What a curiosity HBO’s Watchmen series is shaping up to be. Inspired by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons‘ celebrated graphic novel of the same name, the new series from The Leftovers showrunner Damon Lindelof just dropped an Easter Egg-heavy trailer during SDCC that teased some unexpected to connections to the iconic graphic novel, while also revealing some alt-universe flourishes that promised a whole new spin on the material. A world where cops where masks, Rorschach inspired a racist cult, and Dr. Manhattan is still chilling on Mars. Turns out, that was just scratching the surface.
Lindelof revealed new details for his upcoming series at the Television Critics Association press tour today, where he was joined by star Regina King and director/EP Nicole Kassell, to field questions from the press (who were given the pilot episode beforehand). It sounds like Watchmen will once again drop audiences into an entirely new, politically-charged alt-universe that doesn’t hold back on the cultural commentary.
“It is not supposed to be a world that you recognize,” Lindelof said during the TCA panel. “What is actual history and what is alt-history and things start to get blended in the middle,” he added. Lindelof confirmed that Watchmen is set in 2019 but, in some key ways, a very different 2019 from the one we know. For one thing, as eagle-eyed viewers picked up in the Comic-Con trailer, America sits under the control of President Robert Redford. Yes, that Robert Redford.
You may recall the reference at the end of the Watchmen comic that Redford was thinking of running in the 1988 election, but Lindelof clarified the timeline during the panel, explaining that Nixon won another term and died in office, leaving VP Gerald Ford in charge. In the world of Watchmen, Ford lost the 1992 election to Redford, who remains in office all the way to 2019 after the abolishment of term limits. Lindelof said he wanted to explore “What would happen if a well-intentioned liberal white man was a president for too long.”
Another key difference? No internet and no social media. Lindelof explained that the administration saw the writing on the wall with social media and shut it down. So while elements of Watchmen may feel right at home in 2019, don’t expect to see any smartphones.
If there’s one familiar cultural thread that critics were eager to talk about, it’s the interplay between race and policing, which takes on a different form in Watchmen. Picking up 30+ years after the events of the comics — which will not be changed, “We are not going to mess with it, its canon,” Lindelof explained — the series sees a cult of Rorschach-masked white supremacists spring up following the anti-heroes death in the original story. Donning Rorschach masks and echoing his famous words, the group wages a racist war against the cops.
“What in 2019 is the equivalent of the nuclear standoff between the Americans and the Russians?” Lindelof asked himself, and the answer he came to was “race and the police.”
“There is no defeating White supremacy it’s not going anyway,” he continued. “There are no easy answers and grandiose solution, the scribe added, noting this was not going to play out like your standard superheroes saga on the small or big screen.” Lindelof also pointed to the lack of heroes and villains as a highlight of the original story and something he looks to emulate.
Speaking of the original, it’s no secret that Alan Moore isn’t a fan of adaptations. HBO boss Casey Bloys addressed the writer’s prickly attitude during HBO’s executive session: “I think that remains the case. That he’s not thrilled.” For Lindelof, a die-hard fan of the graphic novel, that’s put him in a bit of a tricky spot.
“I don’t think I’ve made peace with it,” He said, joking that his dynamic with Moore has taken the place of his complicated relationship with his dad. “I have made personal overtures to connect with him to explain what I’m doing, and he’s made it clear he doesn’t want that.”
“I went through a very intensive period of terror of f–king it up, and I’m not entirely sure I’m out of that tunnel.” But, he said, “if I was too reverent, then I wouldn’t be able to do anything that was risky.”
Lindelof praised Moore as a genius, and in the end, he says he had to embrace Moore’s “punk rock spirit” to get the project done. “I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to say “Fuck you, I’m doing it anyway.”
Watchmen will debut on HBO, October 2019.