THE SANDMAN [Series Review]: Bring Me A Dream.

Since its initial publication in 1989, writer Neil Gaiman‘s seminal, lyric The Sandman series has proven not only to be a resounding literary success — one that continues being spun-off and reintroduced to readers for nearly 30 years — but has also proven to be almost maddeningly difficult to adapt to a different medium (or, more specifically, to the screen). After so many false starts, delayed production, and years in development hell, Netflix has finally released its adaptation of the comic series.

This review follows just the first two episodes of the series’ 10-episode first season. Within seconds of the opening, we’re flown into the Dreaming — the nether-realm from whence all of humanity’s collective imagination dwells, and wherein Dream (Tom Sturridge) resides and rules. Some time early in 1900s, Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), known to others as Magus, casts a spell hoping to imprison Death, and force him to return to life Roderick’s son. The binding spell goes wrong, however (as they’re wont to do!), and instead of Death, Roderick imprisons Dream, rendering him powerless for over ten years. During his time of imprisonment, others are able to usurp his realm, as Dream’s artifacts and tools are lost, stolen, and stray nightmares and entities are free to run amok.

Narratively, the series follows the first couple of issues of the comic almost to a T. Beat for beat, the series hits all the right moments, and seeing these characters in motion was something I’d always hoped for, but never thought I’d actually see. The poignant highs and melancholic lows are recreated here, all the while Gaiman’s imagination is left to grow and be dealt new breaths of life.

Being the first (and as such, only) actor to embody Dream (AKA Morpheus, AKA the titular Sandman) Tom Sturridge brings at first a detached aloofness to the role that takes some time to grow accustomed to. Even from the first episode to the second, he warms up considerably, playing with the role a bit more loosely as he grows more comfortable. He’s a lot to work with: not just with Dream’s other-humanness, but also the unfolding mythology and world-building the series embarks on.

Sturridge is great as Dream, as he has the look down pat, and the way he stares through humans — particularly Charles Dance early on — contemplating us, how alien we are compared to him, is compelling. The only gripe I have with him is his eyes: too accustomed have I become to Dream’s white-in-black eyes, the telltale mark of the Endless and their immortal lives. But understanding what Dream is, and not what he looks like, is what this series is about. And it makes him an absolutely fascinating character.

However.. this series suffers from what I’ve realized nearly all Netflix productions suffer from: a sleekness and cleanliness that is all too common with streaming premiere television shows. The Sandman just looks too damn sleek. I’m not sure exactly what cameras or gamut the show was shot in, but it is sadly no more or less common than anything else on streaming, and I think that that’s a shame. Too often reading the comic did I imagine the likes of Stan Brakhage or Guy Maddin composing shots and directing; the dream-like visages of a fantasy writer as imagined through the dreamy, washed-out, capital-F Filmmaker eyes of directors with something to say with how and with what they shot.

As beautiful as the imagery, and interesting as the story here is, The Sandman looks just like any other comic adaptation streaming in my Apple TV queue.

But I digress…The Sandman is a miracle to watch, knowing how long it took to adapt, how many false starts and hiccups it endured. And if it inspires a new generation of readers and writers, all the better for it. Here’s hoping Netflix breaks its annoying habit of cancelling its series at the end of its second seasons, right when most shows are finding their footing.

4/5 Jessamies.

-J.L. Caraballo

The Sandman is currently streaming on Netflix.