‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Netflix Review – A Fun, Irreverent and Dazzling Adventure

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Dead Boy Detectives (2023)

DEAD BOY DETECTIVES. (L to R) George Rexstrew as Edwin Payne and Jayden Revri as Charles Rowland in episode 1 of DEAD BOY DETECTIVES. Cr. David Bukach/Netflix © 2023

For years, Dead Boy Detectives was in development hell. It started its journey as an HBO Max show before ultimately finding a home at Netflix, where it was able to become something more — a series set within the same continuity as The Sandman. Was it worth the wait? Here’s our SPOILER review. 

For those new to Dead Boy Detectives, the series follows deceased duo Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland, who refuse to enter the afterlife and instead remain on Earth as ghosts, devoting their time to solving all sorts of supernatural mysteries. The two characters had their origin in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, being the central characters in an issue of the Season of Mists story arc. They’d later go on have their own comic runs by numerous writers, from Ed Brubaker to Toby Litt.

It’s also worth noting that this series is not in any way connected to the Dead Boy Detectives that showed up in Doom Patrol, played by Ty Tennant and Sebastian Croft. The Netflix series is completely original, set in Netflix’s Sandman Universe. Although with that said, the new show doesn’t forget its past on-screen; eagle-eyed viewers will notice nods to Doom Patrol, including a character wearing a Doom Patrol shirt.

The two titular heroes in the new series — Edwin Paine (George Rexstrew) and Charles Rowland (Jayden Revri) — are fantastic. They’re the core of the show and they own the roles, bringing a unique flavor to the characters. I certainly didn’t miss the actors who previously portrayed them. They are genuinely a hilarious duo, going together like chalk and cheese. There’s plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but you also feel empathy towards them. It’s a perfect balance.

dead boy detectives cast list

And for many of their investigations, they’re joined by their alive, clairvoyant friend Crystal Palace (Kassius Nelson). Nelson was a real highlight of the show, bringing plenty of energy, but also carrying emotional weight, having lost her memories to an evil demon, David, (David Iacono) whom she has to mentally battle throughout the series. Many aspects of the story are told through her perspective, making her as crucial a character as the titular duo. I also liked Niko (Yuyu Kitamura), a recurring character completing the core team. Eccentric and funny, Niko becomes an excellent comic relief in the series, grounding it with humanity in a way that other characters can’t. Her back-and-forth banter with two outspoken sprites is a particular highlight.

In terms of supporting cast, Briana Cuoco was a standout performer as Jenny the Butcher, the tenant of Crystal’s place. As was Ruth Connell as the Night Nurse — head of the afterlife’s lost-and-found department, tasked with finding Charles and Edwin. The show’s core villains were a mixed bag. I found the Cat King (Max Jenkins) a little underdeveloped; he was more of a recurring nuisance than anything else. I did like the talking cats though; there’s a little synergy with Sandman given its Dream of a Thousand Cats story arc. Meanwhile, the evil witch (Esther) was a worthy match for the Detectives. Her quirky and energetic, yet sinister personality is a joy to watch.

Dead Boy Detectives Netflix Series 2

There are times when it feels a little too much like Scooby-Doo, in that it’s got a slight ‘adventure of the week’ style where the team sets out to solve a paranormal mystery and inevitably solves it by the end of the episode. There’s no real surprises or shock twists —  the structure of the episodes certainly lacks in variation at times. I found the character dynamics quickly became more interesting than the cases themselves. Despite this, however, I very much enjoyed the uniqueness of each case, particularly in episode 3, which had a darker tone and a more claustrophobic feel.

Another aspect I liked was the animated backstories. There’s only two; one for Mick (Michael Beach) and one for Esther. The unique and creative animation styles wonderfully fit the tales they told.

It isn’t until the penultimate episode, “The Case of the Very Long Stairway,” when the show really comes into its own. Episode 7 will go down as the jewel in the crown of this series. In the episode, Charles ventures into the depths of Hell to retrieve Edwin, who’s been returned there following being wrongly summoned there as a child. This episode contains a bit of everything. It carries plenty of emotional baggage, while still being whimsical and fun. It pits the heroes in a perilous situation, one that we as viewers aren’t sure they can resolve.

The depiction of Hell is particularly unnerving and tense. Despite the sets being radically different from what we see in Sandman, it still retains that sadistic and distressful characteristic of the realm of Lucifer.

I also loved the origin story told for Charles and Edwin. It’s very in-keeping with their origin in the comics. But it makes me wonder how Sandman will handle it. Technically, their origin story is told within the pages of Sandman, and it was always assumed that it would be covered in season 2. Will it be omitted now? Will something different take its place?

The irreverent nature of the show is very in-line with Neil Gaiman’s writing. It’s incredibly silly, often sacrificing darker aspects for wit. However, with that said, when it has its dark moments, it isn’t afraid to go hard with gore and tension. I really do hope we get more seasons of Dead Boy Detectives. Season 1 told a full story, but also ended on a slight cliffhanger. I’d very much love to see how the story progresses, there’s so much potential. This is a must-watch for Sandman fans especially, but also perfectly accessible for newcomers to enjoy. This is one to be renewed, Netflix!


How does Dead Boy Detectives crossover with The Sandman?

As promised, there’s a few very distinct crossovers between Dead Boy Detectives and The Sandman. Firstly, in episode 1, we get a scene featuring Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), as she visits the Dead Boy Detective Agency to escort a man to the afterlife. A running plot line in the series is how the boys are constantly on the run from Death, so it was a nice addition to add Death to the start. But for newcomers, her appearance could be a little confusing. Why is Death so nice, compassionate and approachable? Why are the boys so frightened of her?

the sandman season 2 cast list so far

There’s another, much more interesting, Endless appearance, too. In episode 7, while Edwin is stuck in Hell, he encounters Despair (Donna Preston). I think Sandman fans in particular will love this appearance. She doesn’t get much of a chance to shine in season 1 of Sandman. But in Dead Boy Detectives, we visit her realm: a place of endless mirrors. Neil Gaiman has previously mentioned that Sandman didn’t quite capture what they were going for with Despair. Thankfully, Dead Boy Detectives executes her appearance perfectly.

I appreciated how these two appearances contributed to the story instead of being forced into the narrative purely for the sake of a crossover. It didn’t feel jarring, but instead enhanced the story without diverting from the focus on the main narrative.


Watch Dead Boy Detectives on Netflix If You Like

  • The Sandman
  • Locke & Key
  • Lockwood & Co.
  • Lucifer

4/5Good

★★★★☆

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