9pm, Sky Atlantic

Created by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, HBO’s astonishing Watchmen marks the second attempt at putting the landmark 1986 comic book by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons onscreen, although it’s by no means a straight adaptation. That was tried in 2009, with a movie that, in straining to stay faithful to Moore and Gibbons’s work – a holy text in the heavyweight division of comics – lost much of its soul.

The nine-part series applies a lighter touch and takes a different route. Offering a new story based within the world the comic presented, and concentrating on new characters (to begin with), it’s simultaneously a meditation on Watchmen, a canny, loving sequel, and its own thing. And yet, by shooting way out in its own direction, it comes closer than the film to catching the original’s spirit. I’m halfway through, so things could change – I’m still wary of Lindelof after the Lost years – but so far it has been thrilling, bold, whip-smart, violent, funny, sad, strange and, often, utterly demented. A stunning thing.

In Watchmen, a masterpiece of the comics form that also offered a commentary on that form, Moore proposed a world in which Batman-style superheroes were real: masked vigilantes patrolling American streets fighting crime, until their violent methods saw them grow unpopular, and outlawed by the government. His story saw a weary, ageing band of ex-heroes reluctantly come out of retirement and try to squeeze back into their old latex costumes to battle a hideous conspiracy, thrumming with the fears of the late Cold War era.

Lindelof’s show picks up thirty years later – but first, dips back in time, to 1921. Watchmen’s alternative reality shares much of our real history, and the TV series begins with the infamous Greenwood massacre, when a white mob launched a murderous assault on the Tulsa town’s black citizens. The incident will reverberate curiously beneath the story, and signals that fractures around American racism will be a theme, as nuclear anxiety was for the 1980s comic.

Indeed, in the Tulsa of 2019, a white supremacist terrorist organisation called The Seventh Kavalry (whose members style themselves after Watchmen’s iconic anti-hero Rorschach) is on the rise, threatening some great violent reckoning. The Kavalry previously launched a devastating attack on the city’s police which wiped out half the force overnight and literally altered the face of law-keeping: to protect themselves, Tulsa’s cops now wear masks to hide their identities.

The early episodes’ central figure is ex-detective Angela Abar (Regina King), who officially quit the force after the Kavalry’s killing spree, but still secretly operates as Sister Night, one of a handful of costumed vigilantes secretly employed by police chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson). As the Kavalry’s threat grows, she investigates, but finds her search derailed, leading somewhere entirely unexpected.

Around this, echoes from the original Watchmen hang in the air, gradually forming a denser atmosphere as pieces and faces from back then come into play, not least FBI agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), once the superhero Silk Spectre. Meanwhile, somewhere out there, we glimpse an aristocratic, fairly eccentric older gentleman, who first goes nameless, although Watchmen fans may work out who he is.

It’s around this figure, majestically played by Jeremy Irons, that Watchmen gets really cosmically crazy. At its wildest, the show digs the same William Burroughs-ish acid-sci-noir paranoid vibe that thrummed beneath the comic, and catches both its wicked humour and sensory-overload background detailing. The cast all rise to the occasion – King is literally kick-ass and Johnson is exceptional, but the performances to savour are Smart, brilliant playing a character very much in keeping with the smart, grouchy, conflicted, flippant and haunted woman Moore created, and Irons, elegantly looping the loop in the most Jeremy Irons performance of his career. This is great.


Sunday October 20

Night And Day

11pm, Channel 4

The first series of this pulpy but dependable Barcelona-set thriller went out in 2018 – for viewers (like me) struggling to put names to faces, given how many imports Channel 4 now has streaming under its Walter Presents banner, it was the one about forensic pathologist Sara Grau (Clara Segura), who got caught up in the icky, murderous case of “The Granny Killer,” after a man she’d recently slept with turned up dead on her slab. Now she’s back and, in addition to dealing with a complicated personal life, has to take a disturbing new journey into corruption and torture when a long-dead body is discovered in a remote cave complex. The autopsy provides clues that point toward dark doings involving a psychiatric unit. Meanwhile, elsewhere, evidence comes to light of a conspiracy at the heart of the legal establishment.



