The Sandman on Netflix - series review

A Dream I Don’t Want to Wake From: a review of Netflix series ‘The Sandman’

To keep things interesting, 'The Sandman' is filled with magical moments and captivating characters.

I read the complete ‘Sandman’ graphic novels over fifteen years ago and it is one of my favourite graphic novel collections I’ve encountered. It’s literary. It’s profound. It’s magical. Neil Gaiman’s imagination is boundless and the art by Sam Keith and Mike Drigenberg was so different from the superhero comic books that I collected in the 90s. It was mature and elevated my opinion of comic books back in the late 90s.

For ‘The Sandman’ to finally be adapted into a television series was something I was nervous about. I’m glad to hear that Neil Gaiman was part of the creative team behind the show, which means that any of the changes would be approved by the writer of the source material. This is as important as the immense world-building that Gaiman did for the series.

There are quite a lot of notable changes – some characters have been gender-swapped, some are portrayed by actors of color, the show is set in the present-day whereas the graphic novels were set in the late 80s, and the like – but it never feels like a ploy for relevance nor does it take away from the story. In fact, it adds nuance and inserts additional layers into the work that I don’t remember from having read the series many years ago.

‘The Sandman’ is the story about an otherworldly being known as Dream or Morpheus or The Sandman. He is one of the seven Endless, immortal beings that are in charge of aspects of the universe. Dream is the lord of the sleeping world and king of dreams and nightmares. The first season of ‘The Sandman’ adapts the first two volumes ‘Preludes and Nocturnes’ and ‘The Doll’s House’ wherein Dream is imprisoned in the mortal world by a magician with the hopes of catching Death, Dream’s sister. While Dream is imprisoned, the dreaming world begins to fall apart and Dream must get out and restore the dreaming world to protect the waking world.

The rich world of ‘The Sandman’ is given a glossy, CGI-heavy treatment that departs from the book’s visuals in a drastic way. It took me about three episodes to get used to the bright, crisp visuals of the Netflix show. Sam Keith and Mike Drigenberg’s art style was something I’d describe as dirty, messy, and very dark. It was so well-suited to the material and such a great departure from the superhero comics that were so in vogue at the time.

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The clean CGI of the show goes the opposite of that and so it took me a while to sync into this new look. The original art underscored the darkness of the material, but the refined visuals contrasted the heaviness of the show and it’s great because Dream is not an easy character to connect with.

The Sandman - series review
Photo courtesy of Netflix

Dream is an immortal being of immense power. He’s rigid and cold. He’s fascinating to watch because he’s so far removed from humanity and while it reads well in the comics, in the show, it can be a little off-putting. Tom Sturridge does a brilliant portrayal of this. He has the signature pout and that blank expression that betrays nothing. He carries all the gravitas and majesty that Dream should have and it’s mesmerizing.

But Dream is not an easy person to like and so the lush visuals and glossy treatment help humanize the world that Dream moves through and the characters that he interacts with creating a nice dynamic for him to play off of. The other characters keep him interesting until later on through the show when you begin to invest in him because you can finally understand what he must be going through.

The Sandman - series review
Photo courtesy of Netflix

And that’s what is brilliant about this show. Dream is in charge of all our hopes and fantasies and our fears. As Dream sets out to restore the dream world back to its former glory, the show becomes a deep dive into some of the driving forces of the human race. It is a dissection of how we react and deal with the things that we want and the things we are afraid of and how different these things are for each person – whether human or otherworldly.

‘The Sandman’ is not a superhero television show. It’s a fantastical drama that delves more into philosophy and a study of human nature and other high concepts. It can be slow at times for people who are not keen on detailed and careful world-building. Being faithful to the books and with Neil Gaiman developing the show alongside David S. Goyer and Allen Heinberg, the show is more a showcase of the limitless imagination of Gaiman and how the world that he has built works. There’s not a lot of action. Instead its meditations on power, responsibility, mortality, and humanity.

To keep things interesting, the show is filled with magical moments and captivating characters. Other than Dream, the show is filled with memorable characters that populate this rich fantasy world. Of the many slight changes to the source material, three notable characters are played by women: Lucienne (Lucian in the books) is played by Vivienne Acheampong, Lucifer Morningstar is played by Gwendoline Christie (of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame), and Johanna Constantine (originally John Constantine in the books) played by Jenna Coleman.

All three actresses do memorable performances, with Coleman really capturing Constantine’s swagger and bravado and Christie adding quiet, otherworldly confidence to her portrayal of Lucifer but it is Acheampong who adds the most to the gender swap role. By turning Lucian into Lucienne, it creates a really interesting new layer into the relationship between Dream and his librarian. There is a warmth and a beating heart that the show needs in their interactions that might not have been there should they have kept Lucian as he was in the books.

The Sandman - series review
Photo courtesy of Netflix

There is such a strong understanding of how much needs to change for the television version of this story. There is an awareness of the demands a viewing audience would have over the material versus a reading audience and I feel that this was addressed through the filmmaking of ‘The Sandman.’ The story is intact but the modernization of the material addresses real-world issues. As a fan of the original material, I’m enjoying the adjustments and marveling at how watching this show is bringing me back to the same wonder of reading the graphic novels but also opening my eyes to things I wasn’t aware of fifteen years ago.

I’m very happy with this adaptation and I can’t wait for the second season. This is not for those who are looking for something easy and light to watch. This is a show that will take its time to establish the vast and rich world of Dream and the Endless and it’s going to get even more dense and complicated as the show continues. I hope it continues. This is a dream I don’t want to wake up from. 

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review





The Sandman debuts globally on Netflix on August 5, Friday.

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‘The Sandman’ Announces August 5 Release, Mark Hamill’s Character
WATCH: ‘The Sandman’ Main Trailer and Official Key Art Debut

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