At first glance, Netflix's latest Neil Gaiman adaptation, Dead Boy Detectives, could be dismissed as a fun but forgettable family-friendly romp. Thankfully, there's so much more to it than that.


Forget any Lockwood & Co comparisons - Dead Boy Detectives, which inhabits the same universe as The Sandman, doesn't shy away from its darkness, and it's a choice that pays off time and time again.

George Rexstrew and Jayden Revri star as Edwin Payne and Charles Rowland, the dead boys in question. The pair, who are aged up from the comic books for the series, flesh out the characters, both of whom died at the age of 16, beautifully, delving into their painful backstories and having a seamless chemistry that the series would have been lost without.

In the decades after their own deaths, Edwin and Charles must do what they can to evade Death and their own journeys to the afterlife in order to solve cases and aid fellow ghosts in moving on.

It's a simple premise brought to life in a 'case of the week' episodic structure - but it doesn't feel formulaic thanks to a gripping overarching story.

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Jayden Revri as Charles Rowland in Dead Boy Detectives. He's wearing a jacket decorated with badges and is pointing to his temple
Jayden Revri as Charles Rowland in Dead Boy Detectives. Netflix

That story brings us characters like Crystal Palace (Kassius Nelson), Niko Sasaki (Yuyu Kitamura) and Jenny the Butcher (Briana Cuoco), who complete the gang. While the supporting characters feel slightly one-dimensional at first, they come into their own towards the end of the tale.

However, that's more than can be said for one of the big bads of the series, Esther (played by Jenn Lyon), with her story falling more than a little flat with its simple resolution. Lukas Gage, meanwhile, one of the biggest casting coups for the series, is mesmerising as the slimy Cat King - but incredibly underused.

There are plenty of positives, though, particularly for The Sandman fans. Already, it's been confirmed that Kirby will reprise her role as Death, and there are a few other surprises along the way. Plus, those invested in Charles and Edwin's journey from the comic books won't be disappointed.

Kirby as Death in Dead Boy Detectives. She's wearing black with a pendant around her neck and is gazing off camera with a smile.
Kirby as Death in Dead Boy Detectives. Netflix

One of the major high points of the series is how beautifully those painful backstories are adapted, with Rexstrew and Revri clearly going to emotional depths. In solo scenes and when they're bouncing off each other, the pair elevate sequences with their performances - but they're massively let down throughout the show by jarring dialogue.

Maybe it's American writers trying and failing to incorporate British slang for their two leads (who are the only British characters in the show), or maybe it's a case of phrases from the comic books just not quite translating, but something tells me most people who watch the show will agree we could have left the cringey exclamations of "brills!" out of the script.

Despite this, and some characters who didn't pack as much of a punch as they could have, the series has heart and depth, and it's a convincing expansion of the Sandman universe, which is more than can be said for many recent spin-offs.

Although Gaiman didn't develop the series for TV like he did The Sandman, his involvement is still clear, and the showrunners have done him justice.

Crucially, Dead Boy Detectives feels Gaiman-esque, with its dark moments, its mysterious characters, its seamless LGBTQ+ representation, and that hint of something indescribable.

Leave your preconceptions at the door. You won't need them where we're going.

Dead Boy Detectives will be released on Netflix on 25th April. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.


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