Robert Redford has been president for decades. His liberal agenda has made it hard for police officers to access their guns.

And those police officers have to wear masks, or sometimes elaborate costumes, to hide their identities from an underground, KKK-inspired racist militia that would murder them and their families.

Welcome to HBO’s provocative, mind-boggling and visually dazzling “Watchmen,” a spin-off of the groundbreaking comic that does some serious spinning. Set in the same skewed universe as the original, this story has (mostly) its own set of characters and concerns, and those concerns are painfully relevant to our painful times.

Central to the action is Angela Abar (Regina King, rocking it), a cop almost killed by the militia who, while supposedly retired, still works the job dressed as Sister Night, a spooky Matrix-like religious figure. Alongside her are a guy with a mirror face, Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), a Russian who dresses in red and assorted other colorful characters.

Most cops simply wear a yellow scarf pulled up over the bottom of their face, but the real heroes are more fashion forward.

None of the cops have super-powers beyond your standard Kung Fu silliness. But there are some gifted oddballs. Dr. Manhattan, the blue all-powerful figure from the original comic, lives on Mars doing… something. And Jeremy Irons, playing your basic mad scientist, dwells in another dimension where he breeds helpful, disposable clone servants.

Every once in a while a portal to somewhere opens up and baby squids rain down from the sky on earth, making a stinky mess. And there’s an Asian billionairess building the world’s biggest clock in Tulsa, Oklahoma, because… why? It’s that kind of show.

Earth-wise most of the action revolves around Tulsa, and the real-world race massacre there in 1921 serves as a starting point for the current story. With the action flashing back and forward that awful event hovers over everything; this new world may have blue guys and squid rain but racism perseveres.

After a bit Jean Smart, playing a superhero-turned FBI matriarch, comes along to both solve a modern- day lynching in Tulsa and inject some cynical humor, elevating the entire enterprise. Yes, the two main heroes here are female: progress on at least that front.

The good news is this is all very high quality stuff, filled with trippy eye candy, artfully directed and somewhat frighteningly topical despite all the costumed frills. It’s HBO-lush in the fantasy manner of “Westworld,” “Game of Thrones” and all that and certainly captures the senses.

But this is also puzzle TV – what’s going on? will it end up making any sense? – from creator Damon Lindelof, who’s both stumbled (“Lost”) and excelled (“The Leftovers”) while kind of inventing the genre. Questions abound from episode to episode, and what answers there are usually lead to more questions, on and on. Still, it all looks cool and seems meaningful, baby squid notwithstanding.

There’s no knowing if it will all come together or fall apart, but it surely is a thing of sparkling interest.



9 p.m. Sunday


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