For much of the past decade and then some, it seemed as if Zack Snyder's overtly faithful 2009 feature would be the only live-action Watchmen adaptation that ever made its way to fans' enlarged eyeballs. However, this past weekend saw the conclusion of HBO's Watchmen series created by Lost vet Damon Lindelof, which has already been hailed as one of the best TV shows of the 2019 and beyond. Many were suspicious that the small-screen vigilante tale was taking secret swipes at Snyder's film, but Lindelof says that's not the case at all.
It was a scene from Watchmen's second episode, "Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship," that really got people talking about how the TV show might have been riffing on Zack Snyder's signature slo-mo-infused action sequences. But any similarities are apparently coincidental in nature, seeing as how Damon Lindelof and others working on HBO's Watchmen are respectful of Zack Snyder's efforts. According to Lindelof:
I will always take responsibility for when I’m winking or insulting or trolling. There was no intentionality on my part to make fun of or take a shot at or troll Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie. I have a tremendous amount of affection for for Zack’s movie and for Zack himself. And I feel like if anything, the challenge of doing Watchmen as a straight-up adaptation in the body of a three-hour movie is near impossible, and he did about as good of a job as anyone can.
Another fairly obvious clue hinting at Watchmen's true intentions for its show-within-a-show is the title itself, American Hero Story: Minutemen, which is a clear parody of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's gory and exploitative American Horror Story. Damon Lindelof has stated in the past that those segments, which offer erroneous background information about Hooded Justice, were conceived as more of a winking tribute to FX's trope-subverting horror anthology.
In another sense, the presence of American Hero Story within the Watchmen TV series is a live-action parallel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Tales of the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic. The doomed pirate tale details a harrowing plight that's analogous to the main storyline, though it isn't so transparent in its self-referential nature as the faux superhero drama series is.
Watchmen's Nicole Kassell, who directed multiple episodes and served as an executive producer, told Variety that American Hero Story was the amped up version of a Watchmen adaptation that could exist if that's the kind of show they were looking to put together. In her words:
I fully admire him as a filmmaker so to hear that it could even be used as a negative comment feels terrible. What I was wanting to do with those [American Hero Story scenes] is like, 'This is the version we could make,' and we are very concretely not making that version. We’re grounding our story in a much more real kind of naturalism.
Watchmen's sixth episode, "This Extraordinary Being," offers up certain fight scenes that depict that "real" version of events dramatized in American Hero Story, and watching those more gritty and sloppy scuffles easily sets them apart from the fictitious Hooded Justice altercations with American Horror Story vet Cheyenne Jackson beneath the hood. (The fact that Damon Lindelof even cast a Ryan Murphy regular could have been proof enough that he wasn't targeting Zack Snyder's movie.)
Of course, not everyone is going to be convinced by Damon Lindelof and Nicole Kassell's claims there, considering Zack Snyder's stronghold over a fanbase that has turned "Release the Snyder Cut" into a rallying cry for the director's unreleased version of the superhero team-up film Justice League. Snyder has been going heavy on social media with previously unseen pics and teases from his cut, which has stoked interest anew in his excised vision, and hasn't exactly helped Damon Lindelof & Co. from avoiding comparisons to the filmmaker's polarizing 2009 blockbuster.
While that side of the argument appears to be pretty convincing – SPOILERS are coming – there IS one particular moment in Episode 8 that felt like a playful middle finger aimed at Zack Snyder's altered Watchmen ending for the film, which swapped out the world-altering squid hoax to center on nuclear reactors. In the ep's flashback to 2009 (the year of the movie's release), Adrian Veidt calls people idiots for relying on reactors, and asks why they feel the need to keep building bombs. That felt like even more of a direct jab at Snyder's Watchmen, but it was probably just a jab at all of humanity in general.
For now, Watchmen exists as a one-season entry on HBO that can be streamed in its entirety on HBO Go and HBO NOW. Here's hoping Damon Lindelof and HBO can work together to come up with a Season 2 plan extremely soon.