Rating : 4/5
By Ruchika Das
The series deftly blends the mundane and the mythical. The plot takes place in a world of cell phones, gas stations, and spit-and-sawdust taverns, as well as an eyeless serial killer, noxious occult troubleshooters, and an actual, literal Lucifer. From the dream realm to Hell itself, the show’s world(s) are so detailed that even minor characters sketch out a sense of an enigmatic larger universe evoked by the smallest scrap of dialogue or appearance.
Though it’s a mythic story about a godlike fictional figure, reality-altering rubies, and the grim reaper in a tank top, the humanity of the people Morpheus meets is at the heart of The Sandman. From a father and son arguing over their prisoner’s fate in the premiere episode to a truly mesmerising midseason episode set entirely in an ill-fated diner, the show’s characters are drawn with heartwarming hopes and heartbreaking fears.
It’s frustrating that the creators of the show felt the need to start the series with a disconcertingly over-explanatory voiceover explaining in eye-rolling detail what the show could’ve teased and revealed. I can’t help but feel a Netflix executive’s hand in that decision, but if it makes the series more approachable to new viewers, I shouldn’t complain. The first episode’s cliffhanger also indicates a traditional type of series — the fictional version of a police procedural — but that show never comes to fruition. Instead, each instalment tells a relatively self-contained story, with story fragments woven into a mesmeric patchwork. Morpheus is somewhat sidelined when a more conventional overriding storyline takes over in the later episodes. This more traditional story, however, gives the show’s dreamlike structure some forward momentum and, more importantly, serves as a ruse to smuggle in increasingly and pleasingly weird stuff.
The Sandman on Netflix is a direct adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novel series’ “Preludes & Nocturnes” and “The Doll’s House” stories, and aside from updating the time period and a few key changes here and there, it’s nearly a page-for-page take on the beloved stories. Pages that many of us have loved for centuries leap to the screen, hauling the viewer into the dream in ways we can only imagine. There are very few scenes in this series that aren’t stunning to look at or meticulously planned out, from the cold, destitute cellars of Roderick Burgess’ (Charles Dance) estate to the sweeping visions of the Dreaming.
Dream, played by Tom Sturridge, is ethereal. Seriously, he’s incredible in this role. From his delivery and speech inflections to the tiny, almost unintentional smirk that appears when Morpheus finds himself amused in spite of himself… It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in his place. Dream’s starry eyes may be gone (though they do appear from time to time), but any doubt that the character would be encapsulated here should be put to rest.
He’s not alone in his outstanding portrayal of character, either. There isn’t a single terrible performance in the bunch. Boyd Holbrook’s Corinthian is as suave and eerie as he should be; no one can call out Dream while displaying the deepest kind of empathy like Kirby Howell Baptiste’s Death; Gwendoline Christie’s Lucifer is as imposing as you’d expect; and Mason Alexander Park’s Desire is simply delicious. Syson and Gaiman worked hard on the casting for this series, and it shows.
For those unknown with The Sandman, your enjoyment will be determined by your feelings toward airy philosophising, Gaiman’s combination of whimsy and jet-black humour, or Stephen Fry. But, after the gleefully wicked American Gods and the cheerfully cosy Good Omens, this long-awaited adaptation of Gaiman’s The Sandman feels like a fitting translation of Gaiman’s signature cocktail of unflinching humanity, atmospheric allusion, hilarious nastiness – and, most importantly, an underlying sense of aching hope and joy. Nothing could possibly capture the magic of the iconic comic, but the books were set aside, like a half-remembered dream. The Sandman is a fantasy TV series that is both dark and captivating.
Season one is based on the first three books of The Sandman, and there are an additional eight volumes that can be evolved, so there is a lot to look forward to and fantasies about. “Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgotten,” after all.