she’s planning on, he didn’t have a timeline for King taking his memory pills so they were unprepared for her to need medical help.

“Watchmen” is full of logic holes, narrative shortcuts, and all sorts of storytelling laziness. It’s exactly what it appears to be.

The best part of the episode is how Jeremy Irons, now on trial by his clones, only gets a line. He doesn’t deliver it well—Irons’s gruff American thing is a wee tiring after thirty years of it—but at least it’s only one line.

The episode ends on what could be considered a big cliffhanger but only if there were any reason to be invested in the show other than morbid curiosity or intellectual self-loathing.

It’s nowhere near as offensive as last episode—though the scene of older white women Smart and Francis Fisher sitting around and talking about being a Black man who has to become a white superhero to find justice is a little ick, especially with how poorly the scene’s executed—but it’s still pretty bad. The waste of King, the waste of Faithe Herman as young King… at least the show’s almost over. Soon it’ll just be a remembered viewing regret.

Really good performances in the supporting cast—Valeri Ross, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jolie Hoang-Rappaport—just make you sorry for them, not happy they got screen time.

Though I’m finally curious why Jessica Camacho is in so little of the series. Did her part get cut before or after they shot it….

Watchmen (2019) s01e06 – This Extraordinary Being

If it were my choice, I’d stop watching Watchmen: The HBO Event Series with this episode. Unfortunately I’m watching it as a social thing so I can’t get out of it. I suppose I could sleep through the rest, but then I wouldn’t be able to shit on it in a post. Because this episode is where Watchmen earns a real “shit on it” response. The show finally gets around to revealing more information from the first episode—we find out about Don Johnson too, and Lou Gossett Jr., even though the way Regina King finds out about Gossett is by taking the memory pills he had made in Strange Days, which means he had some more made after the first episode and after she held him captive because he’s got a really weird selection of memories to share with her.

The scene where Gossett sits around and picks the memories is far more interesting than anything in the episode.

So this episode recons the original comic and makes Hooded Justice, who never got unmasked in the comic and was the sullen top in a relationship with Captain Metropolis (played here by Jake McDorman), is actually a Black man (Jovan Adepo, who’d be better if he weren’t always turning into Regina King for what they must think is effect) and wearing white makeup around his eyes, fooling the world (but not McDorman) as he fights crime. He’s fighting crime because he’s got a lot of anger built up from surviving the bombing of Black Wall Street in Tulsa. His wife Danielle Deadwyler, who starts as Lois Lane and ends up emotionally abused housewife #2, is the baby girl he rescued. So… lots to unpack and the episode doesn’t do any of it. Instead, it’s all about how McDorman doesn’t care about Adepo fighting the Klan, who use mind control to incite race riots in New York City, instead wanting to fight made up villains like Moloch the Mystic and fool around with Adepo. Though they’ve got zero chemistry with each other. Another opportunity dashed. Because it’s a bullshit show. There’s even a thing where Adepo realizes he’s basically Superman as Hooded Justice (dying world—Black Wall Street—loving parents, one survivor). Only he’s Superman if Superman then married Supergirl. Knowing she’s his cousin. Though Deadwyler’s not his blood relation. But it seems close. He like, found her again after whatever happened to them after Tulsa. There’s a significant age difference and if they reunite later… why not show it instead of turn them into caricatures.

I can deal with Watchmen being craven. The whole venture’s craven and obvious. But it at least needs to be committed to its own bullshit. It needs to be high on its own supply.

It’s another shitty Watchmen sequel, though it’s really fallen apart. It’s gotten worse. It’s disappointed. It’s wasted its cast and whatnot. The first couple episodes were solid, intriguing even. Especially the first one. But this one? With the flashbacks all done in black and white… it doesn’t just not know how to make a comic book adaptation of Watchmen, it doesn’t even seem to know how to make a TV show. It doesn’t even have overconfident enthusiasm. It’s like it just drags.

But I don’t think there’s a Jeremy Irons appearance, which really helps things just from an acting standpoint. It’s embarrassing watching Irons hack it at this point.

Watchmen (2019) s01e05 – Little Fear of Lightning

Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted a Tim Blake Nelson “Watchmen” episode. And for my sins, they gave me one.

