Who watches the Watchmen? Not me, it turns out

So this month Hulu began streaming HBO’s WATCHMEN free; seizing the opportunity, I caught a couple of episodes. It’s not bad the way Devs was bad, but I didn’t feel the need to go past two episodes.

The film is set in the same universe as the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comics series but years after those events. Rorschach has inspired the fanatical Seventh Army anarchists into a relentless war on authority, particularly cops; protagonist Angela Abar (Regina King), like other cops, has to operate masked, her identity secret. Dr. Manhattan is on Mars somewhere; Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) is an old fart who in one scene burns a man to death in a re-enactment of Dr. Manhattan’s origin.

The cast is solid and there’s quite a bit I do like. The Tulsa massacre looms large in the backstory (Angela’s ancestors lived through it) and issues of race and resentment weave through the two episodes that I caught. So why aren’t I watching?

Well for one thing it’s the perennial problem of the modern age: there’s simply too much awesome TV.  It’s not as if skipping Watchmen means I’m stuck with Gilligan’s Island or Victorious; there are dozens of excellent shows I’m also not watching. Much as I don’t get excited about coming books these days, it’s hard to feel I must catch Watchmen or anything else. Plus, of course, quality is not the only factor: keeping up with the CW-verse or rewatching the old series Square Pegs on video appeals to me more than any number of arguably superior TV series.

Then again, with Damon Linkelof in charge of this one, I don’t know that it will be superior. I thought Lindelof’s Lost was a botched mess and I don’t want to commit to the remaining episodes of Watchmen only to discover Lindelof left as many plot arcs hanging as he did the previous series.

Then there’s the connection to Watchmen itself. Moore and Gibbons have been adamant that their series was completely self-contained: no sequels, no prequels, it said all that needed to be said. And that’s how it would have been had things happened as planned, with Moore and Gibbons regaining the rights once the collected Watchmen went out of print. But it never did (deservedly. It’s a classic that earned its praise) and so they never regained the rights. So inevitably we got a prequel series, Before Watchmen and now this sequel. That makes me a little guilty about watching it (I haven’t even bothered with Before Watchmen). More significantly, the TV series just doesn’t have enough of a connection to the series. Despite the name references, this could as easily be an unrelated dystopia with the sovereign citizens militia movement committing the killings. Much like Exit Stage Left and A Study in Honor, the connection to the source material is too tangential to work for me.

And last but not least, there’s the whole masked cop thing. Just as opening with the Tulsa bombing of a century ago has added resonance in the current policing debate, so does the idea of cops going masked and hiding their identities because of fears of anti-police violence. Trouble is, it’s resonant the wrong way: we now have masked, unidentified cops on the streets and loud complaints about cops being persecuted and I simply can’t buy a world where cops concealing their identities is a good thing.

So I will stick with the original series, thank you.

#SFWApro. Covers by Dave Gibbons, all rights remain with current holder.

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