The Watch: What the Books Spoof, the TV Series Plays Straight

The Watch, BBC America's adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett's City Watch novels, is decidedly not the novels. As a TV show, it's an interesting case of what TV demands that separates it from what books can do. Pratchett's books are part of his wide-ranging and epic "Discworld" series and the extended universe. They were a forum for Pratchett to comment on the absurdities of the fantasy genre as well as address politics and social issues. That's the big difference. The City Watch "Discworld" books are a spoof of cop show conventions while The Watch TV series is… a cop show.

the watch
Richard Dormer as Captain Sam Vimes – The Watch _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Ilze Kitshoff/BBCA

Maybe that's just the demands of TV these days, or producers and writers just see "cop show" and can only make a cop show. Cop shows are the default mode of network television. The original Lucifer comic was a metaphysical thriller about the war between heaven and Earth and the gulf between free will and divine destiny. The Lucifer TV series is… a cop show. The Discworld City Watch books were a spoof of cop shows and a commentary on the absurdities of the genre. They're driven by Pratchett's wry, whimsical voice as he questions the ridiculousness of the world and the genre itself.

Even the main character Sam Vines is a former barbarian warrior forced to become a city cop – that's the joke! The characters in the story are frequently on the verge of realizing they're in a massive cosmic joke. Maybe it's just very hard to recreate the tone of Pratchett's voice and humor outside of the all-enveloping dynamics of prose. The Watch series is a cop show set in a fantasy world where people crack some jokes as cop shows do. Sam Vines here is just a disillusioned, hard-drinking… cop. It seems to run away from the surreal absurdities of the book's world to be as conventional as possible, even with trolls, magic, and mythical creatures running around. The cop show seems to be the TV executive's comfort genre.

The Watch also premiered in a period of bad timing. Cop shows are currently being questioned in light of the Black Lives Matter protests. It's not really a good look to have a show where cops are the beleaguered underdogs whose hands are tied while criminals run rampant. Again, "cops as the underdog" is the default of network television, but the culture may have shifted. It's disappointing to see a show work so little to set itself apart or make itself interesting. Books may offer much more subtlety and nuance, but this is a TV show that makes it a point to exert as little effort as possible in its storytelling. What happens if you make comfort food that's too bland for your audience? We may find out here.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist who just likes to writer. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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