This is especially frustrating in the case of the Hob Gadling story. Hob is a commoner whom Dream meets in an English pub in 1389 and grants immortality to after overhearing Hob boasting to his friends that he has no intention of dying. The issue then shows Hob and Dream meeting at the same pub every hundred years, with Dream asking him if he wants to keep living. In the original comic book story, each meeting of the century had to be encapsulated in just a few pages, and the lion’s share of their conversations were presumably left on the cutting room floor. In an interview for the book from 1999 The sandman’s companionGaiman even admitted that he was sad to end the issue and would have loved to continue the conversations between Dream and Hob “indefinitely.”
Well, this show was his chance, and Gaiman could have used the extra time and space afforded by another medium to show more of what Dream and Hob discussed over the centuries. But instead, Gaiman and his fellow showrunners chose not to change a hell of a thing from the 24-page comic book story. Your mileage may vary, but what do you do I want out of a fit? Well, not that.
This is mainly how it goes for the first six episodes of the Netflix series. Because so many of the early issues of the comic were bottle issues, they each become too faithfully adapted to bottle episodes of the show. And while the last four episodes have more flow and continuity, they’re still pretty militant in following the comics. Sure, there are a few changes, but most of them are simply a show eliminating the comic series’ attempts to fit into the larger DC Universe of the time, such as guest appearances by John Constantine, Etrigan the Demon, and the Martian Manhunter, or an issue that partially was set in Arkham Asylum. To put it another way: The show changed almost nothing, it didn’t need to switch. And that’s too bad, because “The Sandman” is essentially a story about the nature of stories, and stories change over time. Storytellers change over time. Gaiman is certainly not the same writer now that he was in 1988, but this show acts like he is.
To be fair, “The Sandman” has a lot going for it outside of its narrative choices (or lack thereof). In almost every way, except for the writing, it is very well done. The casting in particular is uniformly excellent and Sturridge is perfect as Dream. Boyd Holbrook, Jenna Coleman, Gwendoline Christie, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, David Thewlis, Patton Oswalt, and Vivienne Acheampong are also all especially wonderful as fairly important supporting characters, and it’s nice that more of those roles were cast to show far more diversity than was featured in the comic. The score and production design are also very good, and the show certainly looks like Netflix gave it the budget and resources it needed. But television is a writer’s medium, and despite Gaiman running the show with two other veteran writers known for their acclaimed work in comics—David S. Goyer (who co-wrote “The Black Knight” trilogy) and Allan Heinberg (who co-wrote 2017’s “wonder Woman”) — they apparently approached their job as glorified transcription.