There is a point halfway through Netflix’s sixth episode The sand man— the most successful episode of the first season by some distance — where Tom Sturridge’s Dream talks to his sister, Death (played masterfully by Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and it immediately becomes apparent that for all his power and fearsome , he is still a grumpy teenager when he talks to someone in his family. It’s a welcome moment for a number of reasons, not least because it gave the character an empathic note never seen before, but also because, for a brief second, it’s as if the original 1990 comic it’s adapting has been skillfully translated into the screen.
Unfortunately, that moment of recognition, the feeling that what’s on screen is a perfect recreation of the original in a different medium, isn’t something the rest of the series can sustain. For long-term fans who were hoping the Netflix series was everything the comic was, and maybe more, I mean, the comic was great, but did it have Gwendoline Christie? Exactly, the end result was probably a disappointment, and for the most unfortunate of reasons: it tried too hard to be faithful to the source material.
Although the show’s creators obviously made changes, most obviously in the first five episodes, which were rebuilt to require elements tied to the Justice League and other DC heroes (published by DC imprint Vertigo sand man): there’s a sense throughout the season that Neil Gaiman’s scripts were the only true gospel. As charming as his words may be, this happens again and again, even when the credibility of the show is at stake. It reminds me of the joke Harrison Ford made on George Lucas on the set of the first one War of the galaxies: “You can write this shit, but you can’t say it! Move your mouth as you type.”
Similarly, the pace of the show suffers from a fidelity to its source material. Sure, it took an entire issue for Dream to visit Hell to regain his helm, but a 24-page comic and a 50-minute TV episode are different beasts, and that’s a tension that’s felt all season . It’s no coincidence that the sixth episode feels much more alive and dynamic; it brings together two completely separate issues to form something new.
If the show’s dedication to Gaiman’s writing is a flaw, so is the fact that it doesn’t share the desire to stay as true to the comic book visuals. There are certain moments where specific panels are recreated on screen (Sam Kieth’s artwork from the first issue especially gets a lot of attention in the opening episode), but overall the show feels more generic and more colorless than what comic artists created three decades earlier. Hell, again, is surprisingly gray compared to the palette Robbie Busch created in 1989. sand man #4, despite what is possible in terms of visual effects in 2022.
None of this means that The sand man it is a disaster, or without any merit; the cast is almost uniformly wonderful and does a yeoman’s job that almost always makes up for any shortcomings in the writing. David Thewlis as John Dee, especially, is absolutely convincing in a role that is woefully underwritten; Boyd Holbrook’s Corinthian can be seen in the same way, bringing those all-important Timothy Olyphant vibes to dialogue that might otherwise be left on the page. The villains of the piece are, it must be said, much more delicious than almost everyone else. This is not a defect sand man alone, but (Fans made a big deal about changing the race or gender of comic book characters on screen; the end result is, honestly, the impression that the showrunners made the right decision in almost every case.)