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Recommended: The Sandman on Netflix

This intoxicating adaptation is a dream come true for Neil Gaiman fans — and a feast for newcomers, too.
  • Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Tom Sturridge in The Sandman. (Photo: Netflix)
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    The Sandman | Netflix
    Hour-Long Fantasy Drama (10 Episodes) | TV-MA

    What's The Sandman About?

    Based on Neil Gaiman's visionary comic/graphic novel series, The Sandman imagines a mythic world where our dreams are presided over by an immortal named "Dream." After he's captured and held prisoner for a hundred years, he emerges to find all of the dreams and nightmares he's created running loose in the waking world while other immortal forces move against him.

    Who's involved?

    • Tom Sturridge plays Dream, also known as Morpheus and Sandman. He is the immortal lord of the realm of the Dreaming, creating the dreams and nightmares that human beings see when they fall asleep. He is one of the Endless, seven siblings who are manifestations of different elements of existence (Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Destruction, and Delirium).
    • Boyd Holbrook is The Corinthian, a nightmare created by Dream who has escaped the Dreaming and is roaming the waking world unauthorized. Recognizable by his mirrored glasses, which disguise horrifying teeth where his eyes should be.
    • Vivienne Acheampong plays Lucienne, Morpheus's most loyal ally. Serving as the librarian of the Dreaming, she stayed faithful during Morpheus's long absence.
    • Gwendoline Christie is Lucifer, the ruler of Hell and none too fond of Morpheus when he comes calling.
    • Kirby Howell-Baptiste is Death, Dream's older sister. Counter to expectations, she's a sunny, fun personality, taking it as her responsibility to be a kind face and companion as she ushers human beings into the "sunless lands."
    • Mason Alexander Park is Desire, another one of the Endless, who historically has not gotten along with their brother, Dream. Desire is meant to stoke their namesake emotion in humans, whether it's desire for love, power, success, or something more carnal.
    • Jenna Coleman plays Johanna Constantine, an occult detective looking to send rogue demons back to Hell.
    • Charles Dance is Roderick Burgess, a wealthy Englishman who dabbled in magic, thinking he could take Death hostage (the better to bargain for his son's life back). Instead, he captured Dream and kept him prisoner inside a glass bubble.
    • Joely Richardson is Ethel Cripps, the mistress of Roderick Burgess who becomes pregnant by him and one day runs away with his unborn child as well as a few of Morpheus's totems. She later resurfaces as a dealer of stolen art.
    • David Thewlis plays John Dee, Ethel's son with Roderick Burgess. He's dangerously insane, and because he's carrying one of Morpheus' stolen totems, he's incredibly powerful.
    • Vanesu Samuyani is Rose Walker, a mortal young woman who is desperately searching for her missing brother. Along the way, she discovers heretofore unknown family, as well as a connection to the Dreaming.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    It's been a decades-long journey to get some version of The Sandman onto the screen. The comic book series — which was collected into nine graphic novels — ran from 1989 to 1996 and was an absolute sensation, earning a legion of highly devoted fans. With its colorful dreamworld, array of eccentric characters, and habit of nimbly hopping between genres, it was both tantalizing and daunting as a prospect for adaptation. Now, after countless false starts and hopeful rumors, it's arrived at Netflix, with a ten-episode season that covers the first two volumes: "Preludes & Nocturnes" and "The Doll's House."

    Even limiting itself to those two collections poses a significant challenge, and if the show has a major weakness it's that it doesn't always succeed in building momentum from a stretch of stories that sit somewhat awkwardly between episodic and serial.

    Not that this should dampen fans' enthusiasm for finally seeing this adaptation developed by Gaiman, David S. Goyer (who helped write all the Christopher Nolan Batman movies), and Allan Heinberg (who wrote the screenplay for the Wonder Woman movie and created the Mierelle Enos TV series The Catch). The show is remarkably faithful to the books, starting with Dream's captivity by the mad warlock Roderick Burgess and moving through his encounters with the Corinthian and Rose Walker.

    In Tom Sturridge, Gaiman has found an actor who very much looks the part as Dream: pale, moody, and emotionally… let's say constrained. One reason The Sandman was always going to be tough on screen is that Morpheus is such an outwardly stoic character. Gaiman and his collaborators on the comic were able to convey his character through inner monologue, storyline detours, and artistic details (down to the style of his speech bubbles). Sturridge has much more on his shoulders and doesn't always present as the most dynamic presence in the room. Still, he manages to capture the essence of the character, infusing it with plenty of gothy energy.

    Speaking of energy, the show is packed with characters and plotlines that seem to burst from all directions. Once the initial story about Dream's captivity is told, the season becomes quasi-episodic, with Morpheus taking each installment to track down a totem or a rogue dream or nightmare.

    The season might have benefitted from a stricter episodic structure in a way that would better showcase some of its more underserved characters, specifically Dream's siblings in the Endless. The cheerful, friendly Death, in particular, is a wildly popular character in the comics who gets short shrift, appearing in just half-an-episode this first season, despite a winning performance by Kirby Howell-Baptiste. It's here where, as much as you can understand Gaiman, Goyer, and Heinberg's haste to get to the Rose Walker/"Doll's House" storyline (one of the most beloved by fans), it might have been wiser to simply cover one book this first season.

    Still, for all of its bumpy spots, Netflix's The Sandman is brimming with Gaiman's intoxicating vision of a world where dreams are living things subject to hardship, moods, caprice, and benevolence. The show benefits greatly from performances by the likes of David Thewlis (menacing and terrifying), Mason Alexander Park (delicious as Desire), and Stephen Fry (as a kindly man who harbors a secret). For longtime fans, this is a story they've been dying to experience in this way. For newcomers, it's a chance to fall into a rich and new world.

    Pairs well with

    • Doctor Who, perhaps the one other show that captures Gaiman's sense of boundless world-building and British emotion. (Streams on HBO Max and Brit Box.)
    • American Gods, a Gaiman adaptation with tremendous and unforgettable high points. (Season 1 streams on Starz. Later seasons are available for purchase.)
    • Good Omens, another Gaiman adaptation that leans more heavily on his comedic strangeness. (Streaming on Prime Video.)

  • The Sandman
    Complete first season drops on Netflix Friday, August 5, 2022
    Created by: Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg.
    Starring: Tom Sturridge, Gwendoline Christie, David Thewlis, Boyd Holbrook, Vanesu Samuyani, Vivienne Acheampong, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Charles Dance, Jenna Coleman, and Mason Alexander Park.
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    TOPICS: The Sandman, Netflix, Allan Heinberg, Boyd Holbrook, Charles Dance, David S. Goyer, David Thewlis, Gwendoline Christie, Jenna Coleman, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mason Alexander Park, Neil Gaiman, Tom Sturridge, Vanesu Samuyani, Vivienne Acheampong