Jacob Ming-Trent

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) 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) 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.

Watchmen (2019) s01e01 – It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice

The only times “Watchmen” doesn’t feel calculated are when you can’t imagine the shot as a David Gibbons comic panel. Every couple minutes you can feel how the sequence of shots would feel as a Watchmen comic, showing how just because DC Comics could never figure out how to do it without the original creators doesn’t mean episode director Nicole Kassell and show creator Damon Lindelof can’t figure out how to do it while adapting it to another medium. Though, to be fair, the secret might be in adapting it. Especially since the show creators don’t just have decades of comic book adaptation tropes to avoid they’ve also got the actual Watchmen: The Movie as one hell of an example of terrible Watchmen adapting.

The show figures out what the movie couldn’t, primarily in terms of acting (get good actors and then get good performances out of them) and come up with a sound design not focused around selling a soundtrack album. “Watchmen: Episode 1” often sounds a little like an eighties John Carpenter movie, just with less synth. It’s disquieting in all the right ways.

In fact, there’s nothing the show does wrong but only because it’s positioned itself rather securely. Its ambitions are only in delivering itself as a product. “Watchmen” doesn’t allow itself performance anxiety, just a base execution anxiety. The show doesn’t worry about giving stars Regina King and Don Johnson great parts, it just worries about never giving them bad ones. It also gives Johnson Frances Fisher for a wife, which does a lot of immediate character development. Everyone else is background, even Tim Blake Nelson who seems like he’ll be great as the thing progress. So far Yahya Abdul-Mateen II—as King’s homemaker husband—is perfectly fine, which I was initially worried about because he was so bad in Aquaman. But, no, having a director who cares about acting helps.

The only Watchmen comic character to show up so far is probably Jeremy Irons as Ozymandias. Probably because they’re teasing it. “Watchmen: The TV Show” might try to get away with not explaining all the pertinent history. Lindelof has utterly changed the context—the show’s set in 2019 in the Watchmen: The Comic Book universe, some thirty years after the events, with Robert Redford being president for thirty years (vs. Nixon) and having gotten reparations through, which has led to a Rorschach-inspired white supremacist organization. So in “Watchmen: The TV Show” universe it takes actual reparations (and Black people apparently not having to pay taxes) to get white men so steamed up but in reality it only took a Black president, which would make for great, pseudo-intellectual water cooler talk, which is what “Watchmen” is sort of all about.

Lindelof, Kassell, and everyone else do their corporate overlords great service with the show… they’ve finally turned Watchmen into a crossover property, something not a single DC Comics creator could do.

Also, given the Black Wall Street massacre finally getting mainstream coverage… can we stop listening to white centrists from Oklahoma yet?

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