Adapting The Sandman for TV was always going to be a risk. Sure, the comic is well-known and beloved, but its premise, structure and protagonist are so idiosyncratic that it’s a far harder sell than, say, another DC or Marvel superhero show. Likewise, it lacks the nostalgia value of Stranger Things or the instantly intriguing elevator pitch of Squid Game.
And yet here we are, looking back at a ten-episode season that’s managed to successfully tell the first two major arcs of Neil Gaiman’s seminal graphic novel to a new audience and hit number one in Netflix’s charts. That’s impressive.
If there’s one thing that the show’s massive success suggests it’s that audiences are eager for new ideas. The series is based on a comic book first published more than 30 years ago, but its genre-bending tone, peculiar half-anthology/half-serial nature and remote, unnerving protagonist feel quite fresh and different to anything else on TV right now.
It also proves the minority of online dimwits who kicked up an angry fuss about the “woke” gender-swapping of some characters utterly wrong. Turns out, if you give audiences good stories then the vast majority will be quite happy to accept Lucifer Morningstar being played by Gwendoline Christie instead of David Bowie (who, let’s not forget, no longer hangs out in this dimension anyway).
That’s not to say that I loved everything. There’s a lot of material to explore in the Doll’s House arc during the back third of the season but it felt compressed, with elements such as the collector’s “cereal” convention suffering in the process. The Sound of Her Wings seems to have gone down well with fans, but the strange, bisected structure didn’t work for me at all. And as I banged on at length in my episodic reviews, I found Boyd Holbrook’s take on the Corinthian – a living nightmare, let’s not forget – largely unthreatening, though I did warm to the character as the series progressed and consciously leaned into making him a more sympathetic figure.
But when The Sandman was good, boy it was fun. Sleep Of The Just and 24/7 were both excellent adaptations and great examples of episodic TV. The latter, especially, felt like a self-contained stage play, successfully conjuring a queasy sense of mounting dread while also letting us get to know and care for a cast of all-new characters before mercilessly killing them all off at the end. Great stuff.
Likewise, the casting throughout was superb, with special props especially to Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne (given a much larger role here than her comic book equivalent) and David Thewlis as the heartbreaking and terrifying John Dee.
Then there’s Tom Sturridge in the title role. At first it’s a little hard to accept his boyish good looks and My Chemical Romance fan haircut – it’s often forgotten, but one of the striking things about the way that Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg originally drew Morpheus was how weird and ancient the character often looked – but as soon as Sturridge speaks you’re left in no doubt why as to he was chosen. That’s the voice of the Sandman, as shadowy as those inky black speech bubbles, but with little glimmers of humanity shining through.
Although nothing has been announced as yet, it’s all but certain that we’ll get a second season. That’s great – there’s certainly a lot to look forward to. The season finale hinted at Lucifer’s plot to wreak revenge on Morpheus and if the series sticks broadly to the flow of the comics then we’ll also likely see adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Sandman #19) in which Morpheus’s bargain with Shakespeare is explored and the A Game Of You arc, which picks up Barbie’s story. We might even get even A Dream Of A Thousand Cats (The Sandman #18), a kitty-centric tale which, if done correctly, will break social media and be GIFed to infinity.
Exciting stuff, but I do hope for a few changes too. I was slightly bewildered by the way the visual effects veered from beautiful to looking almost unfinished and I hope that season two gets enough time and money to do the next few arcs justice. Although very different in tone and form, The Sandman is going to be competing with House Of The Dragon and Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power soon, two big fantasy shows that – from what we’ve already seen of them – look jaw-droppingly impressive.
The Sandman also deserves an extended episode order. The comics are dense with ideas and it’s clear by now that the showrunners are committed to including as much of the original material as possible. Characters like Hal and Rose’s other housemates were left comparatively unexplored, largely because there was so much story to work through in a limited space of time. An extra two or three episodes would make a lot of difference in this regard.
So, mixed but broadly positive feelings about this one personally. It’s very pleasing, though, to see how purely happy this show has made fans of both the comic and Neil Gaiman’s other work. Sometimes adaptations can feel a bit cynical, but it’s very clear that this was made with deep love for the material and the worlds that Morpheus inhabits. I’ll be glad to see him again and I’m very excited to learn more about Desire’s wicked schemes…