“Dead Boy Detectives” Season Recap

May 1, 2024

BY Bob Erlenback

“Dead Boy Detectives” dropped last week on Netflix and thus far, it appears to be a hit for the streamer. Personally, I’m in LOVE with it. Since I binged the season in essentially one sitting, I have vacillated back and forth about whether I wanted to write a recap or not. Writing up a single episode is one thing, but an entire season is another. However, I have been unable to get this show out of my mind since crushing it in record time. So, this might be late in coming, but it’s full of love. And isn’t that what really matters? My plan is to focus on introducing you to the characters, which will hopefully pique your interest to watch the show.

If you aren’t familiar with the “The Sandman”-adjacent comic-book property of “Dead Boy Detectives” from author Neil Gaiman, the show features two dead boys, and they are detectives. There, that’s it, that’s my recap. That was easier than I thought.

OK, fine. 

The series follows two ghostly teenagers, Edwin Paine (played by George Rexstrew) and Charlie Rowland (played by Jayden Revri), who are best friends both murdered in the same boarding school decades apart, and who have chosen to not “move on” but instead solve mysteries both mortal and undead. (Kind of. You see, Edwin mistakenly did “move on” to Hell for a while before escaping. It’s a rich tapestry that the show unravels for us.)  Together they form the Dead Boy Detective Agency, where they operate for years before they are joined by a living clairvoyant Crystal Palace, played by Kassius Nelson, who is able to see the boys and touch them. It should also be noted, going back to my comment about not “moving on,” that Edwin and Charlie are kinda, sorta fugitives from the afterlife.

That is our basic set-up for the show. But as we move through the episodes, it becomes so much more with great secondary characters and rich backstories for our deathly duo.  With that all said, let’s talk about these great characters. Oh and one more thing, it’s been about four days since I finished the series, so please excuse any minor errors in my recapping.

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Edwin Paine

The first of our two main spirits, Edwin died in the early 20th Century after being bullied and tortured by classmates who unwittingly banished him to Hell for approximately 70 years during a demonic ritual. I perceived this bullying to be about Edwin’s sexuality, but I am not sure if the show explicitly states this. As expected, all of this took a toll on young Edwin, and we are presented with a buttoned-up, reluctant-to-trust Englishman who meets and shepards Charlie into death when he finds him dying in the attic of the boarding school they both attended.

What Edwin is quickly confronted with as a main arc is his coming to grips with his sexuality, and his obvious romantic love for Charlie. This is first obvious to the viewers when Crystal joins the fold and clearly catches the eye of Charles, and then later when Edwin has a run in with the Cat King who quickly develops a sexual attraction to him. Edwin acts cold toward Crystal, and shuts down the advances of the Cat King, demonstrating his jealousy, deep distrust of others, and lack of confidence to give into his desires. 

I have to commend George Rexstrew for his portrayal of this complex and layered character. A lesser actor would not approach this with the same nuance, or with the respect the subject matter deserves. Although totally uptight outwardly, you can see Rexstrew portraying Edwin as struggling inside and grappling with complex emotions that never presented themselves for the 30 years he and Charlie were alone. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but so well acted.

If you need more proof of the actors commitment to this character, I saw an interview with Rexstrew online where he mentioned he took ballet classes after securing the role, because he had a specific thought in mind of how he wanted Edwin to move. If that specific thought was “swishy,” well then…achievement unlocked! If you want to know if Edwin tells Charlie about his feelings, or if he gives in to the Cat King’s advances, you will have to watch.

Charles Rowland

Self-proclaimed “best mate” of Edwin, Charles is the other half of our titular characters.  Similar to Edwin, Charles is brutally murdered after he is beaten and left for dead out in the cold by a pack of friends who turn on him for standing up for another classmate they were bullying. He makes his way to the attic of his boarding school, where he is discovered by Edwin, with whom he finds comfort before dying of hypothermia and internal bleeding.

Although dealing with similar trauma, the emotions that plague Charles throughout the eight episodes manifest themselves differently. He is outwardly cheery and impulsive, masking his true emotions. On the inside he is dealing with deep feelings of betrayal and anger toward those who have done him wrong. It is in Episode 3, “The Case of the Devlin House,” where we see the larger backdrop of where his intense anger comes from, when we learn about abuse from his father. (Side note: without giving plot, it’s easily the strongest episode in the season. So clever and intense.) Additionally, Charles is dealing with the changes in his relationship with Edwin, where he sees Edwin pulling away and feeling caught between his “best mate” and a romantic interest. 

