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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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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Nancy Drew

Review: Nancy Drew 1×1 (US: The CW)

In the US: Wednesdays, 9pm, The CW
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When it comes to books, today’s kids never had it so good. The range of fiction for children and young adults has never been so vast. Back when I was a kid, the choices were much more narrow, meaning my generation ended up reading more or less the exact same books as each other, and to some extent, previous generations.

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books were old when I was young, but we still all read them. Originally devised in the 1920s and updated with new books over the generations by a succession of authors using the pseudonyms Franklin W Dixon and Carolyn Keene, they featured teenage detectives solving crimes while dealing with standard teen issues – parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, parties and kidnappings.

Such perennial favourites were they that they had a 1970s TV series dedicated to them that naturally everyone my age watched. Perhaps because it featured teen heartthrob David Cassidy of The Partridge Family fame, but perhaps also because of its spooky title sequence.

However, what worked in the 20s, 50s and even 70s might not necessarily work now, as many a TV writer adapting classic formats has discovered. That hasn’t stopped people trying to find the magic formula.

There have been many attempts of late to adapt the Nancy Drew books in particular, with movies and TV pilots all trying to take the titian-haired teen detective and bring her up to date, leave her as she is with the world around her changed, and turn her into an adult.

Now we have the latest effort, which attempts to do for the Nancy Drew books what Riverdale successfully did for the Archie comics – bring her up to date and make her relevant to a young, spoilt-for-choice, modern audience, by Twin Peaks-ing her.

Here, though, it’s a good deal less successful

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Almost Family
International TV

What have you been watching? Including Almost Family and Mr Robot

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week

Ruby Rose

This week’s reviews

This week’s been a bit quieter than planned reviews-wise. I did manage to review Batwoman (US: The CW) as planned; however, I’m just finishing episode eight (of nine) of Raising Dion, which is obviously a day or two later than Boxset Monday and Tuesday allows. But it’s a shoo-in for next week.

What’s coming this week

Orange Thursday didn’t happen again, either. Sorry. However, fingers crossed, we’ll be looking at Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019) and – in a brief flashback to Weekly Wonder Woman – Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (2019).

As well as Raising Dion, the coming week should also bring us Nancy Drew (US: The CW) and eternal optimist that I am, I’m hoping to watch season two of Plan Cœur (The Hookup Plan) over the weekend.

And after that, Fall 2019 – part three begins…

Mr Robot
Mr Robot

The regulars

Fall 2019 – part one and Fall 2019 – part two brought us new shows, but I’ve been winnowing again. I can’t really be bothered with either Prodigal Son or Emergence any more, so they’ve been dropped from the viewing queue.

But that still leaves us with Evil, Magnum PI, Mr InBetween, Pennyworth, Stumptown and Titans. On top that, Mr Robot has made his comeback.

All of those after the jump, together with a brief rundown of last week’s extra turkey, Almost Family.

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Ruby Rose as Kate Kane/Batwoman

Review: Batwoman 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: E4)

In the US: Sundays, 8pm, The CW
In the UK: Will air on E4 in 2020

Batman is a problem. At the cinemas, you can’t get rid of him. He’s everywhere. As soon as you think you’ve got rid of him, he’s back again. Four movies in the 80s and 90s. Three Christopher Nolan movies. Batman v Superman. Justice League. And now we’ve got Robert Pattinson about to suit up for The Batman.

That’s too much bat, man.

On TV, however, DC has been pretty strict, with zero TV versions of Batman allowed while there’s a Batman at the cinema (ie never). We’ve had 10 seasons of young Superman in Smallville and Supergirl‘s had her own Superman (Tyler Hoechlin); we’ve even got alternative reality and previous versions of Superman lined up for The CW’s annual superhero show crossover. But the sainted Bat hasn’t once shown up.

What we have been allowed is ersatz versions of Batman, ranging from Smallville‘s Adam Knight through to the comic book Batman knock-off himself, Green Arrow, in Arrow – the first season of which was itself a (very good) knock-off of Batman Begins.

And now we have Batwoman.

Ruby Rose in The CW’s Batwoman

Not Batman

Although there is a long and exciting discussion to be had about whether the most famous superheroines are merely female versions of superheroes, rather than characters in their own rights – cf She-Hulk, Spiderwoman, Supergirl, Miss Martian, Batgirl – the comic book Batwoman is at least a relatively different creature from playboy Bruce Wayne and his becowled alter-ego.

A former student of West Point who gets thrown out for being gay, she ends up stealing military weaponry to create her own Batman-style arsenal. Of course, it then turns out she’s Bruce Wayne’s cousin, but what you going to do?

On TV, not so much it seems. Because this is a Batwoman not at all confident she can escape the Bat’s shadow.

He’s such a problem, that man.

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