Dream the world anew.
The Sandman is a 2022 fantasy drama series directed by Mike Barker, Jamie Childs, Mairzee Almas, Andrés Baiz, Coralie Fargeat, and Louise Hooper, created by Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heiberg, produced by PurePop Inc., The Blank Corporation, Phantom Four, DC Entertainment, and Warner Bros. Television, and distributed by Netflix. The show is based off of Neil Gaiman's 1989 graphic novel series, The Sandman. It stars Tom Sturridge and Boyd Holbrook.
"If dreams disappear, then so will humanity." - Dream
Lord Morpheus, aka Dream of the Endless, is captured by a sorcerer and kept locked up in his basement for a century. Upon escaping and returning to his realm, Dream discovers that the world has changed drastically in his absence. As Dream looks to pick up the mess that took place when he left, new allies and new enemies surface, sending the Sandman on an adventure he'd never expect.
The Sandman is a tale of two halves.
The first half (or six-tenths) of this show is great. It introduces us into this eerie and odd corner of the DC universe that we have never seen before. You become invested in our main characters and their struggles. Across the board, the performances are phenomenal. The episodes played out in this interesting way. They were individual stories, all of them, but they all also contributed to the overarching narrative. It was very close to being an anthology, but all of the stories were connected in some way, which I found to be a cool way to structure your show. I really dug the first half of this series.
Our main character, Dream of the Endless, is also one of the highlights of the show. Tom Sturridge gives a dreamy performance. Every time you look at him, you feel a little more tired or relaxed. The lighting on his face makes him look like a dream. His voice is deep and soothing. Sturridge's facial expressions are minimal, which just adds to how calming his presence is. Beyond that, he's a great character. He's been trapped in this very bad situation that he has to fix, and that allows for a lot of character growth throughout the entire season. I thought his arc was simple and efficient. A lot of things in this season felt forced. Dream's arc didn't, which was nice.
A great main hero is nothing without a great main villain...and we have two great main villains. The first is the nightmarish Corinthian, who is pulled straight out of a horror movie. Boyd Holbrook gives one of the best performances of the year as this charming but terrifying character who just ramps up the tension every time he's on screen. The look was perfect, and the character just made the audience feel unsafe whenever he was on screen. I only wish we got more of him throughout the season.
The second villain we have to talk about here is John Dee, played by David Thewlis. John serves as the primary antagonist for the first half of the season, and he is just as terrifying as the Corinthian. He is ruthless and will stop at nothing to kill, but his philosophies and ideals are just sane enough for you to understand where he's coming from. Episode five was my favorite episode of the series, and I think that episode does a lot for John's character. Thewlis gives a seemingly innocent performance that has so much malice behind it, which I absolutely loved.
Since The Sandman (the comic book) is wildly artistic, the show had to adopt some of the visual flair. And it does. There are some awesome and unique visuals inside of this show. There are some really cool shots. The realms are all designed in a memorable way. The characters all get memorable costumes. The production design was really top notch here. Netflix paid $15 million per episode, and that definitely paid off.
The show also has some great direction. In particular, episodes five and six are just beautiful stories that have some of the best direction I've seen on TV in a bit. The way that the directors are able to get you invested in new characters and new stories so quickly is super impressive to me. Once again, the directors also create a visually unique world that I loved returning to. It elevated the show a lot for me.
As much as I really liked the first half...I hated the last four episodes of this show. So most of these criticisms apply to the final four.
I have never seen such a steep dip in quality. The second half of this show acts as an entirely different story with characters I don't like and don't care about. The dialogue is horrific. I don't know if they changed screenwriters for the final four episodes, but the words spoken by the characters made me cringe so hard. There are obvious solutions to problems that the characters just don't use. I didn't find any of the characters compelling. They all just annoyed me. The acting...GOD, the acting was so bad from these new characters. And the worst part about it is that they sidelined Dream for this new group of characters that they introduce. UGH.
So, because the second half is so bad, it weighs down the entire show. Remember how I said the idea of The Sandman being somewhat of a connected anthology was cool? The second half abandons that idea for this four-episode arc that I hate. And it's not like the first six episodes were building towards this conclusion. NO! The last four episodes feel like they should be a separate season. Most of the plotlines established in the first two episodes are concluded by episode five or six, so they had to create this new story that is so boring and so horrible. And, therefore, the story of the season just isn't cohesive and isn't good. I don't know why they decided to tell two different stories of such different quality. It's so frustrating.
I think the main problem is that the show was crushed under its own ambition. The Sandman tries to do a lot. And it doesn't really succeed in handling all of the things it was trying to do. It tries to be this sweeping, fantasy epic with biblical allegories and all of that...while also being a bit of a family drama, but that doesn't work. It does not balance those two things well. And that's really upsetting.
The second half also becomes really stupid at points. They have this insanely stupid plotline about a SERIAL KILLER CONVENTION. It's like comic-con, but with serial killers. And it is SO dumb. It makes me angry just thinking about it. I don't care if that's in the comic. You have to know what to cut out in your TV show. There's no way somebody read that and said "Let's put that in our show.". It's so cartoonish and over-the-top while also being so ridiculously disturbing at times, and not in a good way.
Piggybacking off of that, the tone of the second half is just all over the place. It can't decide if it wants to be a family drama or continue the tone of the first half. It injects some horrific images that feel out of place and just dropped in there for the sake of having scary images in the show. There are just weird plot beats and random characters that make the tone feel wonky and off. I am just in absolute awe at how much this show falls off after the sixth episode.
Finally, the worst part of all of this...they decide that this plotline is more interesting than Dream himself. Dream does not have nearly enough screentime in the final few episodes, and that's because they sideline him for these new characters. Let me reiterate: THE MAIN CHARACTER OF THE SHOW (WHO IS SUPER COOL) IS SIDELINED FOR CHARACTERS AND STORIES INTRODUCED IN THE SEVENTH EPISODE. Who on Earth thought that was a good idea? I cannot believe how bad the writing became after the sixth episode. It's just insane to me.
Final Thoughts and Score
The Sandman is one of the most frustrating shows I've ever seen. The first six episodes are great...but prepare for disappointment after that, because the final four episodes are just terrible.
Unfortunately, I think I have to go Sour here. Age range is 13+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
Fun Factor: 7/10
Created by Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg
Rated TV-MA for strong bloody violence, sexual content, language, frightening images, disturbing themes, thematic elements
Released on August 5, 2022
Episode runtime: 45 minutes
Tom Sturridge as Lord Morpheus / Dream / The Sandman
Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian
Kyo Ra as Rose Walker / The Vortex
David Thewlis as John Dee / Doctor Destiny
Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne
Patton Oswalt as Matthew the Raven
Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine
Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar
Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death
Ferdinand Kingsley as Hob Gadling
Sandra James-Young as Unity Kincaid
Razane Jammal as Lyta Hall
Eddie Karanja as Jed Walker / The Sandman
Stephen Fry as Gilbert
Asim Chaudhry as Abel
Joely Richardson as Ethel Cripps
Mason Alexander Park as Desire
Mark Hamill as Mervyn Pumpkinhead
Donna Preston as Despair
Lloyd Everitt as Hector Hall
Charles Dance as Sir Roderick Burgess / Magus