Let’s get this out of the way up top: I’m not the world’s biggest “Watchmen” fan. I like the book for what it is, but it has become this sacred text that all other comics are judged against, and I hate that. I think it is a perfectly good, maybe even great, limited series that, for whatever reason, has permeated comics culture to an insane degree over the past thirty years.
The sheer amount of reverence that surrounds the book is the reason why Zack Snyder’s 2009 Watchmen was demonized for changing even the slightest details about the book. The reason that I didn’t like it, however, was that it attempted to just make a film version of the comic, with no artistic interpretation or creative vision beyond what was on the page. It was like going to see a tribute band play – if you want to hear the hits the way they were originally recorded, great. But why adapt something if you’re not going to make it stand out from the original work?
Last week, news broke that Damon Lindelof, co-creator/showrunner of LOST, fresh off his latest HBO project, The Leftovers, was in talks to bring a new “Watchmen” series to the network. While I do not need to see more Doctor Manhattan on screen (or in a comic – sorry, DC), I think that Lindelof may be able to do something really interesting with the project.
He may be able to give it a life past the end of the book.
Here’s the reality: there is almost no one out there who would be interested in a “Watchmen” TV series that hasn’t either read “Watchmen” or seen Watchmen. The book is the comic that just about everyone with even a remote interest in superhero comics has read. My wife, who has read, I believe, three superhero comics in her life, has read it. My boss, a 66 year old man who hasn’t read a floppy since the 50s, had it assigned to him in graduate school. It has cultural resonance beyond any other cape comic.
The film made $185 million dollars, and has been on cable, both premium and basic, for more than half a decade now. Watchmen even predated the mass closing of Blockbuster Video stores. Hell, both the book and the film are probably available at your public library right now, whether you live in a major city or the middle of nowhere. “Watchmen” is everywhere.
And so, because of that, a new touch needs to be brought to the property. No one has remade To Kill a Mockingbird since the 1962 film, in part because the film so perfectly captured Harper Lee’s novel. Say what you will about Watchmen, there’s no much from the comic that was left out that would really have enhanced the film (with two notable exceptions, which I will get to shortly). For most people, the reason they would want an adaptation of the book, at this point, would be to do a “better” job than Snyder did.
But unless “better” means include some of the non-narrative stuff in there, I don’t see how that can really be done. Sure, you can cast a better Ozymandias, but the rest of the cast was about as good as you could reasonably expect. You could bring back the squid at the end, but I don’t mind Snyder trying something new with the ending. But the one thing that Lindelof could do with a television series is give ample time to the ‘Black Freighter and/or ‘Under the Hood.’
Even then, however, there is limited shelf life for that. If the ‘Black Freighter’ was interspersed throughout the season, that could be fun, as could be an entire episode of ‘Under the Hood,’ or vice versa. But there’s only so much there. Sure, I guess you could include “Before Watchmen” stuff in flashbacks, but is anyone really clamoring for that? Non-linear is far easier to do on television, but with limited material to be non-linear with, I don’t see a clear path to greatness here.
To me, the only way to make a “Watchmen” show interesting is to do exactly what Lindelof did with The Leftovers. Minor spoilers for that series follow.Continued below
The Leftovers took Tom Perrotta’s novel and adapted it for the show’s first season. The season ends the way the novel ends, more or less, with most of the major story beats found in both. The second and third seasons, however, took entirely different paths, moving the show across the country (and, eventually, the world), got more supernatural, got somehow sadder, and took the characters, established by Perrotta in the novel, and pushed them into entirely new situations.
While, let’s be fair, any deviation from the holy gospel according to Moore and Gibbons will always draw some ire, I find an expanded story the only really plausible way to do this. You can’t decompress the 12 issues into 3 seasons of television. The rumor was that HBO saw this as its replacement for Game of Thrones, so you can’t exactly be content with a one and a done season, either. This has to be built for the long haul.
The ending of “Watchmen” doesn’t exactly lend itself to telling more stories like those found in the book itself, but it sets the characters in really interesting places. The Comedian and Rorschach are off the table, but Dan and Laurie are living under false names, Veidt is still the smartest man alive, and Doctor Manhattan is off-Earth, doing some crazy sci-fi shit. To me, following those threads are far more interesting than almost any other ‘season 2’ I can imagine.
In fact, I would gain 100% more respect for the show if it is a direct sequel to the Snyder movie. Just fucking go for it – no retelling, just picking up where it left off. I’ll even let Matthew Goode come back.
Because look, the purity is gone. The book has already been adapted, and it will be adapted again. There’s no reason to believe that if this series never pans out that this will be the death knell for Nite Owl on television. One day, To Kill a Mockingbird will be remade, and it will likely be terrible. There’s a better chance that this HBO series will be bad than the chance that it will succeed beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. The failure rate for this stuff is astounding.
So if it is going to be made at all, why not want it to be unique? At one point, Terry Gilliam – of Brazil and Twelve Monkeys – was attached to direct the “Watchmen” film – Gilliam’s film and Snyder’s would have been polar opposites, and I completely wish that Gilliam to do his gonzo, weird version. Hell, maybe Lindelof will hire Gilliam to direct the pilot. A boy can dream, can’t he?
If we are going to have to sit through another few hours of scratchy Rorschach voice and blue nuclear dick, let’s at least get something new out of it. I’ll even accept a “Bitch to be you” if it means we don’t have to tread over the same ground for 40 hours of television. I’ll even take a flash-sideways. Just please, Damon, pal, be cool.
Also, I’m totally available for a writer’s room gig on this. I’ll be pitching the weirdest shit you can imagine, and I’ll do it cheap.