‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Review: Netflix’s ‘Sandman’ Spinoff Is a Fast, Fun Binge (2024)

In theory, Netflix’s Dead Boy Detectives should be a feast for the misery wraiths, faceless creatures who feed on pain and suffering. The ghostly protagonists, Edwin (George Rexstrew) and Charles (Jayden Revri), are both teenagers bullied to death at the same British boarding school seven decades apart. They spend their time finding closure for other lost souls, like a pair of high schoolers cut down in their prime or a family slaughtered by an abusive patriarch. And they’re constantly on the run from the agents of Death, who would condemn Edwin to Hell on a technicality.

Yet the duo only ever encounter one such monster over the eight-episode first season, and perhaps that’s because despite its gloomy-sounding premise, Dead Boy Detectives is the furthest thing from dour. Dark, sure; bittersweet, sometimes. But it’s never less than entertaining, thanks to an appealingly quirky lead cast and a cheeky sense of humor.

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Dead Boy Detectives

The Bottom LineAn appealingly kooky supernatural adventure.

Airdate: Thursday, April 25 (Netflix)
Cast: George Rexstrew, Jayden Revri, Kassius Nelson, Yuyu Kitamura, Briana Cuoco, Jenn Lyon, Ruth Connell, Lukas Gage, David Iacono
Developed by: Steve Yockey

In tried-and-true TV fashion Dead Boy Detectives splits each of its eight episodes between monster-of-the-week procedural storylines (or whatever we’re calling them in the Netflix era) and serialized teen drama. The first case of theirs we follow is both: After the lads take on an assignment to rescue Crystal (Kassius Nelson) from her demonic ex (David Iacono), she becomes the third member of the crime-solving team. Ostensibly, her psychic powers make her an ideal liaison between the boys and the living, who cannot see or hear them.

But it doesn’t hurt that Charles, a punkish charmer from the 1980s, has the hots for her — to the irritation of Edwin, a World War I-era bookworm whose affection for his best mate has grown more than friendly. And so, in a room rented from a surly goth butcher (Briana Cuoco’s Jenny), the now-trio take on all manner of spooky supernatural adventures while sorting out their feelings about each other and themselves.

Originally conceived of as a spinoff to Doom Patrol, then rejiggered as a Sandman spinoff when Max turned it down, Dead Boy Detectives has inherited from both of its spiritual parents a sensibility that’s a little bit melancholic, a little bit spooky and a lot bit irreverent. Its world seems perpetually cast in green and purple shadows, but the details are less creepy than kooky. Creator Steve Yockey conjures a version of small-town Washington where a shopkeeper (Michael Beach) might secretly be a walrus and cats might speak in salty Jersey accents. Its afterlife runs on a strict bureaucracy, enforced by functionaries like the harried Night Nurse (Ruth Connell, reprising her Doom Patrol cameo). The supporting cast tend to go big, and their swings pay off in memorable figures like Esther (Jenn Lyons), a vengeful witch with the breathy voice, bitchy quips and wine-drunk sway of a reality show villainess, and the Cat King (Lukas Gage), a purring shapeshifter whose new favorite toy is Edwin.

Meanwhile, the guys (and the gals — Yuyu Kitamura rounds out the core clique as Niko, a sweetly daffy neighbor) wrestle with more relatable journeys of self-discovery. By far the most successful of these is Edwin’s, as he tentatively opens himself up to the possibility of romance. Rexstrew’s bashful curiosity reminds us that although Edwin’s been kicking around for over a century, he is still, in some ways, just an adolescent figuring himself out.

But the others are more hit or miss, struggling to maintain either their momentum (a storyline about Charles’ anger issues dissipates almost as suddenly as it arose) or their weight (Crystal’s revelations about the source of her powers come too out of left field to land with the intended emotional impact). The Dead Boy Detective Agency’s driving motivation is a poignant one — “Our deaths didn’t matter, and no one ever solved them,” Edwin explains, and every case they crack is in an effort to ensure other souls aren’t forgotten the way they were. But in general, the series seems reluctant to delve too heavily into the angst, lest it drag down the mood.

Instead, it leans on zany plotting and warm chemistry to deliver good times. “This isn’t the Peach Pit,” Jenny snarks, but a huge part of Dead Boy Detectives‘ appeal is simply getting to hang out with these kids. (And they are kids: “What’s the Peach Pit?” asks Crystal, Zoomerishly.) They might be brought together by a desire to do the right thing “even if it’s scary and the odds are bad and we might die horrifically,” as Niko puts it. But if we weren’t invested in their efforts to, say, sedate a sea monster so it stops snacking on townies, it’d still be worth tuning in just to sigh with Crystal and Charles as they feel out their mutual attraction, or to giggle with Niko as she helps Jenny track down a secret admirer, or to kick back with Edwin and Niko as they wind down with Scooby-Doo after a long hard day of paranormal crime-solving.

But the true heart of the series lies in the bond between Charles and Edwin, which over the decades has crystallized into a loyalty even deeper than friendship. At some point in the past, Charles made the decision to forgo a blissful afterlife in favor of eternity on Earth with Edwin; after spending a bit of time amid their true-blue bond, it’s easy to understand why.

As for Dead Boy Detectives itself, the series might not inspire quite that level of devotion, at least in its solid-but-not-sensational first season. But it’s the sort of consistently likable amusem*nt that in Charles’s 1980s heyday might have become long-running appointment viewing — and that we in the 2020s get to enjoy as a zippy, satisfying binge.

‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Review: Netflix’s ‘Sandman’ Spinoff Is a Fast, Fun Binge (2024)
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