It was always going to be dangerous to adapt The Sandman for television. Even while the comic is highly known and adored, its premise, design, and protagonist make it far more difficult to sell than, say, another DC or Marvel superhero show. It also lacks Squid Game’s instantly captivating elevator pitch and Stranger Things’ nostalgic appeal. And yet, here we are, reflecting on a ten-episode season that was able to both reach the top of Netflix’s ratings and successfully relate the first two major arcs of Neil Gaiman’s famous comic novel to a new audience. That’s amazing.
The enormous popularity of the show indicates that viewers are open to novel concepts if nothing else. Although the series is based on a comic book that was initially released more than 30 years ago, its genre-bending tone, odd half-anthology/half-serial structure, and remote, unsettling protagonist feel extremely new and unique compared to anything else currently airing on television. Additionally, it disproves the absurdity of the minority of online morons who made a big deal about the “woke” gender switching of some characters. It turns out that if you tell audiences compelling stories, most of them will be content to accept Gwendoline Christie playing Lucifer Morningstar instead of David Bowie.
That doesn’t mean I adored everything. The Doll’s House arc in the final part of the season has a lot of information to cover, but it felt rushed, which hurt elements like the collector’s “cereal” convention. The weird, divided structure of The Sound of Her Wings didn’t appeal to me at all, yet it seems to have been well received by fans. And as I harped on in great detail in my episode reviews, I found Boyd Holbrook’s portrayal of the Corinthian to be largely unthreatening even though he was a living nightmare. However, as the series went on, I grew to like the character and purposefully leaned toward making him a more sympathetic figure. But gosh, when The Sandman was enjoyable, it was great. 24/7 and Sleep Of The Just were both outstanding adaptations and good instances of episodic television. The latter, in particular, was like a stand-alone stage play that succeeded in evoking a sickening feeling of rising dread while simultaneously allowing us to get to know and care for a cast of entirely new characters before cruelly eliminating them all at the end. Amazing stuff.
Additionally, the casting was excellent, with particular praise for David Thewlis as the sad and terrifying John Dee and Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne (who was given a far greater role here than her comic book equivalent). The title character is played by Tom Sturridge. When Sturridge speaks, it becomes clear why he was selected. It can be challenging to accept Morpheus’ boyish good looks and My Chemical Romance fan haircut at first. It’s easy to forget how strange and old-fashioned Morpheus frequently appeared in Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg’s original sketches. That is the Sandman’s voice; it is as ominous as those pitch-black speech bubbles, yet it also has tiny traces of humanity. It’s almost certain that we’ll get a second season even though nothing has been officially confirmed as of yet. That’s fantastic; there is undoubtedly much to anticipate. The series will probably adapt A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Sandman #19), in which Morpheus’s agreement with Shakespeare is explored, and the A Game Of You arc, which picks up Barbie’s story, if it largely follows the comics’ plot progression. The season finale hinted at Lucifer’s plan to exact revenge on Morpheus. If done well, the kitty-centric story A Dream Of A Thousand Cats (The Sandman #18) will smash social media and be GIFed indefinitely. It’s exciting, although I do hope for some adjustments. The way the visual effects jumped from being stunning to being practically unfinished left me perplexed, and I hope that season two is given the time and resources to properly handle the remaining story arcs. The Sandman will shortly compete against House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, two major fantasy series that, based on what we’ve previously seen of them, appear jaw-droppingly fantastic while being extremely different in tone and form.
A more extended episode schedule for The Sandman is also merited. The concepts in the comics are many, and it is obvious that the showrunners are dedicated to using as much of the original material as they can. Because there was so much plot to get through in a short amount of time, characters like Hal and Rose’s other housemates were fairly underdeveloped. This is where two or three extra episodes would make a difference. I have conflicting but mostly pleasant feelings about this one. However, it’s incredibly satisfying to see how genuinely pleased this show has made readers of the comic and admirers of Neil Gaiman’s previous works. It’s common for adaptations to come across as a little cynical, but it’s obvious that this was created with a genuine affection for the source material and the worlds that Morpheus inhabits.
I’m looking forward to seeing him again and discovering more about Desire’s evil plans.