Review: Watchmen 1×1 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

In the US: Sundays, 9pm, HBO
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, Sky Atlantic

Back when The Umbrella Academy came out, I wrote this about Watchmen:

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is probably the best, most influential superhero comic of all time. An examination of the underlying assumptions and psychology of people who would put on masks to fight crime, it almost single-handedly (bar Denny O’Neil) made superheroes ‘real’ – or about as realistic as they ever could be, of course.

But it’s a very dense text and while you can remove certain elements of it relatively easily – bye, bye pirates! – try to unpick it too much and you lose Watchmen‘s intrinsic field: what makes Watchmen what it is. Small wonder then that Hollywood spent forever trying to adapt it before essentially making a frame by frame adaptation of the comic, just with a slightly different McGuffin.

That density of writing means that despite its influence being felt throughout comics and TV, there have been very few straight-on ‘homages’ (aka rip-offs). Nobody has done ‘Watchmen in space’, ‘Watchmen on Middle Earth’ or anything else.

One of the other reasons it’s so rarely adapted is it’s a “sacred text”. So perfect is it considered, no element of it can be removed or changed without true believers getting the hump. Even Zach Snyder’s movie version, which was virtually a frame for frame adaptation of the graphic novel, ended up getting into hot water for changing the ending.

To be fair, it was both a better ending than the graphic novel’s and a necessary adaptation, given the first season finale of Heroes had already used it. But it tampered with the good book, so it was excommunicated.

Dr Manhattan on Mars

Faithfully unfaithful to Watchmen

This leads to a problem.

You could do utterly faithful adaptations and get into trouble with the only people who care, but why bother – everyone might as well just read the book.

You could do something that’s an adaptation but doesn’t look like it at first, but why bother – everyone might as well read the book.

You could do really bad prequels that add nothing, but why bother – everyone might as well read the book.

You could do really bad sequels that add nothing, but why bother – everyone might as well read the book.

But HBO’s Watchmen seems to have hit on a solution.

Do something that is utterly different with almost nothing in common, yet something that is still clearly a sequel.

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Bluff City Law

Bluff City Law cancelled; Rosehaven renewed; Red Dwarf special; + more

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Quite a lot of acquisitions this week, but few of them have premiere dates. We did get one other acquisition this week, but the premiere date is today.


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Avlu (The Yard) (Turkey: Star TV; UK: Netflix)

Premiere date: Today

Adaptation of Australian favourite Wentworth, relocated to a women’s prison in Istanbul.


Aidan Turner is Leonardo da Vinci; BBC2 finds a Witchfinder; Jim Jefferies is Jim Jefferies; + more

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Review: Treadstone 1×1 (US: USA; UK: Amazon)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Friday, January 10, Amazon

Jason Bourne franchise spin-off Treadstone states in its opening titles: “Based on an organization from the Bourne series of novels by Robert Ludlum”. It’s tediously exact and speaks to an exciting level of copyright protection that even the nature of fictitious organisations is jealously guarded for their IP potential.

Nevertheless, despite this pedantry, it’s still only partially true.

The Bourne novels are a curious thing of the 80s. If you’ve only seen the Bourne movies, you’d probably be surprised by how different they are, thanks to the modernising skills of The Bourne Identity‘s director Doug Liman, who set the template with writer Tony Gilroy for the tone of the later movies.

Without wishing to spoil them too much for those who haven’t read them, they’re not the youthful, “American student with a Euro railcard”, agonised liberal take on the grey shades of US spying and colonial intervention in other countries’ affairs. Instead, they feature a considerably older Jason Bourne dealing with Carlos the Jackal on behalf of a US government anti-terrorist organisation called Treadstone. This Bourne is no super-soldier and the initial idea that he is a superhuman assassin turns out to be government propaganda.

Even by the second book, he’s only able to hold his own against younger men through virtue of his training, as his reflexes are slowing and he’s not as strong as he used to be. Plus he’s got a family and a lecturing career to worry about.

The TV adaptation of The Bourne Identity starring Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne was thus a far more authentic depiction of the book Bourne than the later movie version.

Bourne again

It’s considerably more accurate than Treadstone‘s titles suggest to say that its Treadstone is based on the movies’ version of the organisation – a top-secret US government programme designed to create stealthy young assassins from ordinary people through the use of certain dodgy brainwashing techniques and the like.

But just to crank things up from comparative to superlative, it would be most accurate to say that this is Tim Kring’s version of the movies’ version of Robert Ludlum’s Treadstone. Yes, the man behind Heroes has got his hands on Jason Bourne.

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