The show couldn’t have been blessed with a better actor for this role, both in talent and appearance. Revri approaches the role with a playful twinkle in his eye, complimented by a mischievous smile on his wonderfully handsome face. I swooned, I admit it. However, he doesn’t let this portrayal overshadow the truly emotional moments that give this character depth. Also, the chemistry between Revri and Rexstrew is effortless, and you believe the love Paine and Rowland have for one another. The relationship is #FriendshipGoals. Jayden Revri…call me!

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Crystal Palace

No this isn’t a strip club, nor the buffet character breakfast at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  Crystal is introduced to us in Episode 1, “The Case of Crystal Palace.” Edwin and Charles save her from a possession by a demon named David. Problem solved? Not so fast. David has taken Crystal’s memories of who she is and where she came from. With this as her driving objective, she hitches her wagon to Edwin and Charles to help her find her memories, offering her services as a clairvoyant to help them solve mysteries. Throughout the season, David comes back multiple times to torment Crystal. Eventually we learn through him that she willingly let him possess her, and that her memories may not portray her to be the greatest person. 

I think Crystal is a fun character to play opposite our boys, but for most of the season I didn’t find much use for her aside from a catalyst for tension with Edwin and Charles.  That all changed in the back-half episodes, when we began to learn the true strength of her powers, which go beyond just simple clairvoyance. It gets pretty intense.

The beautiful Kassius Nelson does a wonderful job finding a voice for the character, and by the end of the season you really root for her story. It would be easy for Crystal to get lost in the shuffle given the chemistry of our two main characters, but she successfully stays above water. With all the focus on what Edwin and Charles are dealing with this season, I hope they peel back more layers of Crystal’s character in a second season. There is some juicy stuff to work with there, and I think we have only scratched the surface. 

Niko Sasaki

Niko fully joins our crew in Episode 2, “The Case of the Dandelion Shrine.”  She lives across the hall from Crystal, and has a mystery about her. That mystery being whenever we see her, she is surrounded by an aura of rainbow colors and adorable animated emojis. We later discover she is plagued by parasitic Dandelion Sprites, which will make her basically explode if not removed. (Spoiler: They are removed and these sprite characters become comedy GOLD for the remainder of the season.) Niko is easily the least fleshed-out character in our bunch, but if you stayed to the end of the season, my guess is we are getting much more from her — if Netflix green lights more “DBD.” 

The interesting thing about Niko is that while she is presented as a manic pixie type, she’s the one actually paying attention to specific details unnoticed by our detectives, who are distracted with all their emotional shit. Niko ultimately saves the characters multiple times before the season is out. Yuyu Kitamura is a delight in this role, and brings us some of the most charming comedy moments and the sweetest emotional beats. I just hope they give the actress more to do in the future.

That summarizes our four main characters, but they are accompanied by a gallery of secondary characters that really enrich this world. Here are some highlights in a rapid round:

Jenn Lyon as Esther Finch: The campy main antagonist of the series. A witch who was blessed with eternal life, but not eternal youth, so she feeds young girls to a pet snake to remain young. Jenn Lyon DEVOURS this role.

Ruth Connell as Night Nurse: A representative of the afterlife’s Lost and Found Department handling misplaced dead children. She’s pursuing our dead boys. Remember my fugitives comment? 

Briana Cuoco as Jenny Green: Yes, she’s from THE Cuoco acting dynasty. She owns the Tongue & Tail butcher shop and rents rooms to Niko and Crystal. She has a brutal love story that plays out in terrifying fashion.  

Lukas Gage as the Cat King: Cat King kind of describes him. He’s an actual cat who can turn into  a man. As mentioned above, he has a sexual infatuation with Edwin. Gage gives the least-believable and weakest performance of the cast. 

Joshua Colley as Monty: Esther’s crow familiar turned real live boy who spies for the witch.  He becomes a romantic interest for Edwin. We want to see more Monty! Joshua Colley is charming, but ultimately feels wasted.

There you have it. A wacky cast of characters for this charming little show. I was really looking forward to the release of this series and expected to really enjoy it. If you listen to the Great Pop Culture Debate podcast, you may know that I love characters, especially shows with lots of them. This show hits all of my interests — I didn’t expect to love it this much. So much so, that I couldn’t let it pass me by without putting my thoughts down in my very first TV recap! 

I hope there is continued success for this show, and I hope Netflix gives it another season. There is so much fertile soil for more, and its connection to “The Sandman” universe only increases the directions this can go. I hope this recap leads you to watching it yourself. Happy binging!

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Chris
Chris
18 days ago

#JusticeForMonty