In 'Dead Boy Detectives,' two best mates reject their deadly fates : Pop Culture Happy Hour The new show Dead Boy Detectives is a spinoff of Neil Gaiman's beloved series The Sandman – both the comic and the Netflix series. It's about a pair of detective ghosts (played by George Rexstrew and Jayden Revri) who refuse to move on to the afterlife. Aided by a young psychic (Kassius Nelson), they stick around and solve mysteries that will resolve the unfinished business of other ghosts.

In 'Dead Boy Detectives,' two best mates reject their deadly fates

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The new show, "Dead Boy Detectives, " is a spin-off of Neil Gaiman's beloved series, "The Sandman, " both the comic and the Netflix series. It's about a pair of ghosts who refuse to move on to the afterlife. Aided by a young psychic, they stick around and solve mysteries that will resolve the unfinished business of other ghosts. I'm Glen Weldon, and we're talking about the Netflix series "Dead Boy Detectives" on this episode of POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.


WELDON: Joining me today is Nikki Birch. She's a video producer for NPR's Jazz Night In America and also a co-host of the podcast "A Thousand Eyes And One." Welcome back, Nikki.

NIKKI BIRCH, BYLINE: Hey, hey. Nice to be back.

WELDON: Great to have you. Also with us is filmmaker, pop culture critic and iHeartRadio producer Joelle Monique. Hey, Joelle.

JOELLE MONIQUE: Hi, Glen. Thanks for having me back.

WELDON: Of course. Let's get to it. The Netflix series "Dead Boy Detectives" is based on characters created by Neil Gaiman at, like, the Netflix series "The Sandman" was. In "Dead Boy Detectives," we meet Edwin and Charles. They're played by George Rexstrew and Jayden Revri. They are best mates, and they've got a lot in common.

They're both ghosts of teenage boys who were brutally murdered at the same British boarding school. They've gone into business helping other ghosts who need mystery solved so death can take them and they can move on to their afterlives. But Edwin and Charles have no interest in moving on themselves because it would mean they'd have to part ways. So they are on the run from death.


JAYDEN REVRI: (As Charles Rowland) Hey, you ever think, what if death did catch us? She'd force us to go to the afterlife and split up.

GEORGE REXSTREW: (As Edwin Paine) I will make sure that never happens.

WELDON: As the series opens, they help a teenage psychic named Crystal Palace escape the clutches of a demon who's possessing her. She's played by Kassius Nelson.


KASSIUS NELSON: (As Crystal Palace) Oh, but great job. Case closed, right? Cross my name off your board, so the demon must be gone, right?

WELDON: Together, they leave London for Port Townsend, Wash., where they become trapped once a powerful supernatural feline entity, played by Lukas Gage, gets the hots for Edwin. They soon settle in and start solving supernatural crimes, all the while defending themselves from the local witch. She's played with fierce fabulosity by Jenn Lyon. "Dead Boy Detectives" is streaming now on Netflix. Joelle Monique, start us off. What do you think?

MONIQUE: Glen, it's so gay. It's so gay in the best way.

WELDON: We will talk.

MONIQUE: Fabulously queer. And it was so - lesbians and gay couples and queer cat lords.

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: I loved watching this series. I had a lot of fun.

BIRCH: Yeah, no, I agree. I thought it was super fun to watch. I love Neil Gaiman and just everything that he does. We've covered a couple of his books on our podcast, and it's always, like, a little bit horror, like, kind of magical and whimsical. And this has got all of those things. You know, it's like, oh, this is real life. Ah, there's a ghost. And, yeah, they just keep it going. Yeah, I was super excited to watch it.

WELDON: Yeah. I mean - but it's all about how you pitch it to people, right? 'Cause if you lead with the premise, if the first thing you hear about this show is ghosts solve a different mystery every week.

BIRCH: Right.

WELDON: I mean, it's kind of giving the CW, right? It's giving, you know...

BIRCH: Exactly.

WELDON: ...Tuesdays at 9 only on CBS. You know what I mean?

MONIQUE: I mean, it is Greg Berlanti.

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: There are very heavy...

BIRCH: Right.

MONIQUE: ..."Riverdale" vibes throughout.

WELDON: Right. And that's not to denigrate. I'm just trying to classify here.

MONIQUE: I hear you. I hear you.

