With The Leftovers having wrapped its final season to wild critical acclaim, creator Damon Lindelof stuck around at HBO to develop a Watchmen TV series.
Yes, Watchmen is about to get the prestige cable drama that fans have wanted for as long as prestige cable drama has been a thing. Lindelof’s vision is apparently unrelated to the Watchmen series discussed by Zack Snyder (who directed the film version) and HBO back in 2015, but it’s not clear how far those particular talks got, anyway.
Whatever the level of trepidation we have surrounding this new project (and it wildly vacillates from moment to moment), we can now at least be certain that this isn’t a 12 hour long adaptation of the comic, nor a straight sequel. Perhaps more of the events of the comic will be explored in flashbacks as the show progresses, but right now, it doesn’t look or sound like anything we might have been expecting. And perhaps that is just the way it should be.
Watchmen TV series release date
HBO plans to start airing the new series on 20th October, and it will likely then debut on Sky Atlantic shortly after.
Watchmen TV series trailer
A new trailer arrived at San Diego Comic-Con which reveals a surprising amount of information, including the return of Dr. Manhattan! Take a look. And if you want a bit more check out this breakdown and analysis.
Watchmen TV series plot
Here’s the official synopsis…
Set in an alternate history where “superheroes” are treated as outlaws, this drama series from executive producer Damon Lindelof embraces the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel of the same name while attempting to break new ground of its own.
Damon Lindelof’s vision is apparently unrelated to the Watchmen series discussed by Zack Snyder (who directed the film version) and HBO back in 2015. It’s not clear how far those talks got, or what the actual plan for it was. According to Variety, the Lindelof version is “starting over from scratch” and has nothing to do with those previous discussions.
Lindelof, of course, is known for writing the likes of Lost, Prometheus, World War Z, Star Trek Into Darkness, Tomorrowland and – as we mentioned earlier – The Leftovers.
The big question, then, is just what will this new series be?
Lindelof offered some ambiguous answers in a five page open letter to fans posted on his Instagram. In it, he adopts a familiar, Watchmen-esque device of jumping around in timelines, telling simultaneously his story of his own introduction to and love for the source material, and his journey to becoming a showrunner for it. He also gives hints about what shape the series will take. It’s still a little obscure, but this is as close to a statement of intent as we get:
“We have no desire to ‘adapt’ the twelve issues Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons created thirty years ago,” Lindelof wrote. “Those issues are sacred ground and they will not be retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted.”
This is where things get a little murkier, though…
“They will, however, be remixed,” he continued. “Because the bass lines in those familiar tracks are just too good and we’d be fools not to sample them. Those original twelve issues are our Old Testament. When the New Testament came along it did not erase what came before it…it all happened. And so it will be with Watchmen. The Comedian died. Dan and Laurie fell in love. Ozymandias saved the world and Dr. Manhattan left it just after blowing Rorschach to pieces in the bitter cold of Antarctica. To be clear, Watchmen is canon. Just the way Mr. Moore wrote it, the way Mr. Gibbons drew it and the way the brilliant John Higgins coloured it.”
You’ll note that there’s not a word about the film adaptation in all of this. Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation has its defenders, and visually it’s certainly faithful enough to the comics, but it was admittedly limited by the constraints of a movie runtime. A TV series has considerably more freedom.
But, Lindelof also cautions “we are not making a ‘sequel’ either,” he wrote. “This story will be set in the world its creators painstakingly built…but in the tradition of the work that inspired it, this new story must be original…It must ask new questions and explore the world through a fresh lens. Most importantly, it must be contemporary.”
He goes on to point out that just as the original was a product of the 80s and the Reagan/Thatcher era, while this one “will resonate with the frequency of Trump and May and Putin.” It’s not an “end of the world” story, either.
Watchmen TV series cast
A big chunk of the main Watchmen cast has been revealed, and Regina King, who previously starred in Lindelof’s The Leftovers, will be the lead. She’ll be joined by Don Johnson (Miami Vice), Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother Where Art Thou?), Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer And A Gentleman), Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby) and Andrew Howard (Agents Of SHIELD).
Tom Mison (Sleepy Hollow) is on board, along with Francis Fisher (Titanic) and Jacob Ming-Trent (White Famous). Aquaman villain Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who plays Black Manta in the upcoming DC splashfest, has also joined the cast, alongside Sara Vickers (The Alienist).
