DISCLAIMER: This review of The Sandman Season 1 contains mild spoilers. Proceed at your peril. 

What happens when the lord of our dreams spends decades imprisoned in a mortal wizard’s basement? Chaos reigns supreme, humans fall prey to the “sleepy sickness” and The Corinthian wreaks havoc among the masses. The Sandman, Netflix’s latest adaptation of the DC comics series from Neil Gaiman of the same name, weaves a dark, nuanced fantasy in which viewers can immerse themselves. 

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Full disclosure — I haven’t read the source material yet, so this review is purely from a newbie’s perspective. While I’ve read most of Gaiman’s books, The Sandman is still on my ever-expanding TBR list. 

Dream stands in the dimly lit throne room of his fallen realm on Netflix's The Sandman.

The Sandman. Tom Sturridge as Dream in episode 102 of The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Tom Sturridge leads the charge with, let’s face it, one of the most mesmerizing voices in all the land. Sturridge could’ve utilized a default “monotone” voice devoid of color and expressiveness. However, he infuses Dream with an enthralling, multifaceted timbre while retaining an endlessly dreamy quality. It’s gorgeous. His performance captivates; his presence fills the screen whenever he appears. 

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Boyd Holbrook is a deliciously wicked antagonist as The Corinthian. Like Sturridge, his towering, formidable figure catches the eye. He oozes charisma, sex appeal (admittedly, I would find it difficult to resist his charms) and menace all at once. Holbrook executes his role with the skill and ease of a pro, never once encroaching on “mustache-twirling, bombastic villain” territory. He’s a believable foil for Dream. 

Kirby Howell-Baptiste makes for an exceptional Death, albeit her screen time is lacking. Howell-Baptiste delivers a standout performance in her only appearance, “The Sound of Her Wings.” She injects Death with an amiability you might not expect from the grim reaper. Death is friendly, warm and sweet. Howell-Baptiste possesses an ethereal, otherworldly quality that’s par for the course of an immortal being. 

Death stands in a city park while looking serene on Netflix's The Sandman.

The Sandman. Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in episode 106 of The Sandman. Cr. Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix © 2022

The whole cast doles out incredible work, from minor appearances to more substantial supporting roles. Patton Oswalt, who initially seemed ill-fitted for The Sandman, surprised me with how well he melds into this universe. His vocal performance as Matthew the Raven is never jarring, nor does it detract from his scenes. Other power players who hold their own onscreen include the endearing Vanesu Samunyai, who brings vulnerability and admirable bravery to Rose Walker. 

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Admittedly, there are certain performers with whom I wish we had more time. Mason Alexander Park knocks it out of the park as Desire, even though they’re only onscreen for a short time. They infuse Desire with a slinky, titillating aura, making for a devilishly good time whenever they’re in a scene. Jenna Coleman brings a bit of a Clara Oswald flair to Johanna Constantine, and while that might irk some viewers, I feel Coleman excels at these types of characters. Strong women who utilize their strength to conceal their bruised fragility. 

I’d be remiss if I omitted titans like Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar, who injects the Lord of Hell with a soft yet searing, monumental presence. Thankfully, it seems we’ll see more of Lucifer should the show snag a second season. The legendary David Thewlis makes his mark as John Dee in “24/7,” one of my favorite episodes of the season. 

Desire smiles devilishly while wearing all black on Netflix's The Sandman.

The Sandman. Mason Alexander Park as Desire in episode 110 of The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022

I wish we saw more of the delightful John Cameron Mitchell, who delivers the goods with rip-roaring musical performances. I’d love to dive further into Hob Gadling’s (Ferdinand Kingsley) story if Netflix greenlights a Season 2, as his scenes with Dream are a highlight for me. 

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I could go on all day about the performances in The Sandman. Besides the jaw-dropping visuals, the actors steer this ship. That said, The Sandman paints a compelling, heady narrative based on its imagery alone. You feel like you’re stepping into a dream (or, sometimes, a nightmare). These visuals make for a wholly hypnotic experience and are some of the best I’ve seen in a fantasy series thus far. 

Even the themes explored are deeply thought-provoking, from stripping away humans’ penchant for lying in “24/7” to horrific results and our fear of dying in “The Sound of Her Wings” to the devastating effects of unrelenting grief in “Playing House.” While the show is not subtle in its depiction of these themes, it addresses them creatively, keeping the audience on their toes. 

The Corinthian holds a green olive while standing in front of a bar on Netflix's The Sandman.

The Sandman. Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian in episode 102 of The Sandman. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022

As much as I love The Sandman, it’s not perfect. It occasionally suffers under the weight of inconsistent pacing, especially in the back half of the season. Sometimes, each scene feels like a different show as the series struggles to connect its individual arcs. Of course, there are so many supporting characters, making it challenging to dole out equal screen time and tie them all together, hence why I feel cheated by the lack of attention on certain players. 

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Minor gripes aside, The Sandman sends us on a bewitching journey, allowing us to examine the importance of dreams in our waking world. Through poignant themes and an all-star ensemble, we’re whisked away to The Dreaming, wherein Lord Morpheus compels us to stay invested in this universe. It’s a sharp, dark fantasy from which you won’t want to wake up. 

The Sandman Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix

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Melody McCune
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