As the king of all stories, Dream of the Endless knows that they change in the narrative. Allan Heinberg knows it too.
The Netflix showrunner The Sandman tells EW that he’s wanted to adapt the legendary comic by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg ever since he first met it as a college student. After years of writing for TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy Y the oc (where his real-life comic obsession fueled that of Adam Brody’s Seth Cohen), Heinberg finally managed to make his dream come true. But he quickly ran into a problem.
“I’ve been doing TV and movies professionally for 24 years, so I went back to reading the books specifically thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?'” Heinberg tells EW. “So I called [producer] David [S. Goyer] back and said, ‘I can’t do it. It is impossible.’ To achieve this, a lot would have to change in terms of how we approach the material.”
Heinberg’s fears were finally allayed. after adapting The Sandman Almost word for word like an Audible audiobook, Gaiman was totally on board with changing things up more for the TV version. Some of the page-to-screen changes ended up being cosmetic, such as casting black actresses Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Vanesu Samunyai to play the characters (Death and Rose Walker, respectively) who appeared as white in the original comic. But others had to do with the way the stories were told.
Liam Daniel/Netflix Dream (Tom Sturridge) talks with Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai) in ‘The Sandman’
Take the fifth episode of the series, “24/7,” an adaptation of sandman #6 (a horror story called “24 Hours”) that encounters a powerful madman who uses reality-warping powers to terrorize patrons of a 24-hour restaurant. Heinberg previously told EW that he and the other filmmakers wanted to give villain John Dee (David Thewlis) a more understandable motivation. But they also decided to avoid the narration that is so key to the comic version of the story and to the Audible version (where Gaiman himself fills the role of omniscient narrator). Plus a voiceover in the first episode from Dream actor Tom Sturridge, Netflix The Sandman it has no narration.
“’24 Hours’ is a perfect example of a story where most of the dialogue is people ordering their food from a waitress, and most of the drama is handled by Neil as the narrator, telling you what’s going on in their hearts and in their dreams,” says Heinberg. “We basically had to rewrite it and make it like a play, where if you’re sitting in the audience and you see people come onstage, everything has to be revealed in their interactions with each other. We can’t tell the audience what’s going on.” at any time. We didn’t deviate from the material, but the way it’s presented and the way you meet the characters is very different.”
All 10 episodes of The Sandman Now streaming on Netflix adapt the first 12 issues of the comic. But while the first few are mostly one-off short stories (meaning viewers can only get through one episode with The Death of Howell-Baptiste, for example), the second half is the adaptation of a longer story called the doll house. Viewers thus really get to know Samunyai’s Rose and her friends, but a lot of adaptation changes were still required, especially since Dream is often absent from the events of the doll house in the comic
“It was a delight for the department heads, because those last four episodes behave like a TV show, where you have a cast and you actually have settings that you go back to,” says Heinberg. “Whereas in the first six episodes, we have six different casts and six different worlds. As a TV show, a serialized drama, we really wanted to do both and be able to tell all those stories, but we couldn’t tell any of them. That didn’t move the story forward. Dream’s story.
Liam Daniel/Netflix Jed Walker (Eddie Karanja) in Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’
Liam Daniel/Netflix Hector (Lloyd Everitt) and Lyta Hall (Razane Jammal) in Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’.
In the comic, Rose’s brother Jed (Eddie Karanja) is held captive by two monstrous entities called Brute and Glob, who defy Dream’s authority and call themselves lords of their own dream fiefdom. Jed is led to believe that he is the partner and ward of a superhero named Sandman (also known as Hector Hall) and his wife, Lyta.
In the Netflix show, Jed’s story is separate from that of Hector (Lloyd Everitt) and Lyta (Razane Jammal). Jed is a Sandman in his own right, watched over by a renegade nightmare named Gault (Ann Ogbomo) instead of the Brute and Glob. Hector is long dead, but Lyta sees him in his dreams, separated from Jed. Dream’s handling of Gault’s disobedience sparks a disagreement with his lieutenant Lucienne, a conflict that carries even more weight given that Lucienne is also depicted as having a different ethnicity and gender from the comics, and gives him things to do on screen at the time. Just like Rose, who has been searching for her brother in the waking world for years.
Netflix Gault (Ann Ogbomo) in Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’
“Neil gave us the freedom to basically build Jed and make Jed our Sandman instead of Hector,” says Heinberg. “It was heavy, hard work to figure out, but that was the job: How do you take the disparate ends of ‘The Doll’s House’ and really turn it all into one story, so that Dream is tracking everything at all times?”
Viewers can decide for themselves how well the show met the challenge. The Sandman is streaming now on Netflix.
Enroll in Free Daily Newsletter from Entertainment Weekly for the latest TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars and more.