We have learned a bit more about Jeremy Irons’ role in the puzzling new series, though. Deadline initially reported that the actor would feature as as “an aging and imperious lord of a British manor”, but The Hashtag Show has additionally reported that he’ll play a character known as the Blond Man, who is “highly intelligent” and “used to being obeyed and always correct.”
We known that Dr. Manhattan is back from the trailer, and Rorschach is no more if it follows the book. The Comedian? We’ll see. Lindelof did broach this subject a wee while back in an interview with Bookish (via Dark Horizons), however, and seemed to warn Watchmen fans that things would be taking…a turn:
“[Adapting] may be the right word, at the end of the day. Do you watch Fargo at all? I wouldn’t call Noah Hawley’s version of Fargo an adaptation because the movie exists inside of his world, and so everything that happened in the movie Fargo, it does precede the television show Fargo. So they find a bag of money in the first season, and you go, ‘Oh, that came from the movie.’
But it’s also, Noah is pulling from other areas of the Coen brothers’ canon, so it evokes like Lebowski, but it’s also his own thing. I think it’s widely known that Alan Moore does not want Watchmen to be adapted, so I’m playing a bit of a game of semantics here in saying, ‘I’m not adapting Watchmen!’
That’s the spirit of what he did with Watchmen in the first place. It’s not to take [anything from him]. He created this — it’s an original — but the basis for that world is on these other characters that DC had just bought from this comics company called Charlton. And he did rips on those characters.
But all of his other work that I love, whether it be Swamp Thing or an amazing Superman story called ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,’ and a great Batman story. It’s sort of like, the idea that he came in and told iconic stories with characters that he didn’t create, and has now turned around and said, ‘You’re not allowed to do that with the characters that I created.’ So I feel like his own hypocrisy has allowed me to defy all his. [laughs]
Watchmen TV series development
Lindelof attended a panel at Vulture Fest to chat about his forthcoming adaptation, explaining that when he was young, his father stoked the fire of his comic book obsession by taking him to various conventions.
“In the middle of the ’80s, he gave me the first issue of Watchmen and said, ‘This is probably too mature for you, but I think you can handle it.’ It crackled with energy.”
Despite some of the story elements going over his head at the ripe old age of 12, he admitted he has a somewhat “romantic” memory of it, and that’s part of why he’s become so involved with the project. “For a superhero junkie, I’ve never done a superhero movie or a superhero TV show, and now is the time.”
Lindelof later added that “The reason I’m doing this is because these are dangerous times and we need dangerous shows. What we think about superheroes is wrong. I’m all for Wonder Woman and Batman. I grew up on these characters. I love these characters. But we should not trust people who put on masks and say they are looking out for us. If you hide your face you are up to no good.”
Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons is certainly showing a greater level of enthusiasm for the upcoming TV series than we would imagine Alan Moore ever would. In a new interview with EW, Gibbons looked back on Snyder’s movie version, which was celebrating its 10-year anniversary – “Zack made a good movie, a flawed movie certainly, but with some moments of real genius and wonder” – and expressed a lot of positivity about Lindelof’s adaptation:
“I do know a little about it. I’ve had conversations with Damon, and I’ve read the screenplay for the pilot. I don’t think it’s my place to say too much about it, other than I found Damon’s approach to be really refreshing and exciting and unexpected. I don’t think it’s gonna be what people think it’s going to be. It certainly wasn’t what I imagined it to be. I think it’s extremely fresh. I’m really looking forward to seeing it on the screen.”
It doesn’t look like we’re in for something tired, at least. “I’ve been resistant to the comic book prequels and sequels, but what Damon’s doing is not that at all, it’s very far away from that. While it’s very reverential and true to the source material (by which I mean the Watchmen graphic novel that Alan and I did), it’s not retreading the same ground, it’s not a reinterpretation of it. It approaches it in a completely unexpected way.”
Gibbons also went on to compare the new Watchmen show with a certain series we can get behind.
“Grant Morrison did a thing with Multiversity, where he came up with some very fresh approaches to comic stories, and in one of them (Pax Americana, with Frank Quitely) they did something similar to Watchmen, but in a new way. I heartily applauded that. My feeling is that what Damon’s doing is like that, it’s not a retreading of something we already know, but it’s a fresh and unusual approach.”
This series really is a curiosity, and although it’s entirely possible that this whole thing will turn out to be a hot mess, we can already sense that we’re going to get sucked into it anyway.