NSomething tells me I’m going to have a week of boring emails, like being asked to write a big-budget fantasy series for this fun TV column. So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to announce that I’ve seen The Sandman (available now on Netflix), the Netflix x Warner x DC crossover event of the summer. Do you feel it, sir? A glitch in the email world. It can’t – no! Thousands of people who still have DVD collections shout at me in unison about knowledge!
Anyway, you can no longer tell me which subreddits to subscribe to, or which mysterious cards to get out of the library, because I really like this one. I have a history with fantasy television: we had a lot of them a few years ago, almost all of them bad, because they ignored the two primary rules of fantasy that I made up and never bothered to tell anyone. Those rules are: Good imagination should ask the question, “What if this happened? That would be weird, wouldn’t it?” then set up some awkward rules to control that madness. That’s it. With that canvas stretched taut, you can tell intriguing human stories about it. What if every man on Earth died in an event? What if a supernatural cabal ran the government , but got nosebleeds and died? What if a book could predict the future? You can paint a vibrant world that tells interesting stories from many angles, or you can have a character who is basically on a road trip looking for a golden bauble that magically solves everything, and stretches that story for exactly as long as the studio is willing to fund it. The former is a lot rarer than the latter, unfortunately, and culturally we are poorer for it. Anyway, I’m not here to kick Westworld season 4 again.
However, we need to talk about The Sandman, which is good – possibly very good, and very, very good. It helps that there’s rich source material to draw from – a 75-part comic book series, an 11-hour audio adaptation, all from Neil Gaiman, who knows how to tell a good gothic story – and one that resists wisely. has offered to adapt so far. We meet Dream, an endless being older than the gods, who is imprisoned by Charles Dance for 100 years. As that happens, his sleepy realm collapses and begins to affect the waking world. Jenna Coleman bounces around doing something cockney. Stephen Fry does a really good Stephen Fry. There is a raven that can talk. Boyd Holbrook has a lot of fun playing the Corinthian, a devilish nightmare with teeth instead of eyes. GGwendoline Christie is clear – perfect! – Lucifer, the ruler of hell. Dream’s various siblings – Death, Desire, Despair – buzz around him like tiny cogs. David Thewlis is, and there’s really no other way to say it, “really Thewlissing”.
But two key decisions make The Sandman stand out. As you can probably see from above, the casting is spectacular. But there’s a great balance between those serious spit-wan-them-talking actors alongside light British comedians tempering some of the more poetic storylines (Asim Chaudhry and Sanjeev Bhaskar, as Cain and Abel, are excellent against Dream’s Tom Sturridge who is very is good – and doomed to inspire the sartorial decisions of an entire generation of goths – but the whole thing plays very seriously). This also helps because a lot of the scenes are, well, just a bunch of computer rendering talking to itself – you can’t really do “gates to heaven leading to a realm of dreams” on a soundstage, can you? — and actors with that levity keep it from feeling too soulless. At no time do you think: I’m looking at a person talking to a tennis ball.
Second, while there’s quite a bit of “I gotta go to hell and ask for my helm” trinket, that’s not all there is to it, and my two favorite episodes were standalone stories set in a richer world. of gods and monsters. These two episodes – one in a restaurant, one in the same pub at 100-year intervals – really show what you can do with one story and one character and one hour of ingenuity, giving the whole series more of an anthology feel than an endless tale in which someone makes a lot of hand gestures and magic comes out. I know you’ve been hurt before. I have all the emails to prove it. But here’s a modern fantasy series worth investing your time in.