[Reading Time: 9-10 minutes]
This review discusses mature topics, including rape, murder, suicide, and hate crimes; and contains spoilers for the Watchmen comic, film, and TV series.
(1) Are interested in the analysis of film as a medium
(2) Enjoy nerdy examinations of storytelling
(3) Are unsure about the HBO series, either having watched some already or completely held off so far
…then I highly recommend listening to the first episode of The Official Watchmen Podcast (~1 hour listen, no login required).
I’ve mentioned that I haven’t been participating in the online conversation that is undoubtedly going on regarding the mysteries abound in Watchmen. But the very second I heard that there’s a podcast, I subscribed and downloaded immediately. No hesitation.
It’s an informal interview and discussion with HBO show creator and writer Damon Lindelof, who also co-created and co-wrote Lost, which itself had a podcast with Lindelof and co-producer Carlton Cuse.
Thousands of articles have been written about that show’s ending, Season Three’s alleged throwaway episodes, the importance of creators knowing (as much as reasonably possible) how many seasons they can expect to write and plan for, and the open discussion about whether a show should “have it all figured out” before we even see the pilot. I’m not here to discuss any of that, because it’s all been said a million times elsewhere, including my living room.
Whichever way you shake it, Lost was an absolute cultural phenomenon. The internet was entering its teenage years, and we collectively analyzed the hell out of that series, combing over every detail and easter egg, hoping for answers.
I DID participate in that internet discussion at the time. I listened to every single Lost podcast that ever released, and YES there is a website called Lostpedia. For your own sake, don’t spend too much time in that rabbit hole, but don’t be afraid to dip your toe in it. Maybe dip like four toes if you’re feeling frisky.
The podcast was also just fun and funny:
• Brokeback Mountain jokes
• ‘Hashing’ vs ‘Re-Hashing’ vs ‘Pre-Hashing”
• Same-sex ice dancing
• Season 7: The Zombie Season
• Biathlons (Skiing and rifle-shooting simultaneously)
• Holding each other’s hands
• Doing the podcast naked/not wearing pants
• Censored Rose and Bernard love scene
• Random humorous sound files, such as banjos
• A phone ringing in the background during a podcast
• Watching American Idol
• Subtextual Anxiety
• Referencing Hanukkah and Christmas
• Number of posts in the last 90 days
• Attempting to make Kris’ scripted suggestions sound natural
• Congratulating readers who point out production mistakes for getting a crew member fired
• “Ezra James Sharkington“
• Having Joop the orangutan explain the show’s mysteries deadpan-style should Lost be canceled
• Random actors’ trailers outside their window
• Their portmanteau fan-made name “Darlton” and other variants
• Only jerks say “whom”
I don’t really have any interest in hearing what other people have to say about the new Watchmen series — which YEAH is pretty incredible hubris and irony given that I am literally reviewing it right this second but HEY don’t tell me how to live my life. Once the series has concluded and I’ve written down any thoughts I may or may not have without outside influence, then I probably will.
But now that the first three episodes already have me absolutely hooked, I absolutely want to hear the artist’s interpretation of his own art. And I did.
(This is the first review of a podcast on Casual Trash. But buckle up: It’ll get even weirder in the future when I review Jimmy Fallon’s “Box of Lies” YouTube series, and Roko’s Basilisk. I have no idea what I’m doing with this website and that’s never gonna change.)
The first episode of the Watchmen podcast covers the first three episodes, and has its own spoiler policy and warning that it discusses. I found it to be a very intelligent discussion to listen to, and I recommend popping it in on your commute to work, morning jog, gym time, or whatever it is that employed people do.
This show is definitely Watchmen. But it’s also not at all what I expected. I guess I thought it would be like the film, but it really isn’t. The 2009 film adaptation of Alan Moore’s late-1980s graphic novel is what we would now classify as a “superhero movie,” whereas the TV series (is HBO considered TV?) feels more grounded in reality. It has superheroes in it, but it focuses heavily on character motivation, it doesn’t hold your hand nor leave you hanging with its references to the source material, and I can only think of a couple fight scenes off the top of my head.
