Saturday, 25 May, 2024

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Sandman – Magnificent Gothic Television

Sandman – Magnificent Gothic Television

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Neil Gaiman's iconic creation has finally made its way to the small screen, and the result does not disappoint.

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In case you missed it, comics have been the hottest thing on television in recent years. After Marvel’s multiverse conquered the big screen (and before it made its way and took over the small screen), some of the past ten years’ biggest and (some might say) most successful TV productions were based on comics and graphic novels. Amazon’s ‘The Boys,’ HBO’s epic ‘Watchmen,’ FX’s ‘Legion,’ and Netflix’s ‘Locke & Key’ are just a few examples from the ever-growing list, recently joined by ‘Sandman,’ adapted from Neil Gaiman’s iconic comic book series.

Many concerns were voiced by the die-hard fans of the series, especially after the somewhat lackluster adaptation of American Gods by Amazon. Fortunately, Neil Gaiman himself was not too thrilled with that adaptation either, and in subsequent productions based on his work, he took matters into his own hands, giving us television gems like ‘Good Omens’ (also on Amazon) and now, ‘Sandman.’

For some reason, Israeli TV critics did not seem to embrace the series, in stark contrast to their counterparts overseas who couldn’t stop praising it. I don’t know what they expected it to be, or exactly what led them to be so disappointed. Perhaps the hype surrounding it and Neil Gaiman’s formidable reputation accompanied it. Maybe it’s the phenomenal success of ‘Good Omens.’ Or perhaps it’s just the mindset of these critics, stuck in a place where the sun never rises. Sure, the series isn’t perfect and has flaws, but to say it’s ‘everything that’s wrong with Netflix productions’? Someone here got his hands too dirty, but it’s neither me nor Netflix who, this time, delivered a production that pays a lot of respect to the literary source. And between us, anyone who’s ever read this comic knows how challenging it is to adapt it for television, and the mere fact that there’s such a good adaptation of the first two books in the series demonstrates how much hard work Neil Gaiman and the team put into it to ensure it doesn’t get lost in translation.

The only significant stumble in the series’s first season (and yes, you can expect more seasons) is the fifth episode – ’24/7′ – which was supposed to be a terrifying masterpiece that would haunt your dreams. If you’ve read the comic, you know what I’m talking about. It’s perhaps the most emotionally disturbing and outright eerie story in the entire series. A story that, in the hands of a horror director like Wes Craven (may he rest in peace) or Mike Flanagan, could have been a masterpiece that would make you turn off your TV in the middle of the night and haunt your dreams for many nights to come. The creators of the TV adaptation seem to have been afraid of losing their viewers before the exceptional sixth episode (in my opinion, the best of the season, and I believe I’m not alone in this opinion) and, as a result, they produced a somewhat watered-down version of the story, which veers between mild discomfort and overindulgence.

Image from the episode 24/7, source: moviestillsdb.com

But those who endured this episode were rewarded with the excellent sixth episode, which tells two stories that teach us a lot about Morpheus – the Lord of Dreams, his essence, his transformation, and his future journey. Unlike the previous episode, which tried to play on our deepest fears as humans, this episode takes the viewer on a different emotional journey and helps them identify with dream’s somewhat gothic character (even if not with his choice of clothing during the episode).

Before the series aired, there were many complaints about some of the casting choices, especially regarding changes in gender or the race of certain well-known characters. Apparently, these complainers weren’t avid Sandman readers; otherwise, they would know that Neil Gaiman was progressive long before the term was common. Nevertheless, more than thirty years have passed since the comic was first published, and while it was very progressive for its time, the world has advanced significantly. In terms of progressive representation, the series aligns with Neil Gaiman’s own values and updates made to rectify some of the deficiencies he may have overlooked.

Image from the episode The Sound of Her Wings, Source: moviestillsdb.com

Regarding the other changes made in the series, the only question that matters is whether these changes serve the television adaptation well and honor the literary source. In our case, one can confidently say that, yes, Netflix’s version does an excellent job of transitioning the story to a new medium without diluting the source material or losing its essence.

P.S.
And then, as soon as I finished writing this review, Netflix surprised us with another episode containing two short stories about the power of dreams and stories, thus postponing this review for another day and leaving us with a taste for more.

This review was originally published in August 2022

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