We’ve not got long the (delayed and now virtual) Emmy 2020 awards, and there were a number of surprises (and snubs) on the nominations shortlist.
While commiserations were in order for the unfairly overlooked Daisy Edgar-Jones, Reese Witherspoon and Bob Odenkirk, spirits are certainly high for Paul Mescal, The Masked Singer, and of course, The Mandalorian’s Baby Yoda.
However, what may have been the biggest surprise (particularly amongst those looking on from the UK) is how 2019’s Watchmen has swept the board, leading the charge with an impressive 26 nods in total.
While the concept, when it was first green-lit by HBO, was met with scepticism, upon its release Watchmen became universally critically-acclaimed – with one critic going as far to say it was “the best show on television.”
However, Watchmen failed to make waves here; while it aired in the same slot as Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic and Now TV, and was similarly well-received by those who did watch it, it didn’t quite match its predecessor in terms of its wide-reaching popularity.
On paper, Watchmen doesn’t sound like something that should dominate awards season. Described by writer Damon Lindelof as a “remix” of Alan Moore’s beloved 1986 comic series of the same name, Watchmen seemed like a risky endeavour. Not only were they weaving together new characters and themes with an already well-established and well-loved story, the reshuffled Watchmen also featured time travel, conspiracy theorists, cheesily-named vigilantes and a thinly-veiled allegory, all pieced together in a disjoined and deliberately opaque narrative. It didn’t help that Watchmen creator Moore famously dislikes any and all adaptations of his work, and that the plot promises to do a deep dive into racial tensions in America while also peddling schlocky superhero fare. It seemed like, if mishandled, it could backfire for everyone involved.
But its Watchmen’s razor-sharp, smart and deeply intelligent writing that makes it far more grown up than the usual Marvel cinematic mainstay. The original heroes of Moore’s Watchmen barely feature, and are instead shown to the viewer in the hugely popular American Hero Story, which is seen on screens in several scenes. When they do become increasingly prominent in the series, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jean Smart in particular standing out for playing Dr Manhattan and Silk Spectre, respectively, Lindelof perfectly marries his own superb plotlines with a solemn respect to the original material.
Echoes of Watchmen are present throughout, but for the most part the narrative is squarely focused on Angela Abar (Regina King), bakery owner by day-cum-hooded avenger Sister Night as she battles to uncover the rise of white supremacists the Seventh Kavalry. Moving away from the Cold War intrigue that set the stage for Moore’s Watchmen, Lindelof makes the deliberate and bold choice for his series with the sickeningly overlooked 1921 Tulsa Massacre by the Ku Klux Klan – its flashforward to an alternative 2019 shows that while superheroes may have altered the course of history in the Eighties, there’s been no moving forward when it comes to racism and bigotry in America. The series also mirrors the growing contemporary concerns of fascism, xenophobia and a lack of faith in those meant to protect, serve and govern justice. It’s a particularly bleak and withering look at race relations in America, and is depressingly prescient, particularly when watched in light of the death of George Floyd and the ongoing growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s something lead star King is quick to point out herself, telling The Guardian: “My community is living this story.”
But all of that deep, rich context is not served to the viewer on a platter in episode one. The series’ ominous slow burn sees separate strings of the plot and its sub-plot individually laid out in each episode, told to us via flashbacks, premonitions and even a drug called Nostalgia, which simmers towards a huge crescendo where each separate thread is tied in a neat, fat bow. It’s a tough and often exhausting watch, but the final episode wil leave you satisfied, stunned and hungrily wanting more.
Awards ceremonies are often unpredictable, with Watchmen up against some big hitters in each of its categories. But whether it walks away with 26 gongs or fails to take a single prize, Watchmen is a hugely powerful, important and impressive series which is well worth your time.
Watchmen is available to watch in the UK on Sky Go or NOW TV