Amid Warner Bros. Discovery’s gutting of Warner properties and HBO Max — which include DC Comics — it’s very strange to see “The Sandman” — a prominent DC property — do exceedingly well on Netflix. It, however, has good reason to take off — it’s wonderfully bizarre, mystical and whimsical, while being faithful to the original comic series by Neil Gaiman, which has no doubt been a result of Gaiman’s stewardship of the show.
Watch an abbreviated version of this review via InReview’s TikTok below. This written version will go more in-depth.
The show stars Morpheus/Dream (Tom Sturridge), who is the titular Sandman, or king of dreams. He rules over a realm called The Dreaming, which is where people’s souls go when they dream. Gaiman’s “Sandman” universe incorporates classic mythic figures like Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie), God and others in unique and different ways, and his world has interesting mechanics to it in which physical manifestations of different human and emotional concepts (like Dream, Death and Desire) rule over their own domains that are responsible for the phenomena.
The show’s inciting incident happens when Dream is captured by a human named Rodrick Burgess (Charles Dance), who was instead seeking to capture Dream’s sister, Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), in hopes of bringing his son back from the dead. Having captured a powerful entity, Burgess refuses to let him go, not only for fear of retribution (Dream does prove to be wrathful in this show), but because he hopes to gain gifts from him.
Dream refuses and remains captured for 100 years. Burgess does, however, gain supernatural gifts by taking Dream’s tools (a helm, a sandbag and a ruby) which keep him young, until they are stolen by an ex-lover.
Burgess’ sin is passed down to his son, who makes the mistake of killing Dream’s raven, but under whose watch Dream is eventually set free. As such, the first part of the show focuses on Dream recovering his tools, and the overall season is about him repairing the damage his absence has done to his realm, chief of all is the fact that some dreams and nightmares, like the serial killer nightmare called the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), have escaped and are wreaking havoc on the waking world.
This show has an A+ cast. Standouts include: Christie as Morningstar, who serves as a calm, cool and cunning villain who is clearly the big bad of the entire show; Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine, the latest in a long line of monster hunters that Dream has history with; Howell-Baptiste as Death, who plays a large role in reigniting Dream’s passion for his job and duty as the deity of dreams; Arthur Darvill, and Derek Jacobi, who respectively play authors Richard “Ric” Madoc and Erasmus Fry in a special bonus 11th episode; and David Thewlis as John Dee (Burgess’ son), who serves as an unpredictable but dangerous villain in the first half of the show.
There are so many good performances in this show, which is a result of the fact that this deep roster has been given excellent material by Gaiman. The writing of this show is playful, wistful and it has insightful, clever characters brimming with creatively brilliant themes that make this show pop. One of my favorite elements of this show is how it explores the theme of dreams being not what the visions we associate with when we fall asleep, but also aspirations and hope; Episode 11 plainly admits that the latter type of dreams is why Dream is one of the most important entities in his universe, as the inspirational qualities of his realm helped humanity dream of a better world and work towards that dream.
I do think that the latter arc of the show involving “dream vortex” (a human who has Morpheus’ power over dreams but cannot control it) Rose Walker (Kyo Ra) was a little weak if only because of its large but flat cast of supporting characters that don’t quite stick. But it was enjoyable, and the Corinthian really works as the main villain of the second half of this season, as Holbrook gives a tactful, charismatic performance.
This show deserves a second season. Watching it, I couldn’t help but wish Gaiman would take over as the head writer of “Doctor Who,” as this show has a remarkably similar feel to the David Tennant- and Matt Smith-eras of that show (it’s also notable that the writing in the current era of that show has been its major weakness).
“The Sandman” Season 1 gets a 9/10