Turns out Nelson was in New York for the giant squid attack; as a youth he looked like a cheaper, slightly nerdier Tom Holland and was a Jehovah’s Witness out to preach last minute Jesus to the sinners in New Jersey. He’s in a funhouse when the squid teleports in, covering him in mirrors… which contributed to his origin story because “Watchmen” origin stories are really, really obvious. Though maybe we’ve just gone past where origin stories are going to be any good. “Seeing” the squid attack is all right, for a moment I wondered if Watchmen: The Movie would play any better with it cut in but no because the movie’s still shit and it’s just a faked CG shot pulling back from screaming teen Nelson in Jersey to New York City and the squid.

Turns out the squid attack becomes the subject matter for a 1993 Steven Spielberg film shot in black and white with a girl in a red coat being the only color element because, sure, fuck Schindler’s List, let’s just assume Spielberg’s actually as craven as Damon Lindelof. The Schindler’s List thing will be probably be “Watchmen”’s cheapest moment just because it’s not an Easter egg, they go in hard on explaining it because Lindelof doesn’t do subtle. Even when it seems like he’s going to do subtle, he turns it around and does obvious. In this episode too, at the end, when I was regretting saying nice things about the first couple episodes in particular how well they were directed, because this episode is terribly directed. Steph Green takes the obvious script and somehow makes it even more obvious, which is particularly bad since there are a handful of elements feigning subtly and she really doesn’t want to do anything subtle.

Nelson’s got a life changing experience as he uncovers some of the conspiracy… the pedestrian, contrived conspiracy (again, talking to Lindelof about comic books and what’s good about them must be a mind-numbing experience, doubtlessly even worse than reading one of his terrible comic books) so it ought to—theoretically—give Nelson some fodder as for his performance. Only it doesn’t because it’s so poorly handled. They do the thing where they refer to the opening flashback as one of Nelson’s memories, because the target audience is too stupid to remember forty minutes ago. It’s not condescending though; “Watchmen” isn’t technically superlative enough (anymore) to condescend.

Oh. And Jeremy Irons. So richest man in the world Jeremy Irons used shitty half-inch VHS to record his monologues to the future back in the eighties, making him the eighties equivalent of, you guessed it, a Republic serial villain. Also, for the flashback, they do light makeup on Irons, so he like a fit sixty year-old instead of his usual fit seventy year-old. Because… no de-aging budget? Unless it was a creative decision, which would make sense as there aren’t any good ones this episode.

Also what is the point in making Jean Smart such a useless character. It was always going to waste the character but it also wastes Smart. Though I suppose the only person who manages not to be wasted is Regina King, because she’s able to act past the writing and direction.

Though her writing is really bad this episode.

Watchmen (2019) s01e04 – If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

I’m not sure what would be a more unpleasant way to spend an hour, listening to “Watchmen”… “creator” Damon Lindelof talk about Alan Moore or listening to him talk about way too influential screenwriting professor Robert McKee. McKee has some profoundly insipid advice on writing and the creative process in general, which Lindelof seems to have imprinted on his DNA, if this show is any indication. Because this episode is all about the show’s “stakes.” Turns out they’re really low.

It starts with the reveal last episode’s OMG moment with the space junk falling out of the sky is actually a message for Regina King and not Dr. Manhattan still caring about vigilante turned Fed Jean Smart, which just teams up King and Smart, who have even less chemistry as strong women working together than they did as strong women not working together—most of it is the writing (starting last episode and continuing into this one, “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” is shaping up to be far more what one would expect than the first couple episodes). But then there’s also a draining of the import of Don Johnson’s secret Klan history. Of course he’s a racist in the Klan, he’s a white man in Oklahoma. What did King actually expect? It seems like it should be a problematic plot point but… it’s not. It also seems like it’d piss off the Oklahoma film office and the tax breaks but maybe they demanded any white man in Oklahoma be shown to be in the Klan.

Anyway. There’s a scene with Tim Blake Nelson, because all he gets are single scenes. It’s nice to see him out of costume since you can’t see him act in the costume. And he and King do have some solid rapport.