WELDON: This is high-concept procedural. And look, I've loved a lot of high-concept procedurals in my time, your "Buffys The Vampire Slayer," your "X's File," but...

BIRCH: Yeah.

WELDON: ...I mean, real talk, if I did not know this took place in "The Sandman" universe, based on the premise, I'd probably skip it.


WELDON: 'Cause you know, procedurals, this is a personal taste thing. Procedural is not my thing, mystery of the week, monster of the week. But this is very squarely part of "The Sandman" universe. We meet a major player in that universe in the seventh episode, which I think is the best. But there is definitely a tonal tweak here, right? For all of its darkness of subject, which gets pretty dark, its approach is lighter. It's more overtly comic.

BIRCH: Yeah.

WELDON: But that's the question I had for you both. Given that what this show is about, which - I mean, if you could look at it week to week, this show is kind of about abuse in various forms, much of which gets depicted on screen. Does that mix of light and dark work for you? Nikki.

BIRCH: It works for me, for sure, because if it was too bubbly, like, Scooby Dooby, I think they would have lost me. They are introducing you to all these conflicts. Like, these guys are running from death, and this woman, you know, she's fighting a demon that lives inside of her head. And you're getting terror in the form of abuse, and they're forced to deal with it throughout the season. And I like that. Nobody's running away from it. They're just - they have to confront it.

MONIQUE: This is the thing I really love about Gaiman. I'd come across Neil Gaiman, like, later in life. I think I was 22 when I discovered "The Sandman" comics. They legitimately saved my life and inspired my move to LA, and it was, like, a huge life-changing revelation reading these comics. And so then I get into his childhood books. I was familiar with "Coraline" from the movie and then went back to my book. And I just - I think what makes Neil Gaiman so great is his ability to talk to children about...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...Deeply disturbing things in ways...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...That are neither pandering nor over their heads, which I think is such a difficult line to walk. And I really valued it as a kid who was, you know, reading way above my age range as a kid and...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...Who was having really dark thoughts very early in life. I think having a place like the Gaiman's universe where people can experience true horrors, and there's still, like, love and light and hope at the end of everybody's journey, but not in a way that diminishes the tragedies they have to go through. I mean, gosh...

BIRCH: Yeah, totally.

MONIQUE: ...A really difficult line to walk, and for the show to be able to imbue that in its own imagery, especially - and also feel like a solid companion piece to "The Sandman" series, which is so much darker. I mean, I think they did a lot of really great balancing work in here.

BIRCH: You know, what you're saying reminds me, like, I've been watching Neil Gaiman's master class, and one of the things he talks about is truth and fiction - you know, skating that line between I'm telling you stuff that happens in life, but let me make it, like, remove you a little bit from it, so it's something that you can identify with but from a distance.

WELDON: Yeah. And one of the things that's kind of hallmark of the Gaiman universe is, like, it's not just the mixture of light and dark. It's the mixture of the prosaic and the fantastic.


WELDON: So when you have, like, mundane everyday British things like tea trays and towels and trolleys and...

BIRCH: Stiff upper lip.

WELDON: The stiff upper lip - and the British ability to kind of ignore anything that's untoward or outside their experience and focus on the prosaic while all these crazy things are happening, that's part of it. But, Joelle, I wanted to bring up your point about the queerness of it. I was liking the show, right? I was vibing with it. I couldn't put my finger on why. I was only a few minutes into the first episode, and then my dog needed to be walked because dogs' bladders wait for no one. On the walk, I listened to the podcast "Homophilia," where the guest happened to be Steve Yockey, who is a playwright, a TV writer.


WELDON: He developed this series for TV. He's one of its showrunners, and he was talking about how growing up - how much he obsessed over the character of Sue Ellen Ewing on "Dallas," how it was his first exposure to the, quote-unquote, "broken woman stereotype."


WELDON: And that's probably why he tends to write women, he says, who are complicated without worrying about things like likeability and how there are shades of Sue Ellen Ewing in everything he writes as in the character of Esther the witch on this show. And I stopped walking...


WELDON: ...Because I was like, oh, OK, I get it. That's what I was vibing with. It's queer. And sure enough...

BIRCH: Yeah.

WELDON: ...As the series goes on, as you mentioned, there's queer subtext, like those two dandelion sprites played by Max Jenkins and Caitlin Reilly, who are...

