I’ve recently watched two television adaptations that created a pair of polarizing responses. On the positive side we have HBO’s Watchmen. On the negative side is Netflix’s The Witcher. Both series have a respected genre pedigree: one being among the great graphic novels of our time; the other is a series with a cult following and being the source material for one of the best video games ever created (The Witcher 3).
So what caused my split decision?
There’s a certain flaw in writing that I call “shit happens just because.” I’m sure my fancy nomenclature isn’t the official term. But I think you know what I mean. Cartoons use it all the time because, well, they’re cartoons (I’m looking at you Rick & Morty!) Sitcoms, as well. But when you’re dealing with dramatic work, “shit happens just because” isn’t as easy to swallow and can ruin the viewing/reading experience.
Both the Watchmen and The Witcher television series are thick with lore. Both shows are a challenge to understand if you’re not familiar with the source material. I can understand why a viewer would turn to their spouse and ask “What the fuck is up with all the clocks and tick-tocking?” when watching the first couple of episodes of Watchmen. There are Rorschach masks, Lori Blake, Ozymandias being weird, and so on.
The Witcher, likewise, has a whole series of material concepts to throw at you. There’s the Law of Surprise, the mythos of Geralt, Yennefer and her transformation, a hedgehog man trying to wed a princess.
The difference is that in The Witcher series, stuff happens…just because? When Geralt jokingly invokes the Law of Surprise as payment for saving the hedgehog man’s life, it is a big moment…what I surmise to be the crux of his and Ciri’s bond that becomes central to the overarching narrative. But what is the Law of Surprise? I had never heard of it prior to that instance. What’s its importance? Why is Geralt forever tied to Ciri now?
Don’t worry, the writers are telling us, just because!
Not that Watchmen doesn’t have its convenient plot moments. When Captain Metropolis magically surmises that Hooded Justice is bisexual and uses his sexual sway to recruit Hooded Justice to the Minutemen, that’s a “just because” moment.
The difference in these crimes of storytelling is that The Witcher moment serves as the foundation of the series. The Watchmen scene is just lazy writing to gloss over a minor detail.
I’d like to say that despite my misgivings with The Witcher, I can see why it is popular. It does many things right. Cavill makes a good Geralt (though how hard is it to grunt a lot and to look good taking a hot bath…on second thought). The two female leads are quite good. The magic is interesting. The fight scenes are well-done.
I desperately want to like the show.
It’s entirely possible that I’m more forgiving of Watchmen‘s follies because I’m a lot more familiar with the source material. If I had read Sapowski’s Witcher books and played the video game maybe I’d be singing a different tune.
Maybe in a few weeks I’ll have a change of heart and will join those legions singing the praise of the Butcher of Blavikan!