The Ghosts are On the Case

Dead Boy Detectives: Series Premiere

I haven’t read a lot of Sandman. I read the first book (which the Netflix series later adapted), but I didn’t get much beyond that story, and I absolutely didn’t dig into any of the spin-offs and related materials. The largest exposure I’ve had to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman world was the Lucifer TV series (which is so loose an adaptation it’s basically unrelated) and the few appearances of the Dead Boy Detectives over on Doom Patrol. I do not have the knowledge base to judge how accurate an adaptation of works from this chunk of the DC universe would be, is what I’m saying.

For the new NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). series, Dead Boy Detectives (which was supposed to be a spin-off of Doom Patrol over on MaxThe oldest and longer-running cable subscription service, HBO provides entertainment in the force of licensed movies along with a huge slate of original programming, giving it the luster of the premiere cable service. Now known primarily for its streaming service, Max. before WB squashed that and the idea was sold to Netflix), I don’t know if that really matters or not. While I’m sure there will be nits to pick from the dedicated fans out in the audience, the series as presented is a fun and enjoyable adventure featuring two spirits and their human friend, off on adventures to solve crimes. It’s a bit of Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys, but with a spectral bent (and some LGBTQIA+ flair). It works on its own, without the need to know the comic book material, and for my money that makes it a successful TV show on its own accord.

The titular “dead boys” are Edwin Paine (George Rexstrew) and Charles Rowland (Jayden Revri). Edwin is the “brains” of the group, having studied deep into the occult, learning every language he can in the process. Charles is the “brawn” of the group, the fighter (with a certain prowess for the cricket bat) who also has a mystical bag of holding that, with practice, can produce anything you want. They work out of England (at the start of the show, at least) solving cases for restless spirits, helping those souls move on to the afterlife (where they are taken by Death herself, as played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

After helping a ghost haunted by their own killer mask, the boys are hired to help a woman possessed by a demon. They’re able to help her out, easily ripping the demon from her in a quick strike on the subway. The woman in question, Crystal Palace (Kassius Nelson), is a psychic and, as we eventually learn, she was possessed by the demon, David (David Iacono), after she let him in (not fully realizing what it meant). Even though David has been expelled, though, he’s still following her around. Worse, he has some of her memories, keeping her from knowing who she really is. Until she can figure herself out, and realize who she truly is, she’s sticking with the dead boys and helping them with cases because it’s what feels right.

The dynamic of the show is certainly its strongest point. The three leads, Rexstrew, Revri, and Nelson, have strong chemistry together, making for a group that’s very likable to watch. Their banter is enjoyable, believable coming from the leads. Plus their dynamic isn’t just “one big happy family” but instead has some coarseness to it (Edwin doesn’t like having a third in their group, and Crystal snipes back at him regularly), making for some interesting interactions beyond simple friendships and friendliness.

I also appreciate that there isn’t some weird love triangle between the leads. Edwin is very obviously gay (as becomes something of a plotline for the character this episode and, of course, beyond) and doesn’t have that kind of chemistry with Crystal. There are some sparks between her and Charles, although it’s also made pretty clear that romance doesn’t work the same for ghosts as it does for mortals, so it feels like the show will be limited in how far that can be pursued going forward. Still, it is good to see that the show is bucking some conventions.

It also clearly is going to buck its own setup right from the start. Despite giving the boys a headquarters in England, the show very quickly moves over to Port Townsend, WA, where (for at least the first season we have to assume) the show will make its home. There are witches, and transformed walruses, and all manner of weirdness in the town. It’s a place that has clearly become a haven for the supernatural, so it makes a good home of sorts for the adventures of the dead boys (plus one). I like that the show was willing to change up and move things around, keeping the audience guessing. It’s a strength, an inventiveness that, for now, helps the show feel fresh even in its premiere.

It also has a larger cast of characters that clearly will come into play. Crystal grabs a weekly-rent apartment in Port Townsend (since she has to live somewhere even as the dead boys can go anywhere), and that sets up her new landlord, Jenny Green (Briana Cuoco), who runs the town’s butchershop (and has rooms for rent in the building above). Crystal’s roommate is a strange girl, an anime fan with clearly more going on, Niko (Yuyu Kitamura), and I’m sure the series has more plans for her considering her introduction. Plus there’s that pesky witch who just isn’t going to go away so easily, along with Crystal’s demon, too. There’s a lot going on and many characters to bounce around for this first season already.

Tying it all together is a feeling of the strange and bizarre that permeates the series. The show goes in for some fun visuals, taking pages from the likes of Beetlejuice and The Addams Family, along with a fair bit of the trippy style of Doom Patrol. The art delights in being weird, and a little gross, but there’s also a fun style to it. The opening credits exemplify this, having a day-glo, acid-trip style to them that creates a fun aesthetic for the show to follow. Neon colors and morbid images all set the tone for the adventures that the dead boys will have as the episode (and the series to follow) plays out.

Really, I love the opening credits. Netflix too often doesn’t show much care for their intros, sometimes doing a half-assed, pre-produced bit of something before excising it entirely on later episodes, but Dead Boys Detectives has a full, well produced intro that (just from peeking ahead) I know sticks around for all the episodes. It’s a rarity in the streaming sphere, but it’s clear the showrunners knew that they had something special. It really does show just how much fun the episodes to follow will have, and that fun them permeates every inch of the rest of the show to follow.

It’s frankly surprising to me that the WB was willing to give up this series and send it off to a competitor. The vibe of this show is so good, gripping you from this first episode and making you want to watch more and more. WB’s stupid loss is Netflix’s gain, though, giving us one of the few shows on the streamer that’s actually interesting from minute one. Although I doubt more Netflix shows are going to be this good, I’ll at least take it this time for Dead Boy Detectives while I can.