BIRCH: My favorites.

WELDON: ...maybe my favorite thing about the show...

MONIQUE: The best.

WELDON: ...Who are every toxic...


WELDON: ...Los Angeles gay I have ever met.


WELDON: But then there's queer text, right? There's the Lukas Gage character. And, you know, your mileage may vary. You might read him as hot and flirty. You might read him as kind of a sex pest (laughter). You know, it's up to you.

BIRCH: Yeah, totally.

MONIQUE: He's a little bit of both. We can identify that he is both a sex pest - leave that boy alone; he's not ready for you - and also...


MONIQUE: ...You know, he's a dude who's trying to figure stuff out. I really like the way Lukas played the Cat King.


LUKAS GAGE: (As the Cat King) Oh, Edwin, what was it you just said to me? I don't see the harm in one little spell. Look, it comes right off as soon as you make me happy.

BIRCH: And lonely.

WELDON: And lonely.

BIRCH: You know, it's like you get that through the bottom. It's like, he just wants - he wants somebody, too, and he's not able to get it.

MONIQUE: Yeah, and he's - and Lukas is having a ton of fun playing this character. Like, he is going all out.

BIRCH: You can tell. Absolutely.

MONIQUE: The fur coat, I was like, this is his I'm Just Ken moment.


MONIQUE: You know what I mean?

BIRCH: (Laughter). You know, I want to talk about Kingham and Litty for a second, the dandelion sprites, because as soon as they came on screen, I was like, oh, my God. Who are they?


MAX JENKINS: (As Kingham) I'm sobbing. It must be nice to have understanding friends.

YUYU KITAMURA: (As Niko Sasaki) It is. I don't have many friends.

JENKINS: (As Kingham) Oh, that makes sense.

CAITLIN REILLY: (As Litty) I'm surprised.

JENKINS: (As Kingham) Yeah, obviously. And now you're gonna have even less because they're going to die in there.

REILLY: (As Litty) They're all going to f****** die.

BIRCH: I love them. I was thinking about it as, like, it's as if Waldorf and Statler from, like...

WELDON: Sure, sure.

BIRCH: ..."The Muppets" got to...

MONIQUE: Oh, yeah.

BIRCH: ...Say what they really thought. And, like, I love a good heckle, and, yeah, throughout the whole show, they're just so rude.

MONIQUE: Yeah. They could have so easily been throw-away characters, too, or, like, silly. But I don't know if it was casting or writing or a combination of both, but they're just so funny that there's a moment where you think they're gone, and I was like, wait, bring them back immediately. I really enjoy them (laughter).


WELDON: Both Lukas Gage and Jenn Lyon on the show are kind of playing their parts kind of in the same way. They're both loaded down with dialogue, with exposition dumps, lore dumps.

BIRCH: Right, right.

WELDON: And at one point, the Lukas Gage character has to give you the origin story of the witch, right? But they both just sit there, and they toss these lines aside like they're nothing. So unforced...

MONIQUE: Oh, my gosh.

WELDON: ...So natural. It's why they work.

BIRCH: I think the things I liked most about them, like, their performance, is their timing.

WELDON: Yeah, definitely.

BIRCH: Everything that they're saying, you're just like, oh, my God, and it's, you know, not always trying to be funny, but I laughed every time they were on the screen because the way that they delivered their performance was just so spot on.

MONIQUE: I like Yuyu Kitamura who played...


MONIQUE: ...Niko throughout the series.

WELDON: The neighbor.


MONIQUE: She's a shut-in. She's afraid of the world, and she spent a long time in her bedroom. Her father has just passed. And when you meet her, she's this anime-obsessed, like, manga-reading adorable...

BIRCH: It's me.

MONIQUE: ...Outfit. Yeah, I was, like, I so - a shut-in who just wants to read her manga.


MONIQUE: Queer. So gay. Even if she's, the character is not a very gay motif.

BIRCH: Totally.

MONIQUE: And she's just so delightfully weird and quirky in a not, you know, manic pixie dream girl way.

WELDON: Is she, though?


KITAMURA: (Niko Sasaki) Evil, go away. I'm almost there. Oh, my gosh. I came to help. The internet said that banging pots and pans scares away the evil things.

