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Sandman TV Series - What We Know So Far

Neil Gaiman dreams ... of a day when the long-awaited television adaptation of his landmark Sandman comic finally sees the light of day. The good news is: That day may finally be coming.

Various attempts to bring Gaiman's magnum opus to screens big and small have been staged and abandoned over the 30-plus years since DC's now-defunct Vertigo imprint published the first issue of The Sandman. Previous creators with the best of intentions stumbled over the philosophical complexity of the material, as well as its nonlinear narrative style and massive fantastical scope. The universe-spanning series requires an enormous financial and creative commitment, which Gaiman appears to have finally found from writer-producer David Goyer and Netflix.

Along with heavily adapted stories like Alan Moore's The Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight, The Sandman is one of the great tentpoles of comics as a medium. Gaiman's masterwork regularly appears on just about every list of the best comic series ever produced, and even stands out as a massive achievement among its author's considerable body of work. Gaiman himself has become a fecund creative well for Hollywood studios, who have already turned several of his books and stories into successful film and TV adaptations. With that in mind, it's a bit confounding that no one's managed to scrap together a proper Sandman project (aside from the recently released Audible audio drama). The promise of a visual adaptation that might actually do justice to the epic story told across 75 issues seemed as elusive as the series' titular character — until recently.

Even with the commitment from Netflix, early news of the latest Sandman television series had to be taken with a grain of salt; the past is prologue, after all. Still, there was cautious optimism felt all across the generation-spanning Sandman fandom. Then, Gaiman announced that the Netflix project was about to enter production back in April until the pandemic struck. It seemed like the promising Netflix series might go the way of past rumored attempts, including one recent run at a feature allegedly starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Fortunately, new developments suggest that the Sandman TV series is back on track and casting. Here's everything we know so far.

When is the release date of the Sandman TV series?

Back in April, Gaiman posted to his Tumblr page that "everything was ready to go into production" before the pandemic, an exciting — if frustrating — situation. Considering we now know that major casting decisions hadn't been made at the time of the Tumblr announcement, it's likely that Gaiman simply meant the project was ready to move from development into pre-production, with a more concrete timeline forthcoming. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a major wrench into those works.

"The scripts for the first season are written, casting had started, directors hired, sets were being built," Gaiman wrote. "As soon as the world is ready to make TV drama, Sandman will move smoothly back into being made. In the meantime, we are taking the opportunity to get the scripts as good as we can."

By the time fans received this encouraging sign of life from Gaiman, the entire entertainment industry had already entered shutdown mode to help stem the tide of the pandemic. While fans can now breathe easy that the project hasn't been tabled indefinitely, there's no doubt that these delays must have set the production timelines back. If casting has, indeed, begun in earnest, then it's possible we could see the first season of The Sandman on Netflix some time in 2021, though it's certainly possible the project will slip to 2022, as well.

Stand by for an official release date from Netflix some time in the mid-term future.

Who is in the cast of the Sandman TV series?

While it does not appear that any of the main characters had been cast back in April, Gaiman's latest update signals that the casting process resumed in earnest as of July 2020 (via Tor.com). In a recent interview with Collider, Gaiman opined about the significant differences between the casting processes for the recent Sandman audio drama and the TV series. This observation comes with a bit of bad news for fans of Michael Sheen's compelling portrayal of Lucifer Morningstar on the audio drama version of The Sandman: Gaiman threw cold water on the notion of the actor reprising his role on Netflix.

"You know, casting Michael Sheen in the real world is something you have to start planning several years ahead of time. And you have to put all the pieces in to play, in order to make everything work, because there are very few more in-demand actors on the face of the planet than Michael Sheen," he said. "And the odds are very good that Michael Sheen will not be Lucifer. Whether we wanted Michael Sheen as our Lucifer on the TV or not, getting somebody of that stature available when you need them is really difficult. So all of the casting that we did on Audible informs what we're doing on the TV, but it's also, they are their own things and there are places where that character may not be that thing anymore."

The character Delirium (previously: Delight), Dream's mercurial younger sister, was famously based on the singer-songwriter Tori Amos, a long-time friend of Gaiman's. The Netflix team hasn't provided any concrete evidence to suggest that Amos is involved with the project in any capacity, but her inclusion in some form would be an interesting nod to the story's origins.

Official casting announcements should be the next big news coming out of Team Gaiman, so expect some imminent details about the actors playing Death, Dream, Delirium, Destiny, Desire, Destruction, Despair, and the rest of the eclectic Sandman crew.

What is the plot of the Sandman TV series?

The Sandman principally follows Morpheus, better known as the entity Dream. Morpheus and his six siblings comprise a pantheon of sorts known as the Endless. The Endless are nigh immortal, though they aren't exactly gods. You can think of them more like personifications of primordial forces. At the outset of the comic series, Dream is captured by the famous occultist Roderick Burgess, who keeps him imprisoned for 74 years causing untold damage to the universe at large. When Dream finally escapes from Burgess' clutches, The Sandman begins in earnest, tracking Dream's exploits in a completely non-linear, largely episodic epic that spans several universes and alternate dimensions. The disparate threads of The Sandman's plot — amazingly — come together in the penultimate story arc of the series, entitled The Kindly Ones, in which Dream must finally reckon with the celestial repercussions of his past acts.

Gaiman had major updates for Collider about the narrative plan for season 1 of The Sandman on Netflix. According to the author, the streamer's order calls for ten episodes, and the creative team plans to use them to cover the first two volumes of the original comic: Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll's House.

"So it's 10 episodes, which will contain 16 of the comics," Gaiman said. Though he assures long-time readers who have no doubt memorized all of the original Sandman scripts that, "there will be surprises on the way ... I think that if you are somebody who loves the original comics, you will love the Netflix series. And I think if you are somebody who knows the original comics, well, you will have an absolute advantage plot-wise in the Netflix series. But much like something like Game of Thrones, while you will have an advantage, you will not always be one step ahead."

Even fans will concede that Preludes & Nocturnes represents a bit of a rocky start for the iconic series. Despite the significance of Dream's imprisonment as the story's inciting incident, the comic's first arc then launches into a somewhat awkward attempt to shoehorn Dream into the DC Universe. Early issues of The Sandman include cameos from classic DC characters including Batman and John Constantine, which will no doubt be jettisoned for the TV adaptation — a legal necessity as much as a creative one. The Doll's House, which sees Gaiman settling into his character and the unique setting he created, weaves a much more compelling tale.

With only ten hours to cover both story arcs, it seems likely that Goyer and his writing team will move swiftly through the origin story and into the meatier conflict of The Doll's House, which deals explicitly with the repercussions of Dream's imprisonment. As to how they plan to handle standalone stories like fan-favorite Death's introduction story "The Sound of Her Wings" and the absolutely bonkers "A Dream of A Thousand Cats," we'll just have to wait to find out!