HBO has been a solid home for prestige television ever since it premiered its landmark show “The Sopranos” in 1999. However when the network announced their most successful (debatable, of course) series “Game of Thrones” would come to an end in early 2019, viewers were worried that the next great slate of content that would follow wouldn’t be as monumental or significant as the medieval fantasy epic. 

Alas, we were wrong. No one could have thought that when Damon Lindelof announced he’d be adapting the seminal graphic novel “Watchmen” for television, he would have provided us with the most timely, most progressive, piece of entertainment of the 21st century. The series, which ended its first season last Sunday, is described as a “remix” of the graphic novel, which pit masked vigilantes against Cold War paranoia in the United States in the 1980s. In developing the series, Lindelof wanted to expand on the world of the graphic novel, and simply switched out Cold War paranoia with what’s plaguing the country today: racism. 

It sounds “been there done that,” yet the science fiction elements (a blue man living on Mars, for one) only add to the series’s theme: that racism is systemic and institutionalized and near inevitable, even when you have an alternate timeline where masked vigilantes roam the streets and Robert Redford is president. This isn’t to say we have no hope (although there are some bleak moments), but rather it’s an observation that violent protests and private citizens going rogue won’t solve anything.

Set 35 years after the events of the graphic novel, where a member of the Watchmen vigilante group planned a fake terrorist attack on Manhattan to essentially distract the United Nations from starting a nuclear war, masked vigilantes are a thing of the past, social media doesn’t exist, and yes, Oscar winning actor and director Robert Redford is President of the United States. One element of the graphic novel was the diary of Watchmen member Rorshach, an anarchist who continued to moonlight as a vigilante even after they were outlawed. Rorshach sends his diary to the papers before he dies, and his ideologies and values become a manifesto for a white supremacy group, which brings us to the events that lead into the pilot for the series. 

Set in Tulsa, OK (appropriately so, especially when considering the series establishes ties with the infamous race riots in 1921, known as the Black Wall Street Massacre), members of the Tulsa police department are left no choice but to mask themselves, literally, to protect themselves from the Seventh Kavalry, a white supremacist which has waged war against law enforcement. Angela Abar (played by Oscar and Emmy winner Regina King), is a police woman with the Tulsa PD who uncovers a conspiracy theory about vigilantism while investigating the murder of her superior (Don Johnson).

As typical with the subject matter, the series tackles the aggressive fight between the left and the right, and although it’s an alt reality, the pop cultural references pertaining to that world starkly mirror our own. It’s a very thin line that on paper does not work, but Lindelof, who rose to fame with “Lost,” clearly isn’t just another television showrunner.

By Michael Jacobo

Photo Credit: HBO