Before The Watch released on BBC America, Terry Pratchett’s daughter, Rhianna, tried to have her Father’s name removed from this series. Another critic likened The Watch to an adaptation of Batman if he wore a yellow jacket. In fact, that last statement gives this show far too much credit. At least if Batman was in a yellow jacket you’d understand the essence of what’s going on.
The Watch feels like the hollow shell of Discworld, torn out and filled with mediocre fantasy guff. It’s a show that quickly stagnates into an utterly forgettable and disappointing fantasy, and doing so without a shred of remorse for the source material it’s basing its show on.
In its simplest form, The Watch is a pretender that feels like it’s been crafted by a group of people who seemingly have never read the books they’re basing this on. While the character names and a couple of quirky jokes are the same, everything else is an entirely new, moody, grim fantasy adaptation with little to do with Pratchett or his imaginative world.
The story here adapts the Ankh-Morpork City Watch who featured across 8 novels beginning with “Guards! Guards!” and ending with Snuff in 2011. Given the diversity of this group, it was always going to be rife for an adaptation but part of the charm and joy with Pratchett’s novels come from the way these weave into the essence of Discworld itself and create a thriving, bustling community with many moving parts. This series tries to do the same, but does so by diversifying its cast so much that it lacks the essence of what made the books so good. There’s even a series of unnecessary backstories thrown in for key characters which deviates even further from the source material.
So that’s the background of the City Watch and The Watch takes the core idea of this and throws in a suitable end-of-the-world plot in the form of a man called Carcer. He’s desperate to get his hands on a world-ending book and in doing so, conjures up a mystical dragon to take over. At least, momentarily anyway. It’s obvious from the beginning of the show that Vimes is destined to square off against his old friend, setting up a rather predictable trajectory for where things go over the course of the season.
Joining Captain Sam Vimes is a misfit crew of diverse characters, including Lady Sybil (complete with a brand new look and a tragic backstory), Carrot, Angua and Sergeant Detritus. Well I say Detritus, he’s in one episode anyway.
Across the season, the group find themselves flung head-first into the various guilds and factions controlling Ankh-Morpork, while doing their best to find Carcer and stop him from destroying Discworld.
It’s all very apocalyptic but the humour here, more often than not, completely misses the mark. From rock renditions and expository text on screen to a laughing Death and tone deaf slapstick, the few jokes that do land are drowned out by the overwhelming majority that don’t.
The biggest problem here though comes from exactly who the target audience of The Watch is. Pratchett and Discworld fans will be unmilling to stack around to see if this improves while casual fans may be lost by the basic, ill-thought world building that relies on its audience having some knowledge of Discworld – especially given the constant nods to previous ideas in the novels.
What we’re left with then is a show that’s so far removed from Discworld it may as well be a completely original fantasy show in its own right. Without the Discworld and Pratchett tag, this could actually be a suitably mediocre and amusing fantasy offering. As something attempting to adapt Pratchett’s work, The Watch is so far removed from the source material it’s hard to believe this was even given the green-light. Out of all the shows released this year, this is one you probably shouldn’t watch.