Plot: An unlikely group of misfits, The City Watch, find the guts to save the world, surprising even themselves in the process. The comedic yet thrilling series pits trolls, werewolves, wizards and other improbable heroes against an evil plot to resurrect a great dragon which would lead to the destruction of life as they know it.
Review: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are one of the most beloved fantasy series of all time. Comprised of 41 novels, they are a funny twist on the conventional sword and sorcery stories. Think about what Douglas Adams did for science fiction with The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and that is what Pratchett did for fantasy. With dozens of storylines to choose from, The Watch focuses on the urban fantasy Discworld novels. That means this series is essentially a comedic blend of Law & Order crossed with Lord of the Rings. It sounds utterly ridiculous but it mostly works thanks to a cast of misfits that populate this truly surreal world.
Urban fantasy is an acquired taste. It is not often portrayed on screen with the most popular interpretation being the Will Smith movie Bright. The Watch manages to create a world that still feels very medieval but with anachronistic elements like the police officers having badges and acting like contemporary detectives. But, visually, this is still a world of dragons, orcs, magic, and monsters. With Pratchett’s works having been previously adapted for British television as animated series (Wyrd Sisters) and live-action blends (Hogfather), The Watch represents the first truly in-depth adaptation of his books. It is also most definitely an acquired taste but one that works as an entry to the author’s sprawling bibliography.
Led by Game of Thrones‘ Richard Dormer as Sam Vimes, The Watch focuses on the titular crime-fighting agency in the city of Ankh-Morpork. Vimes is a drunken former criminal who was thrust into his detective role after a falling out with his criminal ally Carcer Dun (Sam Adewunmi). Decades later, Vimes tenuously maintains the peace in the city while kowtowing to the leadership of Lord Vetinari (Anna Chancellor). His team includes werewolf Corporal Angua (Marama Corlett), the rocky Detritus (Ralph Ineson), transgender forensics expert Constable Cheery (Jo Eaton-Kent), and more. His newest recruit is Constable Carrot (Adam Hugill), a cop from the rural outskirts of the city who is shocked by the lack of control Vimes has over the city.
The series focuses on the overall arc of Vimes and his officers fighting back against Carcer Dun while undertaking missions that connect to the main story. These quests range from complex murders to weird cases like missing library books. All together, the stories serve the overarching storyline which comes together chapter by chapter. Much like the work of Neil Gaiman, there are anachronistic elements to these tales and contemporary music blended with a silly sense of humor that often overshadows the tension of the story itself. At times, The Watch feels like Game of Thrones if it were directed by Monty Python.
Watching this series, I often wondered who it was really for. In my limited exposure to the novels, I never imagined it to look like this adaptation. I have heard many critical that this doesn’t look, sound, or feel anything like Terry Pratchett’s source material which is surely going to turn off many prospective viewers. Those willing to give it a chance are going to find that this series doesn’t reach the potential that the concept has going for it. It looks like a show built on a budget and lacks the grandeur or scale that helped a bizarre series like Good Omens feel authentic. The Watch takes a long time to get going and I found that I really only came away liking Lara Rossi as Lady Sybil Ramkin, a character whom I could have watched on her own adventures.
In a day and age where there is a glut of programming at our fingertips, there is something for everyone and I am sure there are people who will like The Watch. It has the same energy as Doctor Who and other British genre television, but there is not enough going on to really invest a lot of time in. Sure, the great Wendell Pierce as the voice of Death intrigued me enough to plow through these episodes but they feel dreadfully slow. None of the characters are bad and most of the cast are likable in their roles. I chuckled at jokes here and there but The Watch ends up being too generic for its own good. There is definitely a great series to be made out of Terry Pratchett’s novels but The Watch is not that series.
The Watch premieres January 3rd on BBC America.