10pm, BBC Four

They don’t make them like this any more, sadly. Showing to complement tonight’s final episode of The Troubles: A Secret History (8.30pm), this tense, taut drama was directed by the great Alan Clarke for BBC Two in 1985, and is still hard and heart-stopping. Based on the memoirs of former soldier AFN Clarke (no relation), Clarke captures the strain, fear, soul-crushing monotony and sudden violence experienced by a British platoon on border patrol in South Armagh. Filming hand-held, documentary style, with long silent stretches in night-vision, Clarke offers little in the way of plot and nothing in the way of examining the political reasons behind these young men being where they are. Yet his ruthlessly minimal approach produces a haunting, psychologically acute picture of the day-to-day realities of the situation in close-up. It’s one of the great pieces of British TV.


Korea: The Never Ending War

9pm, BBC Four

The Korean War, which officially started in 1950 and never officially ended, is sometimes categorised as “the forgotten war.” But this feature length documentary does a good job of stressing it as one of the most important turning points in world history since the Second World War, and underlines how its consequences remain very much in play. Notionally split into north and south to mark spheres of Soviet and US influence in 1945, the division hardened in 1950 when Kim Il-Sung’s forces invaded South Korea. Soon, twenty-four nations had troops on the ground as the opposing Cold War super powers faced off. Using testimony from those who were there, and a wealth of archive, the film offers a clear history of the conflict, which soon had the world trembling on the brink of nuclear conflict, and traces how those shivers still tremble regularly today.


The Accident

9pm, Channel 4/


10pm, BBC Scotland

Thursday nights are getting busy. While BBC Two’s excellent Giri/ Haji continues (9pm), Channel 4 launches writer Jack Thorne’s new one, a grim, crackling issue drama, powered by the peerless Sarah Lancashire. The accident is an explosion at a much-hyped building project in a tiny, long-depressed Welsh valley town. When the structure collapses it becomes clear local kids are trapped inside, including the rebellious teen daughter of Polly (Lancashire). Soon angry lines are drawn between some locals and the giant construction company behind the scheme, represented by the slickly suited Harriet (Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen). Later, look out for BBC Scotland’s Guilt, a nicely sour black comedy, with Mark Bonnar and Jamie Sives as bickering brothers who accidentally kill a pensioner while driving home from a wedding, then try to cover it up.


K-Pop Idols: Inside The Hit Factory

9.30pm, BBC Four

This solidly assembled documentary by writer James Ballardie offers a fascinating exploration of one of the biggest phenomenon in music today: K-pop, the shiny, sharp, shoutalong style carefully manufactured in South Korea that has started to break down the dominance the West has long held over the pop market. As a starting point, Ballardie considers how, this summer, leading K-Pop boyband BTS played two sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium. To examine how the South Korean sound has become such a major player on the international scene, he travels to Seoul where he meets one of the driving forces behind the explosion, Soo-man Lee, who has shaped the Korean pop industry for over 30 years and still steers the giant K-Pop company SM Entertainment. Ballardie sees how the bands are created and sold by talking with songwriters, producers, music video makers and performers.



9pm, BBC Four

A particularly excellent double bill of episodes tonight, and long-term Spiral fans will be especially touched by the first, because of how it begins (a moment between Laure and Gilou, the first of many tonight, as their relationship see-saws) and how it ends (a moment between Laure and… somebody else). Meanwhile, the case has now focussed on Rayan’s seemingly clean-cut older brother, Fouad, who appears to be involved in the money-laundering scheme up to his neck. As their team mounts a tense surveillance operation in the streets of Paris, Laure and Gilou come under pressure to share the case with the Fraud Squad, but are reluctant to surrender control. Elsewhere, there’s some spectacular Judge Roban business, as his personal interest in the hospital manslaughter affair becomes clear, and Karlsson faces a pivotal moment in her own case.