MONIQUE: I thought their friendship was very natural and not forced, not at all relying on her to be quirky, but here we are, two weird people who have trouble connecting with folks, and we've...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...Connected with one another. And I really liked it. I didn't see her as a manic pixie dream girl. But did you?

BIRCH: I really liked that, too. And I liked that she connected with Edwin right away, you know, 'cause we get - we've got him out here. He's obviously jealous of, like, Crystal. Then this other girl pops up, and he's like, I think she's delightfully charming, and I was like, is she going to make a friend?

WELDON: OK. I think what I was dealing with is my own, like, over sensitivity because we meet the character of Niko, the neighbor. She's played, as you mentioned, by Yuyu Kitamura. When she's introduced, she's introduced in a pink cloud of manga characters floating around her head, and I was like, what are we doing?


WELDON: What is this? But the more time we spend with her, she gets to show us more, and she becomes more. I do think she kind of stays at the level of manic pixie weird girl. You know, she's in love with love, and she just wants everybody to be in love. And, like, that's still a type, sure.

BIRCH: Sure.

WELDON: But worked for you.

MONIQUE: Not only did it work for me, I think there's more to this character. We don't have time to explore it in Season 1 because there are...

WELDON: Right.

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...So many characters.

WELDON: Right.

MONIQUE: But you bring up an interesting point. So your reaction to Niko's first appearance was my reaction, too. Are we having a coming-out story in 2024? I'm just so bored. I don't care.

WELDON: Oh, OK. So you were wary that we were getting yet another coming-out story with Edwin's feelings for Charles?

MONIQUE: Yes. But then it's a story of - I was like, oh, this is not just a coming-out story, although it's an element, I think, appropriate for the character and the age they come from. To me, it's a much more precious thing that will never go away, which is, oh, my gosh, I'm gay, and I might be in love with my best friend. It's me. I told my...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...Best friend in high school...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...I was like, I'm in love with you. What are we doing? How do we make it work? Similar reactions happened afterwards, but it was so - like, I never really got this story as a kid, and I was like, man, as a high schooler, I would have really valued having this storyline of you can figure out how to manage your extreme love emotions in ways that are logical and make sense and don't destroy your friendship. And I thought that that was really - I love, love that friendship is the core, like, relationship...

BIRCH: Yes, me too.

MONIQUE: ...In this story. I think that seems to really apply to Gen Zers, who are, like, we really are looking for more friendship-centered stories. And for that to be the crux of this show, and for those friends to be so believable and so sweet, I want in on their relationship. I'm like, can we all, I'll be your third, like, what's happening?

The showrunner was talking about how Gaiman sort of just leaves these very encouraging little notes and was not hyper-involved but was sort of just checking in. But there's something about these worlds he creates that are so letters to weirdos and freaks. And, like, they very much feel to me, like, desperate pleas to keep living. You don't have to give up. There's so much value in living, even if you've done things that you are - you feel bad about, or you have remorse about. And so I thought...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...Gosh, this is the kind of show I wish I would have had as a kid. Like, I feel - like it feels in...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...Ways like "Buffy" a lot was the show that helped me a lot as a kid, and I think it could do a lot of good for teenagers. I hope it does.

BIRCH: Yeah. I think the darkness - the elements of darkness, whether it's relationships or friendships, was something that I really, really enjoyed. It's like, I'm thinking about - to when I was a teenager, the type of shows that were going on. Like, the drama was all about love, period. And so to be able to dive into the psyches of these people and to see what else is going on with their lives to kind of be surprised by their motivations or the way that they respond to things because of what has happened in their past and not like, oh, my God, I have a crush, and now I'm so tortured, you know? - that was really fun for me.

WELDON: Yeah. Well, let's talk - "Buffy's" has been mentioned several times. So let's dig into that. This is the "Buffy" formula, right? The structure of this show. Monster of the week with a season-long arc plus teenage angst. That's the formula. And, you know, I say teenage. Let's be real (laughter).

MONIQUE: They're adults.

WELDON: These are Hollywood teenagers, right? OK? Everyone's in their 20s.


WELDON: These two lead characters are both around 13. They are boys. The title makes sense. Here, they are clearly adults. So I call it Dead Twink Detectives because that seems a lot more what the show's about. But in terms of the formula, I'm OK with it. It does mean it falls into my least favorite thing about shows like this, which is, oh, my God, these tiny, tiny babies are in danger from this monster. There's no time. There's no time. There's no time. Hey, can we talk about our relationship? You know what I mean?

