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TV Review: ‘The Sandman’ is an Intelligent Modern Screen Adaptation of the Classic DC Comics Series

Sometimes the most enticing modern stories that reflect on contemporary societal dilemmas are driven by elements of the most classic folklores. That’s certainly the case with Netflix‘s newly released fantasy television show, The Sandman, which is in part inspired by the classic eponymous mythical spiritual being who brings people good dreams.

The Sandman‘s overall story is based on the 1989–1996 comic book series of the same name, which was written by Neil Gaiman and published by DC Comics. The 10-episode screen adaptation was developed by Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg, and is produced by DC Entertainment.

The Sandman follows the titular immortal entity, who’s also known as Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), and is one of several siblings who rule crucial aspects of humanity; he harnesses control over the dreams of humans on Earth.

Each of the season’s episodes correspond to a specific comic issue. The season opens with the episode Sleep of the Just, which chronicles how Morpheus was captured by a nefarious amateur magician, Sir Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), during an occult ritual in London in 1916. Morpheus was then kept imprisoned by Brugess and his ancestors for over a century.

Morpheus eventually escapes in the second episode, Imperfect Hosts, and returns to his realm, The Dreaming. After seeing how his realm fell into ruins during his absence, Morpheus becomes desperate to revive it, so that it can help him restore order to humanity’s dreams.

To do so, Morpheus must reclaim his totems of power: his helm, a pouch of sand and a ruby, all of which were taken by Roderick’s resentful lover, Ethel Cripps (Niamh Walsh), who was pregnant with his son, John, in the 1920s. In present day, it’s revealed that Ethel (now played by Joely Richardson) has used the totems to gain and maintain immortality for herself and John (David Thewlis).

To reclaim his totems, which Ethel eventually sold to prevent Morpheus from finding her and her son, Morpheus plans his return to London in order to search for them. Despite the concerns of his realm’s librarian, Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong), Morpheus embarks on his journey with his new emissary, Matthew the Raven (voiced by Patton Oswalt), in order restore order to their realm, once and for all.

Heinberg, who also served as The Sandman‘s showrunner, masterfully brought the overarching plotlines, character arcs and visual aesthetic of the comic book series to screen through his extensive working relationship with Gaiman; the duo also served as executive producers on the supernatural horror show.

The filmmakers infused the new drama with a smart narrative structure; the first several episodes are mostly contained short stories that wrap up supporting characters’ stories in episodes that run for less than an hour. The season’s initial episodes enthrallingly introduce television audiences to Morpheus’ world, and ultimately highlight his motivation to form alliances with anyone who can help him achieve his goal while also defeating his enemies.

Morpheus’ drive to retrieve his totems so he can revive The Dreaming and restore dreams introduces him to such characters as Ethel and occult detective Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), who’s based on the iconic DC Comics superhero, John Constantine. In their short arcs on The Sandman, both Ethel and Johanna are initially presented as self-serving adversaries to Morpheus’ mission to find his totems. However, both female characters quickly prove to be altruistic by committing acts that help others.

The show’s last four episodes begin to feel more like a serialized drama that has the potential to lead the project to be renewed for a sophomore season by Netflix. The second half of the show is an adaptation of a longer story from the comic book series called The Doll’s House.

During the last four episodes, Morpheus works to reunite a new character, Rose Walker (Kyo Ra), locate her long-lost brother Jed (Eddie Karanja). In the process, she falls prey to the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), a nightmare who escaped The Dreaming. Sturridge truly proves his versatility as an actor in the latter half of the season, as he emphasizes that his character begins to form a sense of sympathy for individual lives when he agrees to help Rose search for her younger brother.

The Sandman‘s production designer, Jon Gary Steele, also helped Heinberg, Gaiman and the show’s fellow producers effectively adapt the comic book series to the screen through his tantalizing attention to detail, particularly through his contribution to the creation of the sets. True standouts of Steele’s work include the captivating landscape of Brugess’s early 1900s mansion that held Morpheus for over a century to the latter’s gloomy, abandoned palace in The Dreaming in the present day. Each of the distinctly unique locations featured throughout the season help emphasize each of the characters’ emotions and motivations.

Overall, The Sandman features an intelligent narrative structure that thrives on initially introducing television audiences to Morpheus’ singular motivation to reclaim his totems and their accompanying power. But once he truly begins to engage with well-meaning people in modern society, like Rose, he begins to truly embrace the responsibilities of being an immortal entity who’s a true protector of humanity.

Netflix is now streaming all 10 episodes of The Sandman‘s first season.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the series.

Karen Benardello
Karen Benardello
As a life-long fan of films and television shows, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic in 2008. Karen has since been working in the press in New York City, including interviewing film and television casts and crews, writing movie and television news articles and reviewing films and televisions series. Some of her highlights include attending such local events as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and New York Comic-Con, as well as traveling across North America to attend such festivals as the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has been a member of the Women Film Critics Circle since 2012, and the New York Film Critics Online since 2019.


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