HBO’s latest ambitious sci-fi series, “Watchmen,” debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 20). The series is inspired by the acclaimed 1980s comic book series of the same name, set in an alternate reality where the presence of superheroes has caused dramatic changes in society. “Watchmen” was previously turned into a big-budget 2009 theatrical film by Zack Snyder, but the series follows the continuity of the original comics instead of the film version.
Set on an alternate Earth in 2019, the series is largely based in Tulsa, Okla., where a white supremacist group inspired by Rorschach, an unhinged masked vigilante from the original story, has declared war on the police, forcing members of law enforcement to disguise their true identities. Some simply wear face-covering yellow masks (yellow being the iconic color of “Watchmen”) but others take on elaborate superhero-like alter-egos such as Sister Night, Red Scare, Pirate Jenny, and Looking Glass, whose reflective mask means that people looking at him see their own reflection.
The series, created by Damon Lindelof, takes inspiration from “Watchmen” but tells its own story, with an impressive cast including Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Louis Gossett Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Don Johnson and Jean Smart. Plot threads from the original “Watchmen” are intertwined with new ones, and the series takes an intriguing look at what the repercussions of the events of the original would be.
If you’ve never read the original comic — which made Time Magazine’s Top 100 novels from 1923 to 2010 — some elements of the story may not make much sense at first. But it’s still a fascinating deep dive into an altered history where Robert Redford is president, superheroes are outlawed, technology is drastically different (there’s no internet but there are holograms), and the world is still recuperating from what it believes was an alien invasion 30 years earlier.
That “invasion” was in truth a faked attack on Earth meant to draw humankind together against a common foe and avoid World War III, and the cover-up is beginning to unravel. The series also incorporates real-world events such as the 1921 Tulsa race riot, in which an African-American community was attacked by white mobs, and the series is more heavily involved in the subject of race relations than the original comic was.
Alan Moore, the writer of the original “Watchmen” comics, famously refuses to cooperate with any attempts to adapt his stories and is not involved in the HBO series, but original illustrator Dave Gibbons is a consulting producer.
The first season of “NOS4A2,” a twist on the vampire mythos based on a novel by Joe Hill, comes to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday. Zachary Quinto (“Heroes,” “Star Trek”) stars as a mysterious figure who drains life force from children and exiles them into a strange dimension, with Ashleigh Cummings as a young woman who tries to thwart his schemes. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes shorts and the rules of the fictional universe.