A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Watchmen: The Day After. ALSO: The Crown trailer. AND: Amazing Race Australia contestants revealed
Always Be Watching is by Dan Barrett who asks who is always watching the watchers always?
I begin today’s newsletter with a focus on Watchmen. The series debuted yesterday on HBO (in the US, in Australia on Foxtel). If you’re immediately dismissive of it because of its comics/superhero roots, I suggest you reconsider your bias and check out what might be the most culturally-relevant show on TV in 2019…
My expectations were high, but I was really blown away by Watchmen. Honestly, I expected to have over-hyped it a bit in my head, so I was prepared to find myself sitting on the couch a bit under-whelmed, but likely find myself more drawn-in over the coming weeks.
Why was I so hyped about Watchmen? There’s 2 reasons:
The show is helmed by Damon Lindeloff. Both Lost and The Leftovers are TV series that completely upended expectation and completely redefined what could be achieved in their respective forms (for Lost it was broadcast TV, for The Leftovers it was reshaping the boundaries of what one could do within a prestige TV form). And from what we’ve seen so far of Watchmen, Lindeloff is again doing something very interesting.
The comic it is based on. In 1986 when the 12-issue comic was released, it changed the US comic book market. While there were adult-orientated comics around, and even some with strong literate considerations, this was a book that fused together superhero themes and concepts and applied them to a dense literary world. It’s a great read and upended a medium.
But really, there’s just one reason: Watchmen is a TV show that brought together a TV auteur who is known for redefining the medium with a property that is well understood to have redefined its medium. What might be the result of this union? Over the next 9 weeks we are going to find out.
If you haven’t read the comic before, understand that you don’t need to have read it to watch the show. The comic forms the foundation for the history of the world that we’re in. In essence it is like The Sopranos - there’s a lot of references to Tony’s dad and what he was up to 30 years before the start of the show, but you don’t need a deep understanding of that information to comprehend how it impacted on the show being watched.
If you think the show is about superheroes… it’s not really. Sophie Gilbert from The Atlantic on the core narrative drive of the show:
What Lindelof didn’t mention in his letter was the most striking thing he’s done with Watchmen, which is reorient this canonical story around a century of American racism. The first episode of Watchmen begins with a depiction of the 1921 Tulsa massacre (in which a prosperous black community was decimated by racist mob attacks) and ends with a body hanging from a tree. Rorschach is no longer a hero but the motif of a white-supremacist terrorist movement whose members wear ghostly white masks adorned with amorphous inkblots. Their goal, they state in a video released to the police, is to turn the streets of Tulsa “into gutters overflowing with liberal tears.” They call themselves the Seventh Kavalry. As the camera pans out on the mask-wearing member who’s speaking, it reveals that he’s not wearing a full-body costume, but an ordinary plaid shirt.
And speaking of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Watchmen has done a great job in creating awareness of the massacre.
I’ll admit that 2 minutes into the show I paused it to Google about it too. I’d never heard of it and quite clearly, I wasn’t alone.
There is a great explainer on it at the New York Times:
The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 receives scant mention in most history textbooks and some facts remain hazy — mystery persists about, for example, exactly how many people were killed and where they were buried. But there’s no question that it was one of the worst outbreaks of racial violence in American history: a horrific spree of murder, arson and looting inflicted by white residents upon the prosperous African-American community of Greenwood, followed by a shameless cover-up.
And this is what we can expect in the weeks ahead:
Is 1.5 million for Watchmen really that great though? Keeping in mind that these are overnight numbers that will grow in a not-insignificant number over the next few days - especially as word of mouth builds. Compare it with the ratings for Amazon’s The Boys. Reportedly 6 million people watched the first episode in its first 10 days of streaming, with an average of 4.1 million watching the entire season. This is as per Nielsen, who are now reporting on Amazon Prime Video viewing in the US.
This is very much an apples and oranges comparison though.
The trailer for season 3 of The Crown, returning to Netflix on Nov 17:
This new project for HBO Max sounds wild. Riverdale creator Robert Aguirre-Sacasa is behind The Shelley Society. The logline for the series:
The project follows a young Mary Shelley and a band of her fellow Romantics, including Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, as they battle supernatural threats, including the creature from Mary Shelley’s own “Frankenstein.”