Episode 674: Old Things in New Masks

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackel 2019’s adaptation of “Watchmen” as an HBO series.

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather overthink 2019’s HBO television series based on Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s 1980s comic book, on the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which figures prominently in the plot of the show. The show considers history, trauma, healing, and the role of memory in all of those.

And just in case you were wondering about the reliability of memory, Michael York wasn’t even in The Lion in Winter. In 1968, he was doing Romeo and Juliet. It was… Timothy Dalton!

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5 Comments on “Episode 674: Old Things in New Masks”

  1. John C Member #

    As one of the rare comic book fans that was so unimpressed with Watchmen in 1986 (I feel like “America was terrible to Vietnam” was a pretty trite thought by then, and the “superheroes are messed up people” is almost never interesting, made worse when the author tries to claim that’s not what the book is saying…) that I thought Snyder’s version was pretty solid, I do need to say that the HBO series was well worth the nine hours. It didn’t educate me on history–I happened to have stumbled across Greenwood and Reeves in reading about something else, a few years earlier–but the way that it used those elements to deconstruct the flaws in the original Watchmen story, without making the series ABOUT the original Watchmen story or needing the audience to know it at all, was extremely effective.

    There were huge missteps. Pete called out the problem that the show (subconsciously) has with Asians, I think. Plus, a heroic cop protagonist isn’t the best optics in a story that digs into systemic racism. And there are some truly horrific puns posing as plot points. It crams in a bunch of characters who aren’t needed for the story, just because Watchmen fans wouldn’t take it seriously without including them. But as a story, it holds together better than any of the attempts to breathe some real life into that world.

    As for the Discovery merger, I’m happier with that than Warner sitting under the thumb of an AT&T that went into massive debt basically to have the industry’s first vertical monopoly. The acquisition basically gutted the Warner side and has had a lot of their better productions ending to make room for less-risky fare, such as replacing Supergirl with Superman on the CW. I probably still won’t go for HBO Max for a long while (certainly no sooner than the next season of Doom Patrol), but I’m more comfortable with the service if AT&T keeps its grubby mitts off. They might even win me over, if early Discovery Channel programming shows up, because they (and TLC, Bravo, A&E, and others) had people convinced in the ’90s that they were going to displace PBS as the go-to place for educational and arts programming; it didn’t last long.


    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      In 1998, TLC stopped referring to itself as “The Learning Channel” and pivoted to the reality show wasteland that we know today. I would say this is equal parts a reflection of broader cultural and economic forces as well as a driver of said forces. Either way it’s a convenient signpost for massive changes in our media landscape.

      Orthogonal to this topic, I missed the very obvious Watchmen + Guy Fieri tie in during the show and am sharing now, better late than never:

      “This week on Diners, Dives, and Drive Ins, we visit Tulsa’s best Vietnamese bakery, Milk and Hanoi! Angela Abar serves up eggs cooked any way you like them, including raw from the shell! Tastes like omnipotence!”


      • John C Member #

        Very true, and to be fair, TLC was always on the vanguard of “legitimate education isn’t nearly as profitable as formulaic exploitation.” While Discovery’s daytime slate had mostly “home economics” types of shows and A&E’s had old British TV and documentaries, we could always count on TLC to be in the middle of gory surgery.

        I blamed it on cultural changes, too, until I realized that the shows were probably expensive and encouraged enough skepticism to make the commercials harder to justify. By contrast, the person intently studying the “ancient alien” shows are absolutely going to want a Chia Pet.

        It’s not really your point on Guy Fieri, but it makes an interesting point that shows about divergent timelines almost never seem to dip into pop culture, even though that’s probably the quickest route to giving most of the audience the world’s context.


  2. benzado Member #

    As someone who apparently shares some of Matt’s “metacognitive deficits” with regard to appreciating comic books and graphic novels, I EMPHATICALLY recommend Watchmen: Motion Comic. It was produced around the same time as the Zack Snyder film and criminally underpromoted. The visuals consist of an lightly animated version of Dave Gibbon’s original artwork; the dialogue is performed by Tom Stechschulte in the style of an audiobook.


    I’m guessing it wasn’t more successful because purists would rather read the book and non-purists would rather watch a “real” movie or show. But I think it’s a fantastic way to make the original comic more accessible and—especially since the Snyder movie diverges from the comic—pairs well with the HBO series.


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