Off to a dream start but…

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As of late with the popularisation of other streaming services, the monopoly Netflix had over viewers has slowly but gradually started to disappear, evident by the constant drops in their subscription numbers. In an attempt to regain their viewer base, Netflix is trying to create more variety in their collection by creating more and more original content and judging by their recent releases of movies and TV shows, it appears as if money is not really an issue as long as the content in enough to draw crowds.

Their recent attempt at conquering TV is with the latest release of much-hyped The Sandman – a show based on comic characters created by Neil Geiman in his DC comic series by the same name. The trailer created so much hype around the new show and the glimpses it gave into the show made it clear that money has not really been an issue as the production quality of whatever we saw on the trailer was top-notch.

However, as it always is with the trailers, looks can be deceiving. This is not to summarise the whole series in a few words to say it is bad, because it certainly isn’t, but let’s just say after watching the first season, one cannot help but feel that there is a gap between what was promised and what was delivered, as often is the case with recent Netflix original releases.

To be fair though, Gaiman’s stories have a knack of being difficult to be put on a script. Apart from the movie adaptation Coraline, almost all his TV adaptations such as American Gods and Good Omens haven’t lived up to the potential of the original book. Having read both books before watching the TV shows, I can tell that the shows have tried their level best to do justice to the original book in their respective finales but they expectedly come short of the brilliance of Gaiman who just have a certain way with words when it comes to fantasy. Now, I haven’t read The Sandman comics but I assume it is all the same since they too have been authored by Gaiman. We’ll get to that lacklustre-ness later but first, let’s focus on the positives of the show.

The show gets off to a promising start. In fact, the first episode alone is so happening and so captivating it hooks the viewer to the show quite firmly. The story, if you are and avid fantasy fan, is quite an intriguing one. In involves Dream – the Sandman or the king of the realm, dream world – who is captured by a wizard in the mortal world by accident when he was trying to capture one of Dream’s siblings – Death – in hopes of bringing back his recently-deceased son back to life. Once he realises his mistake he imprisons Dream in a glass prison and takes hold of his magical possessions – the sand, the helm, and the ruby – which grants him and him family longevity and prosperity. Helpless and powerless Dream spends over a 100 years in the glass prison before he finally gets a chance to escape. After his release he then searches the mortal world in search of his possessions and tries to rebuild his dream world which now is in chaos since it has been king-less for over a century.

Most of this plot summary is covered in the first episode itself. Despite being rather long for a TV episode it doesn’t really feel that long since you are hooked to the screen as the story unfolds before you and it creates such a nice premise to an epic finale now that the magical possessions of Dream are with the humans who have no intention of using them for good.

However, this is where the story sort of begins to fall apart, well, not if you are a fan of Gaiman’s literary work but if you’re just a fan of TV you might feel a bit underwhelmed as the show progresses since the much promise, the hype, the energy the show possessed in the pilot episode sort of begins to fade away like a memory of a dream after you wake up.

Long story short, half way through the season Dream manages to get his hands on all the three lost possessions and not in a very spectacular ways either. Gaiman’s finales are psychological and thrilling in its own way. He has a way with words that keeps you hooked to the pages of his books but it is really hard to translate that onto the screen. Using narrative form might help to do this, which has been used in all of Gaiman’s TV show adaptations, but a finale has to be in action rather than in dialogues so TV is specially at a certain disadvantage when it comes to depicting Gaiman’s stories.

The Sandman suffers this same fate. The promising start it gets off to sort of dies down towards the second and third episode and in the middle of the season we learn that Dream is able to acquire all his lost magical possession without much of a hassle which is rather disappointing. However, this makes another promise of a much bigger and better actual finale or a climax on which the season ends but we are again treated to a bit of a family drama and a good old switcheroo, which is a huge let-down to the action-loving fan, especially considering how walking nightmares, eyeball-collecting serial killers, and universe-destroying vortexes are introduced in the build-up.

So, there are two ways of enjoying this new Netflix release; one purely as an action fantasy or two; as a Neil Gaiman adaptation. If you go by the former, the show is a let-down which gradually loses its audience due to its inability to generate interest as it progresses. However if you go by the latter, the show is a good one because the essence of the show sans action is still a pretty thought-provoking and an ingenious one – typical of Gaiman’s writing.

The show is tipped to get renewed for another season and I recommend watching not only the first season but also the coming seasons. As a fan of Gaiman – although I haven’t read many of his comic books – my judgement of this show might be a bit biased but it is still an entertaining one. The CGI is very advanced and convincing for a TV show and acting is not too bad either. Although Tom Sturridge who plays the lead has a baby face, he makes up for that in his acting and his deep voice which is perfect for the character Dream. If you ask around or surf the internet you’ll hear or read a mixed bag of reviews so I’d say give the show a go and judge it for yourself. Who knows, you might end up liking it after all, like I did.          

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe