A Near Vimes Experience
Sir Terry Pratchett was one of the finest fantasy writers of our generation. His Discworld novels perfectly exuded the right balance between satire, commentary and well-written dialogue to make for an unforgettable world that was crying out for a decent serialized adaptation. If The Watch is the best BBC America can come up with however, it’s probably best to stick with the books.
As a disclaimer before this recap, I’ve read several of Pratchett’s novels but not the City Watch collection, which this series is loosely (very loosely) based on. I say seemingly because based on the synopsis and style of this first episode, there’s very little similarity to Pratchett’s world.
Episode 1 of The Watch begins somewhere in a distant secondhand dimension with a man called Sam Vimes awakening to find himself in front of Death. It’s a brief scene though, one that’s immediately followed by a flashback to the rain-drenched streets below.
Sam is told to kill off Captain Keel and save his brothers and sisters inside The Watch House. After an impassioned speech about helping those who need it, Sam switches sides and decides to try and arrest his old buddy, Carcer Dun. It doesn’t work though and instead, he kills the Captain with a crossbow and takes off.
Chasing him up to the top of a tower, Sam and Carcer square off before the latter eventually tumbles down to his supposed death.
We then jump forward 20 years and Sam Vimes is not the embodiment of law enforcement. Propped up with a heady dose of alcohol and sarcastic jabs at those around him, he’s joined by the towering rock troll Sergeant Detritus. They’re immediately swept up into a new conspiratorial mission, tasked with tracking down a missing red book.
Meanwhile, fresh recruit and dwarf Constable Carrot rocks up in town and learns about the hierarchy of The Watch the hard way. His failed attempt to capture the head of the Thieves Guild sees him head out on a patrol with Angua, a werewolf-in-disguise.
As they walk through the streets, Angua explains how the various guilds operating around town are delicately balanced in a hierarchy of organized crime. Rather than trying to eradicate it, they’ve just learned how to mold it to their liking.
Outside a local bar, Sam Vines rocks up and unfortunately drinks far too much and passes out on the floor. However, that’s not before seeing glimmers of a hooded figure who looks a lot like Carcer Dun.
When Sam awakens, he’s patched up by Cheery Littlebottom. Anyway, there’s no time to dwell on the past as Vimes heads back out on the hunt for Carcer and this red book. Unfortunately Vimes is struck in the back of the head while investigating.
We then cut to Cheery and the others inside The Watch. As a side note here, the editing is so abrupt that you almost don’t catch a glimpse of the blow on Vimes.
Sam Vimes awakens once more but this time finds himself in rehabilitation with Lady Sybil Rankin taking charge. Forced to stay in handcuffs, she takes Vimes out into town as they go on the hunt for a murdered guild member – the Head of the Alchemist Guild to be precise.
After narrowly avoiding an explosion in Carcer’s old hang-out spot, Vimes and Lady Sybil confront a wheelchair bound gangster called Throat. After taking out Throat and her men, they eventually notice goblins show up and move lucrative piles of Slab.
Following them from afar, the pair realize that Carcer is behind everything – including the stolen book too which includes plenty of incantations inside. Carcer confronts them both and fires his crossbow, Vimes takes the hit and winds up dead. Only, Death confirms that it’s only the beginning as he laughs, bringing this episode to a close.
The Episode Review
Where do you start with this one? Terry Pratchett’s writing has a certain charm and level of satire that’s hard to pull off on the small screen but this one tonally misses the mark completely.
In the right hands, Discworld could very easily start a brand new serialized format that could do the books justice and bring this material to a whole new generation of prospective readers. If The Watch is any indication to go by though, it’s perhaps best to leave this on the back-burner.
The Watch isn’t outright terrible and those not familiar with Pratchett’s work may well find themselves engrossed by the quirky humour and setting. Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing here to distinguish this from a sea of mediocre fantasy series on the market already – except Pratchett’s name attached to this.
A few of the jokes do land but largely this is a very different adaptation and will almost certainly alienate a lot of people – especially those going into this expecting a decent reimagining of the books.
The cinematography is pretty good though but overall The Watch struggles to feel like anything but a generic fantasy offering. Whether you’ll stick around and watch more of this disappointing offering remains to be seen.