HBO picked the right person to adapt the cult comic “Watchmen” for TV

The project could be a giant undertaking.
The project could be a giant undertaking.
Image: Warner Bros.
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HBO is still trying to adapt the “unadaptable” Watchmen, and it may have finally found the right person for the job. The network has tapped The Leftovers and Lost creator Damon Lindelof to turn the beloved graphic novel into a TV series, Variety reported.

Written by renowned comic book writer Alan Moore in 1986, Watchmen depicted an alternate United States whose history had been dramatically changed by the presence of masked vigilantes. Known for a brilliant nonlinear narrative and pointed political commentary, Watchmen was intended to satirize the popular concept of superheroes.

Many have called the graphic novel “unadaptable.” Its sheer ambition is difficult to distill into a two-hour film, fans realized after Zack Snyder’s 2009 big-screen adaptation. Critics praised the film’s visual style, but said that the crucial subtleties of Moore’s work failed to translate to screen. As a biting parody of comic books, some critics argued, Watchmen could only work as a comic itself, and not as a film or TV series.

Or, at the very least, it required the right person to adapt it. In Lindelof, HBO has an experienced, successful showrunner who’s already adapted a written work into a critically acclaimed TV series (The Leftovers is based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name). He’s also apparently passionate about the source material.

Lindelof told Comic Book Resources in 2009 that Watchmen had influenced his own writing more than anything else he had ever read. For anyone who watched Lost, that inspiration should be apparent, from the use of flashbacks to the sprawling cast of profoundly flawed characters, both core to the Watchmen story.

HBO planned to make a Watchmen TV series in 2015 with Snyder on board to spearhead the project, but it never materialized (Snyder isn’t involved in this latest attempt). That was before Lindelof had made The Leftovers for HBO. When the drama ended in spectacular fashion a few weeks ago, Lindelof joined a very short list of television showrunners who have completed more than one show on his own terms. HBO allowed Lindelof to carry out his vision for The Leftovers and end it precisely when he wanted to, and the network is likely to do the same for Watchmen, a work that Lindelof knows far better than he knew Perrotta’s The Leftovers novel.

Snyder’s film version of Watchmen was a straight adaptation of Moore’s story, but Lindelof doesn’t necessarily have to go that way. Instead of satirizing comic books, Lindelof could choose to apply the universe of Watchmen to parody today’s overgrowth of same-y superhero films and TV shows. That way, he could maintain the spirit of Moore’s comic while adjusting it to a more timely phenomenon. According to Variety and other entertainment outlets, the project is still in its very early stages of development, so we won’t know how the series will take shape for some time.

If successful, Lindelof’s Watchmen series, with Westworld, could help fill the void that will be left at HBO when its crown jewel Game of Thrones leaves the air next year. HBO has the hardest part out of the way: Finding the person who gives the network the best chance at proving that something’s only unadaptable until it’s adapted successfully.