HBO's Watchmen premiered this past Sunday, and - much to the surprise of some! - it turned out that Damon Lindelof's adaptation of the legendary Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic series was not a disaster. And not just "not a disaster", but legitimately great, with sharp writing, an exciting new set of characters (Looking Glass rules), and a bunch more on its mind than being just another superhero series. It may not be the Watchmen we're familiar with, but Lindelof's take absolutely honors the spirit and execution of Moore and Gibbons' source material...and looks damn good while doing it.
Last Friday, HBO sent me the first six episodes of the series, and over the weekend I plowed right through 'em, one after another. There was no stopping me. This series goes to some wild places, taking big creative risks and (far more often than not!) sees those risks pay off. Every episode contains its own surprises, its own elaborate new bits of world-building and lore, and by the time I reached the end of episode six I was ready to climb up on my roof with a bullhorn and start proselytizing. If this ain't the year's best new show, I don't know what is.
Anyway, in the wake of this experience, the number one question I've been asked is: "Do I need to read the comic before watching the series?" The short answer is no, not really. HBO's Watchmen stands on its own, and I imagine that context clues would (more or less) carry newcomers through each episode. If you're determined to approach it from an entirely uninformed angle, you could.
The longer, better answer is: yes, you should absolutely read Watchmen before watching Watchmen. Lindelof's version functions largely as a direct sequel to Moore and Gibbons' series, with all manner of visual callbacks and thematic connective tissue that might fly right over a viewer's head were they to be unfamiliar with the source material. Lindelof wasn't lying when he said this was a "remix" of the mythology, but that shines through mostly in the way that many of Watchmen's new characters function as bizarro-world versions of Moore's original cast (which characters are which is something best left discovered to those following the show, but trust me when I say that the parallels will start becoming clear soon enough). And if this is a direct sequel, well, there's gonna be some stuff you'll want to be intimately familiar with. Stuff that, let's say, maybe wasn't addressed in Zack Snyder's film adaptation.
And, not to get on everyone's case or anything, but you really should have read Watchmen by now. This admonishment probably doesn't apply to the BMD readership - if you're reading this site, I give it good odds that you've read Watchmen - but I'm gonna mention it, anyway, just in case. Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen is one of the most important and iconic comic series of all time (it's debatably the most important and iconic comic series of all time), and is well worth a read even if you don't normally consider yourself a fan of comic books. Its reputation and monolithic presence on the pop culture landscape is well-earned.
I'm so excited to see the reactions from the audience as this show goes on, and doubly excited to catch those final three episodes (which weren't made available to press). Assuming they don't royally screw this up - which feels highly unlikely, given the quality of everything else I've seen - HBO's Watchmen is a thing we'll be talking about for many years to come. My advice is to prepare yourselves for those conversations, and to make sure this show is working for you in all the ways in which it was intended to work. Go read Watchmen, and then settle in for two more months of excellent television.