Much of the episode involves new player Lady Trieu (played by Hong Chau, and named liked Lindelof telling you how he’s better than Alan Moore would be worse than the McKee mansplain); she’s building some mysterious giant clock in rural Oklahoma because it’s all connected. She also knows Lou Gossett Jr., who it’s still nice to see in such a big production but it’s wasting his time. In some ways, wasting Gossett’s time is worse than wasting King’s time, since King will go on to good projects after this one. “Watchmen” could be it for Gossett and non-Christian movie projects.

What else… oh, Jeremy Irons. We get more about his situation. Lindelof and co-writer Christal Henry are all about revealing the weird stuff in Irons’s life, which is all just for shock value. Steampunk-y shock value. Eh.

At least Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is still good. And it’s not like King is ever not going to be excellent, she’s just wasting her time. Also… does Lindelof really think the tick tock clock motif is the most important thing from Watchmen? He did go to NYU film school back before it was clear NYU film school wasn’t actually going to produce many good, much less great, filmmakers… so… yes?

Watchmen (2019) s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

Watchmen (2019) s01e02 – Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

As good as “Watchmen” gets at dissecting the comic book, learning from its anatomy, figuring out how to adapt it to live action—though this episode is nowhere near as uncanny as the previous one with composition—the show, pardon my French, fucks with the viewer. Alan Moore comics don’t fuck with the reader, they explore and they reveal (without ever being about the reveals). “Watchmen: The TV Show” is all about narratively cheap but big budget cliffhangers. It’s not exactly frustrating or disappointing—because it’s HBO after all—but means whatever the show creatives learned from the comic… they didn’t learn enough. And “Watchmen: The TV Show” is going to suffer from it. This episode, written by Nick Cuse and show creator Damon Lindelof, is all about surprises, even when they should be obvious to the characters if not the audience.

“Watchmen: The TV Show,” like a TV show, is going all in on the money shot reveals, where it’s stage play Dr. Manhattan’s junk or the clone reveal or… the flashbacks to the cops getting attacked by the white supremacists. Turns out Regina King and husband Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he’s really the guy from Aquaman, I can’t believe it, he’s good in this show) didn’t adopt some white kids because it’s a better reality but because the kids are her dead partner’s kids. It’s One Good Cop. But without Michael Keaton and Rene Russo.

Makes you wonder how their Batman Forever would’ve been.

Anyway.

The show also reveals—again, the show’s exposition is all about the reveals too, whether it’s DNA tests or tough talking cops—the reparations are for victims of hate crimes or descendants of hate crimes. The show opens with a newsreel about the destruction of Black Wall Street. It’s not clear how Black Wall Street is going to figure in to the Watchmen aspect of the show, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good plot device and, actually, completely reasonable for big budget Watchmen fanfic. I don’t think Moore would’ve ever done it because Lindelof’s exploiting the idea whereas Moore never exploits things. So Tulsa because White people in Oklahoma are racist who aren’t ever going to take responsibility for their great-grandparents’ murderous racism so they Klan up to take on the federal government only with Rorschach masks. Kind of a big deal, but also something the show is happy to keep as ground situation, which is concerning. How seriously is “Watchmen” going to take this aspect of the story, which is the whole point of Regina King so don’t end up giving her a shit part.

Like Tim Blake Nelson. He’s maybe going to have a shit part. Or not even enough of a part to have a shit part. Don Johnson’s got some “say it isn’t so” reveals in this episode but you know he’s going to come out of it fine because Don Johnson can do amusing shit-stain.

All of a sudden I really want to watch Tin Cup, which isn’t out on Blu-ray, which is dumb.

Yeah, Nelson… Nelson’s either going to really pay off or he’s going to be a waste. He can be a waste in a few ways, but so far it’s unclear how he could pay off. “Watchmen: The Limited TV Series” is nine episodes; we’re almost a quarter done. There’s only so much time; the longer the show goes on more concerned with turning Easter eggs into plot points… the less it seems likely the show’s going to add up to anything. And there’s a very low bar here. “Watchmen” just has to not screw up its actors’ performances, it just can’t screw up the production design as far as the adaptation, it never actually has to be good. It just can’t be embarrassing. DC and Warner Bros. have been humiliating themselves on Watchmen adaptations for what seems like decades but really has only been eleven years.

King is shouldering the globe, but it’s far from steady.

It also doesn’t hurt, despite not great material, Lou Gossett Jr. is awesome.

Scroll to Top