The first reviews I saw of Netflix’s “The Sandman” were vitriolic complaints that the series had “too many gay people.” Naturally, that made me want to watch it even more.
The original comics series by Neil Gaiman ran from 1989 to 1996 and was highly praised by critics and fans alike. This long-awaited TV adaptation remains highly faithful to the original comics while still updating the material for 2022 with its richly diverse cast. A lot of representation in today’s mainstream media feels tacked on for diversity brownie points (looking at you, Disney). Here, however, the inclusion of more POC and LGBTQ+ characters feels more thoughtful, like the creators were making an actual effort to improve on the ‘90s comics’ representation.
“The Sandman” follows Dream, the anthropomorphic personification of, well, dreams. While being imprisoned by a wizard for over a century, his realm of the Dreaming fell to ruin, which meant devastating consequences for the human world. After escaping his captivity, Dream must restore his kingdom and reassert his power as the King of Dreams.
Although the show’s fidelity to its source material is impressive, it is also to the show’s detriment. The pacing of this show dragged a lot in places. An entire episode could pass in which neither the plot nor the characters developed much, a result of hewing a bit too closely to the comics instead of adapting them to the medium of TV. Additionally, the quality of this season’s arcs was uneven, with the first arc of the season being stronger than the second. This caused the show to drag towards the end of the season. Luckily, the Corinthian, the main villain, was entertaining enough to maintain interest in the overall story.
What the show lacks in good pacing it makes up for with its characters and performances. Dream is an Endless, an extremely powerful being who has existed for thousands of years. Therefore, capturing his inhuman nature is paramount to his characterization, and Tom Sturridge perfectly embodies it. Sturridge conveys the gravity of Dream’s power while also contrasting it with Dream’s more awkward, human moments. One example of these more mortal episodes is when Dream tries to smile at a shop owner after his older sister, Death, yells at him to be more social. The shop owner just looks weirded out by Dream, and it’s a very endearing moment for the character. Dream also looks like he’s on the verge of tears basically all the time, which is an acting choice that goes along perfectly with his all-black emo fit and eyeliner. Although Sturridge’s performance as Dream carries this show, every single actor delivers an on-point performance. Some standouts are Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death and Boyd Holbrook as the Corinthian.
Along with the spectacular cast, the visuals of the show are stunning. Although there’s a heavy use of CGI to convey the magic, especially in Dream’s realm, everything looks like it exists in the world of the show. There are some moments where some of the magic creatures look a little too fake, but the computer effects in this show are better than anything in the recent Marvel movies and TV shows. “The Sandman” also seems to be shot with a lens that slightly distorts the image so the perspective seems a bit off. This gives the entire show a more dreamlike and unreal quality.
While ‘The Sandman’ may be slow in places, the strength of the performances and visuals carry the show’s unique premise of dreams made real.
Show: “The Sandman”
Starring: Tom Sturridge, Boyd Holbrook, Patton Oswalt
Favorite episodes: “The Sound of Her Wings,” “Dream of a Thousand Cats/Calliope”
If you like: “The Sandman’ comics, “Good Omens”
Where to watch: Netflix
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5