Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) returns to HBO with his rendition of Watchmen, the first live-action television series adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ iconic graphic novel series. The original 12-issues told explored an alternate 1985 reality where America is on the brink of nuclear war.
The story kicks off after the mysterious murder of a vigilante known as The Comedian provokes his peers — a group of heroes including the inkblot mask-wearing Rorschach, the Batman-esque Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and otherworldly Dr. Manhattan — to come out of retirement to investigate the crime, leading them to an epic conflict with supervillain Ozymandias. All the while the Doomsday Clock continues ticking closer to midnight.
It’s 34 years later in HBO’s Watchmen and in this tale, both law enforcement and criminals hide behind masks. A white supremacist group in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has taken to using Rorschach’s iconic inkblot mask to further their own terrorist agenda and tensions are boiling over.
The series boasts a roster of heavy-hitting talent, including Leftovers alum Regina King as Detective Angela Abar, Jeremy Irons as Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias), Jean Smart as FBI Agent Laurie Blake (aka Silk Spectre), Don Johnson as Chief Judd Crawford, and Louis Gossett Jr. as Will Reeves.
Lindelof previously described his version of Watchmen as a remix — not a reboot — and revealed to EW that his series should be considered a sequel, acknowledging Moore and Gibbons’ comics as canon. Zack Snyder’s polarizing movie adaptation of the comics came out 10 years ago to mixed reviews — it has a 64% Tomatometer score on 306 reviews — leaving many die-hard fans disappointed. Will Lindelof’s take on the landmark tale fall into the style-over-substance trap, as well?
Here’s what critics are saying about the premiere episode of HBO’s Watchmen:
(Photo by Mark Hill/HBO)
Lindelof and his team have done the impossible – they’ve captured the superhero deconstruction elements that stood out in Moore and Gibbons’ work while also expanding on their world-building. The end result is destined to be one of the year’s most compelling shows.
– Chris Evangelista, SlashFilm
Hard to know where this will go, but the pilot is certainly dazzling and bold.
– Roger Catlin, rogercatlin.com
Ultimately, getting into the minutiae will be for uber fans. Everybody else will probably just roll with the joyfully creative explosion of weirdness that sits within Lindelof’s Watchmen.
– Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter
Watchmen doesn’t overdose on nostalgia, like so many franchise extensions in our reboot-soaked decade. It’s dangerous, and invigorating.
–Darren Franich, EW
Lindelof’s Watchmen is bold, creative and challenging, maintaining a faithfulness to the source material, or its spirit, at least, without being overly reverential (we’re looking at you, Zack Snyder).
– Kevin Melrose, CBR
Overall, Lindelof’s Watchmen embraces the spirit of the original comic with its stylish cynicism while attempting to erect a new organizing principle all its own, which will prove controversial to some.
– Brandon Katz, Observer
Though an ensemble piece, the story always circles back to Angela, and King plays her beautifully as a woman determined to work for justice who has to continually reevaluate what that means.
– Keith Phipps, TV Guide
The strength of Watchmen is its talented cast – which also includes Don Johnson, Hong Chau and Tim Blake Nelson. Like Lost, the best episodes are character-driven and laden with flashbacks.
– Kelly Lawler, USA Today
King is nothing short of amazing — yes, she’s got an Oscar and three Emmys, but she puts even more range on display in a turn that effortlessly pivots between invulnerable and vulnerable.
– Ben Travers, IndieWire
Irons and King crush every second (snarling or riffing quotable lines in perfect, GIF-able snippets), but they’re just part of a vast and talented ensemble that includes highlights like standoffish, totally believable child acting from Dylan Schombing and a new, delightful facet of Hong Chau.
– Jacob Oller, Paste Magazine
(Photo by Mark Hill/HBO)
Watchmen’s debut episode falls short of saying anything interesting or insightful about its subject matter, seemingly content to be a mirror of our society, albeit a seriously distorted one.
– Charles Pulliam-Moore, IO9
Watchmen holds the potential to reframe historical perspective and enduring societal truths by inviting us to a fastidiously detailed alternate America that still feels too close for comfort.
– Haleigh Foutch, Collider
That Watchmen finds within the graphic novel a story about modern race relations is both admirable and probably wrongheaded, an element that the show more successfully whispers than shouts about.
– Daniel D’Addario, Variety
Perhaps because it’s juggling so many ideas, the series feels muddled in its politics, and it’s hard not to yearn for a greater sense of urgency. Those drawbacks don’t entirely undermine Watchmen‘s pleasures, but they do blunt and distract from them.
– Brian Lowry, CNN
Watchmen premieres at 9 p.m. on Sunday, October 20 on HBO.