The network presented Damon Lindelof's upcoming comic adaptation at its Summer Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, California, on Wednesday -- where Lindelof, star Regina King and executive producer-director Nicole Kassell were grilled on their take on the source material.
From a white supremacist-centered storyline to a Robert Redford-led America to a "f**k you" to original writer Alan Moore (who wants nothing to do with adaptations of his work), here's what you need to know about the upcoming series:
It's a New Take on the Intersection of Race and Policing
Lindelof admitted to being inspired by the "highly political" nature of the original graphic novel, which depicts an alternate history where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, with their presence changing history so the United States won the Vietnam War. The Watergate break-in was thus never exposed, and in the Watchmen comic books, the US is heading towards World War III with the Soviet Union.
"What, in 2019, is the equivalent of the nuclear standoff between between Russia and the United States?" Lindelof wondered. "It just felt like it was undeniably race and policing in America. So, that idea started to draft itself in the Watchmen universe."
The Lost and Leftovers showrunner confessed that he knew the subject matter "needed to be presented in a responsible way," and warned that the first episode of his Watchmen adaptation isn't necessarily an indication of how the series will progress. In this Watchmen, Rorschach's followers are white supremacists. The Tulsa, Oklahoma, police force, of which King is a member, dons masks as they fight against terrorists in their theoretical backyard.
"In a traditional superhero movie, the bad guys are fighting aliens, and when they beat the aliens, the aliens go back to their planet and everybody wins. There's no defeating white supremacy. It's not going anywhere, but it felt like a pretty formidable foe," Lindelof said.
It's a Love Letter and a 'F**k You' to the Source Material
Lindelof is prepared for mixed reviews from fans, noting that some will embrace his take and others will consider it an "aberration."
"All I can say is I love the source material. I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you right now if Watchmen had never been written," he shared. "I went through a very intensive terror of f**king it up… I'm not entirely sure I'm out of that tunnel. But I have a tremendous amount of respect for it."
Lindelof hasn't "made peace" with not having Moore's blessing on the project, but he's committed to taking "risks" with it.
"The spirit of Alan Moore is a punk rock spirit and a rebellious spirit," he expressed. "I'm channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, 'F**k you, I'm doing it anyway.'"
Robert Redford Is President
Yup, you read that right. In this Watchmen, Robert Redford is president of the United States, and has been since the '90s.
"They've abolished term limits," Lindelof explained, adding that the show analyzes "what happens if a well-intentioned white man is president for far too long."
This show doesn't rewrite the original Watchmen, during which Richard Nixon was president. "Everything that happened in those 12 issues could not be messed with," Lindelof said. But moving past the comic books, Lindelof's vision took place: Nixon was president in '85 and re-elected in '88 before Gerald Ford then took over. He was defeated in the '92 election by none other than Robert Redford.
Regina King's Character Wears 'Several Masks'
Not much is known about King's character, Angela Abar, other than her being a mom of three who operates under the front of a bakery owner by day, and takes down the bad guys by night.
"Like all of us, she is a product of her experiences and her environment, and as you hopefully continue to watch the episodes, you will see why she is this woman who feels like she needs to wear several masks," King teased. "I think because we see a lot of the story happening in Tulsa through Angela's eyes… we are reminded how we go around in our day to day taking off masks and putting them on… That, as far as a character is concerned, is very different than any character I've played."
Usually, King noted, her backstory is very clear. This time around, "that clarity isn't there with Angela immediately." "I was getting to know her as we were shooting, and that was actually quite fun and scary at the same time," she continued. "It was just fun for me to work muscles that I've never worked before, and conquer fears I didn't know I had. This was a huge undertaking. It was a big one."
Lindelof Isn't Here for the Fans
"One of the things I learned from Lost is that the fans have demands. There were things they wanted, but they also wanted to be surprised," Lindelof noted, making it clear that he's won't be serving fans' wants with Watchmen.
His goal instead was to "make something that pleases me, and the people I'm making it with." "That's all I can solve for," he said.
Watchmen premieres this October on HBO. See more of what King said about the series in the video below.