Neil Gaiman has created 2022’s single most extraordinary TV Show drama: The Sandman.
This dark, engaging comic book adaptation is utterly lavish. It features an emotional depth that’s almost unheard of in fantasy epics. As a result, it should delight newcomers and fans alike.
It has taken three decades for an adaptation of The Sandman, streaming on Netflix, Neil Gaiman’s celebrated comic-book series, to make it to the TV screen. It is a bold and colossal story about gods and demons. So deep and rich that the idea of cramming its wonders into ten episodes seems borderline ludicrous. This is the era of big-budget fantasy television like Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones. So with its debut season, The Sandman can stand proudly among them, albeit as their moody goth older brother.
The first couple of episodes exists firmly in the realm of fantasy. “Patton Oswalt is a crow?”. It’s that kind of show, immersing you in its world immediately, setting the Sandman off on his journey of discovery. It begins in 1916, when Lord Morpheus, also known as Dream, the Sandman, Dream of the Endless. Is mistakenly captured by Charles Dance’s sinister, and Dance is perfect at sinister: magus.
Magus wants to use Death’s power and manipulate it to indulge in a spot of necromancy and revive his son, who was killed during the war. Instead, he ends up with Dream and traps him inside a glass sphere in his basement. The period setting feels a bit dark, like Downton Abbey for a while, but it soon becomes clear that it is too expansive to stick to one era or genre. Time flies and slows throughout the series, and we leap through different periods, realms, and cities. It all feels like rather a lot but works very well.
That is because the pace is meditative and not frantic. Once the scene-setting and world-building have been done, it has the confidence to take its own sweet time to build the big stuff. A handful of viewers will love its fantastical elements, from a cute mythical creature called Gregory to a battle of imaginations with Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie). Jenna Coleman is vital as the tough and messy Johanna Constantine. A contraction of Johanna and John into one character, whose nightmares are matched only by her exorcist duties.
Sandman : Cast
The enormous cast is excellent, with an impressive ability to deliver lines that could have sounded overly literary or convoluted in ways that say neither unnatural nor woolly. Vivienne Acheampong as Dream’s right-hand man Lucienne, Boyd Holbrook as the gruesome walking nightmare Corinthian, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as an empathic, big-hearted Death are all fantastic.
Thewlis is brilliant as John Dee, naive and cruel and earnest and cynical, and he gets to lead the best episode of the lot. After a mysterious car journey that plays out like a film, Dee spends a day and night in a diner, experimenting on its staff and patrons by nudging them towards a policy of being honest. Each person’s feelings are teased to the surface. It is horrible, mesmerizing, and thrilling, with an uncanny, Twin Peaks-ish feel. This is undoubtedly a contender for best episode of the year, any TV drama, and the point at which The Sandman finds its feet.
Yet it is engrossing from the start. It is transportive, playful at times, and undoubtedly grand. But above all, it is dark. Bodies explode, limbs are severed, and demons crawl out of the mouths of professional footballers, fist-first. Nestled among its more grotesque spectacles is an emotional depth that elevates this far beyond the usual “let’s see what we can blow the CGI budget on” fantasy fodder. Given the source material, that’s no wonder. For fans, it may have been worth the long wait, but there is plenty to discover for newcomers to the Sandman’s world.