BIRCH: Yeah, I think the problem, I guess, like, with that formula that I had in the very beginning, I'm like, oh, man, are you going to throw all the paranormal tropes at me, like, the teenagers fighting with this? And I was, like, starting to lose interest, but I will say that, like, after the third episode, they got me. I was invested. Like, the second episode with the dandelion sprites, as soon as they popped up, I was like, all right, I'm going to stay and watch this, 'cause what are they going to do? Are they going to keep them or not? But after that Devlin episode, I was like, all right, you guys are doing some really, really dark things, and I'm here for it.

MONIQUE: To your point, Glen, there were moments where I was like, I don't care about this case as much where we're kind of, like, trapped in here and, like - and then there's also a moment where they are in the most possible danger they could be in, and they stopped to have a relationship talk. I'm like...

WELDON: Exactly.

MONIQUE: There is no reason for you to be...

BIRCH: Yeah, for real.

MONIQUE: ...Stopped (laughter) right here. That does sort of take you out, and I think it's - I hope it's something they tighten up a little bit in the future. But obviously, it didn't kick me out of the show. I didn't...


MONIQUE: ...Destroy it for me...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...But it was definitely a moment where I was like, I don't know why...

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...This is happening.

BIRCH: But it felt kind of predictable in that way. Like, of course, they're going to have this moment right now.

WELDON: When they should be getting the hell out of there. Yes, yes. I mean, you know, I guess I would prefer that to the other thing that these shows fall into, which this does as well, which is, like, the other person, instead of, like, having the big relationship talk, they go, I don't want to talk about it. So then for five episodes it's just this thing...

BIRCH: Right.

WELDON: ...Bubbling to the surface for no reason. One conversation would solve it.

BIRCH: Right. Or they're constantly being interrupted when you're trying to have that moment. And the person, because we're so close, I assume that you - I know what you're talking about. Don't worry about it, you know? That was really frustrating for me, but it also felt a little bit real, considering what...


BIRCH: ...Charles had just gone through.

WELDON: But again, I go back and forth on that cause that's kind of characteristic of the genre. Is it even possible to make that less clunky? Do you know of any other shows that have managed to make that work seamlessly? I mean, "Buffy" turned emotional trauma of high school into monsters that you can punch, right? And so it worked on a metaphorical level.

BIRCH: Right, right.

WELDON: It worked on a grounded dynamic level because, sure, Angel is an evil vampire who delights in torturing people. He's also a bad boyfriend. So both those things can be true simultaneously. I think that...

BIRCH: Yeah.

WELDON: ...Merged it. But other shows like this are kind of having to kind of - they don't work on two levels at once. They kind of vacillate between the two levels they're working on.

BIRCH: Yeah. That's making me think of "Charmed," too.


MONIQUE: I think maybe "X-Files" might be the best example of not too frequently getting caught in this trap. Like, when they were in danger, they were like, we've got to focus. We have a case to solve (laughter). I feel like they were they were waiting till they got back to the office or in the car to have their emotional...


MONIQUE: ...Conversations.

BIRCH: Right.

MONIQUE: But yeah, but that's also a very adult show, and so I think there's space to be, like, you know. This show felt to me accessible to, like, a 13-plus crowd, so I guess I don't mind some of the cornier parts. I also feel like young kids, great musical education if you watch this series. Download...

WELDON: Oh, sure.

BIRCH: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...The tracks immediately. When "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" started playing, I was like, we are in great hands. Let's do this.


JON ANDERSON: (Singing) Prove yourself. You are the move you make. Take your chances, win or loser.

BIRCH: Or in that scene where Jenny's singing "Circles In The Sand." I was like, oh, my goodness. I haven't heard that song in forever.

WELDON: Oh, my God.


WELDON: Well, you've heard what we have to say. We dig this. We want to know what you think...


WELDON: ...About "Dead Boy Detectives." Find us at That brings us to the end of our show. Nikki Birch, Joelle Monique, thank you so much for being here.

MONIQUE: Thank you, Glen.

BIRCH: See you next time.

WELDON: See you next time. This episode was produced by Hafsa Fathima and Liz Metzger and edited by Mike Katzif. Our supervising producer is Jessica Reedy, and Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Glen Weldon, and we'll see you all tomorrow.


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