There’s a hint of inherent camp in any superhero story. I’d define the spectrum by placing Adam West at one end, with Christian Bale at the other. The former was an overtly and explicitly camp Batman, while the latter was a gritty and realistic Batman brought to life by my favorite director Christopher Nolan (don’t @ me). I thoroughly enjoyed the former when I was a child, though I hilariously didn’t understand that it wasn’t taking itself seriously.
But that’s… kind of an intangible quality that I don’t hear discussed around modern superhero films. No matter how R-Rated you want to push films like Logan or Joker, they still have an element of camp, in that the superheroes are taken seriously within those universes. Nobody in a Spiderman movie is ever going to think Spiderman is silly for putting on a costume and fighting crime. It’s just accepted as normal. It’s what they do.
The original Watchmen graphic novel took that concept, made it more literal and explicit, and expanded it to the logical conclusions Alan Moore envisioned for such a society. Superheroes are “a given.” They are sometimes scorned, but NOT because they’re silly and childish, as we would consider them. (I mean, think about it. If you read an article tomorrow about a man in Oklahoma who wandered the streets at night in a mask and cape to intimidate would-be criminals, you would assume that person is vaguely mentally unstable, and you’d probably be correct.) Instead, superheroes are scorned in this universe more like a person in our world who is sympathetic to Black Lives Matter might feel generalized scorn toward police officers.
The book/comic is undebatably “gritty” and unquestionably “realistic,” but not in the exact same way as Christopher Nolan’s depictions. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is ‘gritty’ in that The Silhouette was fired from The Minutemen for being a lesbian (and murdered in a hate crime in the film adaptation). It’s ‘realistic’ in its examination of the personality disorders and/or trauma that you would expect to find behind the personal motivations of the various vigilante heroes/villains.
It’s both when it portrays sexual assault victims as sometimes continuing to have an ongoing sexual relationship with their attacker. That is a phenomenon in human psychology that would, to put it rudely, make for bad fiction writing. It feels illogical and irrational. It doesn’t make any intuitive sense in an intellectual vacuum. But it is a real, explainable, and logical defense mechanism that actually happens in real life. In a horribly twisted sense, it can feel safe for a victim to decide to sleep with someone who previously raped them.
The 2009 movie felt like it was more interested in creating a film adaptation of the comic series than in telling its own story. I personally loved the film, and still occasionally watch the extended edition. But I am sympathetic to the idea that parts of it felt like a bit of a cop-out. It was a “safe” adaptation of a book. Even though they technically wholly changed the ending (the Ozymandias plot to save the world features a totally different ‘monster’), it still felt as though the decision may have been made to be appealing to both a casual audience as well as fans of the original. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I prefer “remixes” (a term I did not coin myself) of source materials. I loved both Sherlock and Elementary, both of which reimagined the famous fictional detective in a distinctly modern context, and the latter of which cast Lucy Liu as Watson. Be bold and don’t be afraid to tell your own story.
HBO’s Watchmen is unquestionably a remix, while also technically a sequel.
As Lindelof discusses in the first podcast, he’s interested in telling a new story, while attempting to make a show that provokes the same adjectives ascribed to the graphic novel.
Honestly, just go listen to it if you’ve read this far into my review. Everything else that I want to type out here is much more intelligently put into words by the two cinematic legends in the audio discussion.
For example, it wasn’t until hearing Lindelof spell it out that I realized that the show is about a murder mystery, the victim of which is a flawed-and-beloved major character who is dead shortly after the series begins, who is also seemingly part of a much larger plot that is not immediately obvious. Just like the comics.
(I listened to the season one soundtrack on repeat while writing this, and now I definitely hear the Reznor. It is unmistakably the work of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It blended into the show so well that I hadn’t consciously noticed it at first until Wikipedia informed me they’d scored the series.)