How That Big Watchmen Twist Pays off an Abandoned Lost Plot
Lindelof has, diplomatically, never explicitly said why the network turned down this pitch prompting Keaton- who didn't want to make an entire TV show-to drop out and Matthew Fox to pick up the mantle as the show's leading man. But in a 2015 essay, former Lost writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach said bluntly that the reason Abrams and Lindelof couldn't get away with it was "the sad reality of American network television in 2004 was that shows needed competent, easily identifiable main characters with abilities that undeniably spoke to their leadership and heroism: and that was, most of the time, a handsome white guy with an advanced degree in criminology, law, or medicine... and an absurdly tragic backstory."
Grillo-Marxuach continued,"When JJ and Damon returned from their first network notes session with a slightly bemused expression, I asked how the notes session went. I was not shocked when Damon shrugged with a not inconsiderable amount of contempt for his unimaginative corporate overlords and reported that, 'We can't kill the white guy.'" In a recent podcast interview, Lindelof said, "I agree with everything [Grillo-Marxuach] wrote. I would corroborate his account as being one thousand percent authentic. This is not a man who tells lies."
But, thankfully, a lot has changed in 15 years and while Kassell says she wasn't explicitly aware that Johnson's surprise death might have anything to do with his long ago plans for Lost, what is clear is that everyone involved in the project-including Regina King herself-is excited to make a comic book show in 2019 where a black woman over the age of 40 is the series lead. "There was never a discussion of 'you can't,'" Kassell said.
King's central role is part of a larger departure for Lindelof who has, despite his early efforts to put Kate front and center on Lost, caught some flak over the years for centering both Lost and his first HBO series The Leftovers on white male protagonists with difficult relationships with their fathers not dissimilar from his own. (It's a critique the very self-aware Lindelof is good-naturedly aware of.) But while The Leftovers may have started with Justin Theroux's character Kevin Garvey at the center, it ended by shifting its focus somewhat to Carrie Coon's Nora Durst. (The pitch-perfect finale was called "The Book of Nora.")
In Watchmen, Lindelof is pushing himself even further out of his comfort zone with a show that not only puts a black woman at its center, but also, as the season goes on, questions the corruption that put men like Don Johnson's (likable!) Chief Judd Crawford in power in the first place. And in this first episode the key to all of that is, yes, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!
There's the episode's title; an all-black production of the musical that Judd attends early on in the episode; his impromptu rendition of "People Will Say We're in Love" at the dinner table; and, finally, his death underscored by Oklahoma! film star Gordon MacRae singing "Pore Jud Is Daid." Nicole Kassell explains that this repeated use of the old-fashioned musical is meant to contrast with the violent real-world incident that kicks off the series: the Tulsa race riot of 1921. "When you think Tulsa," she said, "most people-I'd say, unfortunately, most Caucasian people only know Oklahoma for the musical."
But, Kassell explained, "there's a new way to look at the musical and the conflict between the ranchers and the farmers. You can transpose that onto the race issues in our country now, that have always been there, but it's just another lens to look at it from." Lindelof and Kassell's show aims to highlight how Oklahoma is far from O.K. But Watchmen isn't the only recent piece of art to explore the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic in this way. A raw and electrifying production recently took Broadway by storm and scooped up a Tony award for best revival. These twin examinations of the story of Curly, Laurie, Jud, and the rest are, Kassell said, a complete coincidence: "It's just really weirdly in the zeitgeist right now."
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