‘Watchmen’ reviews: Is HBO’s adaptation ‘the best new show of the fall’ or full of ‘messy hot takes’?

A decade after director Zack Snyder made a film version of the classic graphic novel “Watchmen” that its creator Alan Moore wanted nothing to do with comes an HBO TV version … that Moore wants nothing to do with. The comic book legend has famously avoided participating in the screen adaptations of his work, and apparently he was “not thrilled” at the prospect of another take on his deconstruction of superhero lore. But here it is anyway, premiering October 20. So are critics more enthusiastic about it than its creator?

As of this writing “Watchmen” has a MetaCritic score of 83 based on 20 reviews counted so far: 18 positive and 2 classified as mixed, but none of them outright negative. Meanwhile, Rotten Tomatoes rates films and TV shows using a pass/fail metric instead of a sliding scale of quality, and they rate the series as 91% fresh based on 32 reviews: 29 positive and 3 negative. The RT critics’ consensus says, “Bold and bristling, ‘Watchmen’ isn’t always easy viewing, but by adding new layers of cultural context and a host of complex characters it expertly builds on its source material to create an impressive identity of its own.”

Developed for television by Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers“), this isn’t a straight adaptation of the source material, which was set in an alternate history where vigilante superheroes rose, Richard Nixon never left office, and the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was on the brink of boiling over into World War III. Instead, this version of “Watchmen” is a continuation, set during 2019 but within the same alternate timeline the novel established.

The last time Lindelof adapted a book into a TV series (“The Leftovers”) he had the active participation of its author, Tom Perrotta, who co-created, produced and wrote for that show. But even with Moore’s disavowal, the “Watchmen” series is being called “frequently great” and “gorgeously realized” with “stellar performances,” “particularly from star Regina King and Jean Smart.” “Calling it the best new show of the fall feels too limiting,” but “your mileage may vary.”

But tackling the contemporary topics of white supremacy and policing in this context, is its message “somewhat muddied”? Is it a “hodgepodge of … messy, hot takes on incendiary subjects”? Even critics who love it admit that it might not be for everyone. It’s not for Moore. But will it be for you? Check out some of the reviews below and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow TV fans here in our forums.

Emily Todd VanDerWerff (Vox): “Particularly from its third episode on, ‘Watchmen’ is frequently great. It skillfully weds spectacle to intimacy … Calling it the best new show of the fall feels too limiting, because it’s trying to be so many things to so many people. It left me dizzy from its audacity, its delight, and its occasional lack of taste. Your mileage may vary.”

Danette Chavez (The A.V. Club): “But, 10 years after that missed opportunity, a ‘Watchmen’ series has come to HBO, bringing with it stellar performances, a potentially riveting deconstruction of racial inequality and policing in the United States, the desire to be many things at once (which is standard for creator Damon Lindelof), and Moore’s requisite disapproval.”

Kelly Lawler (USA Today): “This ‘Watchmen’ is a huge undertaking, a complex story with as many plot threads as a squid has tentacles (and yes, there’s a squid). Like the original, it has a lot to say, and is gorgeously realized with strong writing and performances, particularly from stars Regina King and Jean Smart. But its messaging is somewhat muddied … A show juggling so many elements always has the potential to come tumbling down.”

Kristi Turnquist (Oregonian): “Though Lindelof lavishes praise on Moore and the original source material, the HBO ‘Watchmen’ is a stylish-looking, aggressively scored (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) hodgepodge of references to the graphic novel characters (some of whom turn up in the series) and messy, hot takes on incendiary subjects.”

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