Nanother told me I received a week’s worth of boring emails like being assigned to write about a big-budget fantasy series for this fun TV column. So it is with a heavy heart that I must announce that I have watched The Sandman (now available on Netflix), the summer Netflix x Warner x DC crossover show. Do you feel it, sir? Disruption in the realm of email. Impossible – no! Thousands of people who still have DVD collections shouting at me in unison about lore!
Anyway, you can stop telling me which subreddit I should subscribe to, or what mysterious map I need to get out of the library, because I absolutely love this one. I have a pot history with fantasy television: we had a lot of those a few years ago, almost all of them bad, because they ignored the two main rules for fantasy I had created and never really bothered to tell anyone. The rules are: a good fantasy must ask the question “What if this happened? That would be weird, wouldn’t it?” then set some inconvenient rules to govern that oddity. There he is. With a stretched canvas, you can tell interesting human stories on it. What if every human on earth died in some event? What if a supernatural cabal really does run the government but starts nosebleeds and dies? 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 journey in search of the gold jewel that magically solves everything, and stretches that story right for as long as the studio is on. willing to fund it. The former is much rarer than the latter, unfortunately, and culturally we are poorer for it. Anyway, I’m not here to kick Westworld season 4 again.
We have to talk about The Sandman, which was good – maybe very good, and went very, very well. It helps that there’s a rich source of material to draw on – a 75 volume comic series, 11 hours of audio adaptation, all from Neil Gaiman, who knows how to tell a good gothic tale – and who wisely resists adaptation so far. We meet Dream, an endless being who is older than the gods, who was captured for 100 years by Charles Dance. While that was happening, his sleepy realm collapsed, and began to affect the waking world. Jenna Coleman is bouncing doing something cockney. Stephen Fry did a very good Stephen Fry. There are crows that can talk. Boyd Holbrook had so much fun playing Corinthian, a horrible nightmare with teeth instead of eyes. GGwendoline Christie is clear – perfect! – Lucifer, lord of hell. Dream’s various siblings – Death, Desire, Despair – circled around him like small wheels. David Thewlis is, and there’s really no other way to put it, “really Thewlissing”.
But two key decisions make The Sandman stand out. As you can probably tell from above, the casting is spectacular. But there’s a great balance of serious, spitting-as-they-talk actors alongside lighthearted British comedians that muffle some of the more po-faced storylines (Asim Chaudhry and Sanjeev Bhaskar, as Cain and Abel, do very well against Tom Sturridge. from the excellent Dream – and destined to inspire the fashion decisions of an entire gothic generation – but take it all very seriously). It also helps because a lot of the scenes are, well, just a load of computer rendering that speaks for itself – you can’t really do a “heavenly high gate leading to dreamland” on a soundstage, can you? – and the actor’s levity about them stopped him from feeling too soulful. There’s no point in you thinking: I’m watching someone talking to a tennis ball.
Second, while there’s a fair amount of “I should go to hell and ask about my helmet”-getting trinkets, that’s not the only thing going on, and two of my favorite episodes are standalone stories in a richer world of gods and monsters. . These two episodes – one set in a restaurant, one set in the same pub at one hundred year intervals – really show what you can do with one story and one character and an hour of ingenuity, and give the whole series more of an anthology feel than an endless story where someone does a lot of hand gestures and the 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.