This long-awaited Netflix show of Neil Gaiman’s comic book adaptation ‘The Sandman’, so far has been mostly about world-building than much else. 

After reading parts of The Sandman lore (excerpts from the comics) and the hype around it, I wondered if a TV series would do justice to the show. But the trailer did look promising, so I watched it with an open mind. And while it does a good job of bringing the once deemed “unfilmable” comics to life, it leaves you wanting something better.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read all of the comics and neither am familiar with Gaiman’s other works. This review is more personal based on what I know of the comics and my likes/dislikes of the series. Hence, it may not necessarily agree with that of others. 

‘The Sandman’ is not a bad watch by any means but its weaknesses are easier to spot than what it does best. Its plot is scattered and constantly shifting – just like our Lord of the Dreams’ ambitions and beliefs. Never settling on a main story or objective, it tries to introduce us to multiple characters from the comics but even that feels more like a tease. You’ll meet a few of his siblings – Death, Desire, and Despair – along with others but don’t get enough of them. At some point, you might even feel as if our protagonist doesn’t get enough screen time. So, despite successfully adapting the comics, I felt I didn’t get enough of what I came for – the Sandman himself.

The Sandman

As the series begins, we quickly learn that the Endless (Dream and his siblings) aren’t omnipotent. They have limits exploitable by even amateur magicians who can trap them, rendering them helpless. This properly manages your expectations of these cosmic beings throughout the show. But they never reveal how some characters manage to pull off certain feats. For example, how John Dee (Burgess’s illegitimate son – the one who traps Dream) altered Dream’s ruby.

the sandman - helmet - netflix
Picture: Netflix

There also seems to be an air of continued indecisiveness about our protagonist, i.e. the Sandman, a.k.a. Morpheus’ goals/convictions throughout. We see him complain to his librarian, Lucienne, how none of his siblings came to his aid while he was trapped for over a century. But when he meets Death and learns she knew the trap was meant for her all along, he doesn’t turn sour…for some reason?

Also, despite being depicted as someone determined not to meddle in human affairs; when he encounters Johanna Constantine, he helps ease her girlfriend’s death. But then again, he is not one to shy away from killing off ‘The Vortex’ when the need arises. We see him question his feelings and convictions but none of these are explored enough to discover something concrete.

Characters

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Picture: Netflix

One thing I like about the series is a few of the casting choices. Tom Sturridge does a great job of portraying Morpheus – always brooding and aided by his tall, lanky figure. I’d say the best part is how he voices the Sandman – giving the comic character a fitting persona. You can also see Boyd Holbrook enjoy every part of being the Corinthian – the Nightmare with teeth instead of eyes. He’s equal parts charming and maniacal; and although he is the season’s main antagonist, you can’t help but love him. My only complaint is if they could’ve somehow shown his human-possessing abilities rather than as a simple knife-wielding killer.

Mason Alexandar Park did appear to justify the personification of Desire – from what little we see of him. Patton Oswalt’s voice as Matthew the Raven fit perfectly and gave the show that “medium-rare” comedic vibe. And while not a major character, I’d like to have seen more of Mervyn the Pumpkin-head; all because Mark Hamill is behind his voice. It gives him that cartoon Joker aura that you can’t get enough of. Also, the show portrays Cain and Abel’s relationship beautifully – a brother who can’t help his wicked nature while the other doomed to be the former’s victim. Then, there’s David Thewlis as John Dee, whose sociopathic performance was fantastic.

However, while Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine did try her best to showcase that ‘Constantine’ personality – cynical, selfish, rebellious, anti-heroic – she doesn’t fully succeed. I can’t help but think it’d have been better with John Constantine (as is in the comics) and TV’s Matt Ryan reprising the role. Personally, his charm as DC’s TV series’ Constatine was missed here.

And others were pretty forgettable. Death was just okay, while Lucienne, despite being a major character, failed to stand out. Lucifer fails to deliver, too – honestly, Gwendoline Christie lacks the menacing face/personality to play the King of Hell. I’d very much like to have seen Tom Ellis reprise his role here, too, but alas…
Then, there’s Rose Walker, a.k.a. the Vortex, who, in spite of being one of the important characters, is bland. To top it off, sometimes, you’ll even find yourself wishing they’d show less of her and more of our hero!

The Flow

Action sequences are as expected – dreamy. Even with very little “hardcore action”, it runs nice and smooth as it’s all about Dreams anyway. I was expecting a bit of action in Lucifer vs. Dream but their metaphorical battle was good too. One thing that bugs me, though, is the final Dream – Corinthian face-off. Even when our villain appears to be able to hurt the hero with his knife, he does not… For some reason, choosing instead to elaborate on his plan…? Classic “hero has the upper-hand” plothole!

As for the episodes, there are a lot of dreams and magic to see. And while there are a lot of Gods meeting Monsters and whatnot, the episodes I liked the most were the ones that show humans at their best and worst. The former, set in a pub-meeting recurring every hundred years, shows humanity’s unwavering spirit and optimism in the face of adversity, while the latter, set in the diner, explores what humans are truly capable of at their darkest. These episodes go on to show the difference a single character can make in the story – Hob Gadling and John Dee here are simply electric!

Conclusion

Having said all that, we can see that this season is so focused on teasing characters that may be important for upcoming seasons that it misses out on crafting a solid plot and abandons any tangible arc for the lead character. It relies mostly on dream logic to keep things moving, which, sometimes is its strength while, at other times, looks bleak. And I cannot stress this enough – we don’t get enough of what we come here for – The Sandman!

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