Review of The Sandman (2022)

Moving picture, 8 hours

Seen in 2022.

This review refers to the first season; the only one at the time of writing.

This is an adaptation of The Sandman (1989), written by Neil Gaiman. It’s Gaiman’s favourite ideas: High-powered fabulism but in a setting that is nominally close to reality.

The season adapts two major story arcs. The first one illustrates the strength of Gaiman’s writing. The hero is at first flawed, weak and alien, and his imprisonment ties in with the First World War, which is nice. It’s a cliché, but Gaiman did well connecting the abduction of the “Lord of Dreams” to the time in history when the world, metaphorically of course, stopped dreaming because negotiations broke down and trench warfare broke out in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s down hill from there, in terms of ideas. The tie-in with encephalitis lethargica is moderately clever. Pretty soon, it turns out that the universe is ruled by a Christian god, the Sandman defeats Satan in a duel, there’s a talking raven voiced by Patton Oswalt, etc. The trend is toward typical power fantasy, with loosening connections between the real world and the incoherent supernatural premises of the narrative.

The second story arc is worse. It revolves around an empty cosmic mystery and serial killers, specifically a regular trade convention of a hundred serial killers, with a pun for a name. It’s the mythology of H. H. Holmes blown out of proportion, plus it’s got Stephen Fry with a sword cane, a bad Halloween scarecrow character and so on. The show stays watchable through this arc mainly by the strong characterization of the Sandman, who resists becoming a bland force for good, probably through Gaiman’s own intervention. The production values are good, which helps.

moving picture fiction series