When it comes to cult classic comic series, very few are above Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which featured art from a long list of artists including Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, and Michael Zulli, to name a few. . It wasn’t exactly an anthology series, but it frequently spun into one-off, one-off stories. It wasn’t exactly a superhero comic, either, but it existed within the DC Universe and frequently crossed paths with it, often in the most unexpected ways. The end result was something weird and wonderful that quickly became a much-loved part of comic book history. Now, more than 20 years after its original publication, The Sandman has finally been adapted into live action by Warner Bros. and Netflix. The road to get here has been a long one, with the project in and out of various stages of production with different creatives at the helm for almost as long as the comic book series has existed. Therefore, to say that the expectations (and anxiety) around the end result of such a prolonged effort are high would be to say it lightly.
And, unfortunately, some of that anxiety is duly justified. The end result of Netflix’s The Sandman TV show is a mixed bag, at best, with as many brilliant and perfect choices as there are baffling and clunky ones. This is due, at least in part, to a slavish reliance on the source material. Very, very little has been changed from The Sandman to the show: full panels are recreated one by one, and entire lines of dialogue are frequently removed for cutscenes. Practically all the plots follow the same table of rhythms. This isn’t always to the detriment of the show (some of the directly adapted moments will be obvious fan favorites), but other times they can feel trite or even dated within this new context. The comic series was, after all, a product of the late ’80s and early ’90s, so some of the teasing (visual or otherwise) just doesn’t have the same impact now in 2022 as it did back then. .
This fervent adherence to the source material also creates a strange lack of tension for fans who come to the show with a deep knowledge of comics. There are a handful of surprises, to be sure, but the show never really says or does anything really new or interesting with the stories it adapts. For some, this will be a feature rather than a bug – there are certainly demographics being served up in the shot-for-shot remakes of the stories they love. But ultimately, the live-action aesthetic never captures the whimsical surrealism or bold, experimental styles of comics, so transplanting things so directly from page to screen really just makes the comic look like food. with a Michelin star and the show looks like a chain restaurant on hold.
Likewise, The Sandman never really decides if that’s the demographic he wants to go to. While about half of the show hinges painfully on viewers wanting to see their favorite panels come to life, the other half is deeply concerned that newcomers won’t “get it.” There are moments, especially early in the season, that pause the action to delve into various parts of the lore or simplify dense bits of worldbuilding with sticky bits of stripped-down exposition that attempt to clarify the magic and mysticism inherent in the world of the history. Then, in the second half of the season, entire plot points and major concepts are nonchalantly glossed over without even looking back, hoping you’ll fill in the gaps or know enough to take more than a few wild leaps. in order. to keep up to date. The end result feels disjointed and more than a little awkward in terms of pacing and action, like it tries to split the difference one too many times and ends up with something that doesn’t quite serve any of its intended audiences.
Now, none of this is to say that the show is a total flop. The cast, with very few exceptions, is a home run. Of the ensemble, Boyd Holbrook’s turn as The Corinthian, an escaped nightmarish serial killer with two tiny mouths for eyes, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s version of Death, one of the Endless who presides over mortality, shine. Tom Sturridge, who plays the titular Sandman, Morpheus AKA Dream of the Endless, also manages to embody the strangely charming, deeply taciturn and brooding character that anchors the entire series. But even with that handful of standouts, the entire ensemble is about as close to having a perfect cast as you can get. In fact, the show arguably would have felt more cohesive and engaging if Howell-Baptiste and Holbrook’s roles had been expanded upon in the narrative, since they really are that good. However, while Sturridge shines as Dream, the character’s arc doesn’t really kick into gear until the second half of the season, which gives another reason why having Death around more regularly, especially early on, might have helped. for things to take off.
Visually, The Sandman isn’t very consistent, but it manages to look very good and very expensive most of the time. There are plenty of practical set pieces to keep some of the more obvious VFX moments, and more than half of the recurring CGI characters look highly polished. But the overall aesthetic of the show, especially the dream sequences, never gets as surreal or visually stunning as it should. It’s hard to tell if it’s a budget issue or a post-production time constraint, but the end result is pretty lackluster.
Ultimately, Netflix’s The Sandman is doing aggressively well. It tells a cohesive story with several engaging hooks, employs a truly flawless cast of beloved characters, and, at just 10 episodes, never overstays the bill. It’s certainly not the worst possible outcome of a decades-long wait, but it’s not the best either. But hey, there are way worse ways you could spend the night than with this one and at least maybe it will inspire you to dust off your comics again.