That’s the word that I found myself saying time after time as I watched Sense8, Netflix’s 12-episode series by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix movies) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5).
Wow, I’ve never seen this before.
Wow, how did they pull that off?
Wow, what GREAT writing!
Wow, what great characters!
Wow. Just. Wow.
This isn’t going to be a review so much as a Call to Action to those who haven’t seen the show yet.
If you have Netflix, go watch this show! Now!
If you don’t have Netflix, go get it!
I’d say the less you know the better as one of the best elements of the story is the complex mystery that unfolds over the course of the season. That being said, I’ll touch on the story lightly here — just enough to sell it without spoiling it.
At its core, Sense8 is like a super hero series, but one where the heroes don’t necessarily have powers (that we know of, anyway) — other than a psychic link which bonds eight strangers.
But, boy, what they are able to do with that link!
Remember the sense of wonder you had when you saw the first season of Heroes? I wasn’t sure I’d see another show with the perfect mix of unfolding mystery and dread of what was to come. Sense8 delivers that — in spades!
Sense8 is the grown-up show that treats its subject matters with respect —a show that the comic book lover in me has been waiting a lifetime to see!
And the show spares no expense in telling its tale, using nine very different locations (Kenya, Iceland, India, Germany, Mexico, South Korea, London, San Francisco, and Chicago) in new and amazing (did I say WOW) ways unlike anything I’ve seen in television before.
I can’t even fathom the difficulty that was creating this series!
Not only writing such complex, interlocking, intertwined stories, but then getting all the actors to film scenes in multiple locations, often doing several takes from different POVs!, and then turning all these disparate pieces of film into the cohesive masterpiece they’ve made. A logistical nightmare, not to even consider what it cost to film!
This isn’t just top-notch writing, acting, and direction, but a masterpiece of editing!
This is not a low-budget show!
This is a series that most networks would NEVER greenlight!
This is the kind of show that could only exist on cable, or … a new destination for complex, original, brave storytelling, Netflix.
Did I say brave? Oh, hell yeah.
This series has many brave moments. From its audacious story and set pieces to its subject matter. One of the main characters is a transgender woman, something most networks wouldn’t touch — at least not in the nuanced way Sense8 wrote her.
There’s also lots of violence and sex in the series, making the show a decidedly grown-up show. Also a brave choice considering they could’ve toned down either and had a show that could’ve been a hit with a younger crowd.
During the first episodes I found myself wondering if perhaps the amount of gay and bisexual content might turn off a segment of the audience who would either be offended or felt like they were being preached to.
As for the first part, the offended, I’m of the mind that if you’re offended by the way other people live, (and love!), people you don’t even know and who don’t affect you in any way, maybe the problem isn’t other people, but you.
Now, the preachiness.
I was worried that the show might come off too heavy-handed or preachy with its attempts to foster acceptance of gays and the transgender community. It made me wonder how much of Nomi’s story came from Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski’s own life.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think that television should avoid such topics. The more exposure that people have to different cultures, the more we can break down these stupid barriers between us that foster hate and violence. If it weren’t for television, I don’t think gay rights would be enjoying as much success in recent years.
But I think a deft touch is needed so as not to scare away the people whose minds you are trying to change (enlighten). Nobody likes being preached to. It raises our defenses and shuts down our ability to consider the arguments being made. I know I’ve watched many shows and movies where someone wanted to send a message that just fell flat because of the way it was delivered. You risk alienating the very people you want to reach out to — and explain things to in a way they might get — when you are too blunt with your instrument.
In the end, I think Sense8 rode the line, was true to its principles, and shed light on how it is to live as such a marginalized part of society, raising an awareness of the issues surrounding the subjects, without being too heavy-handed. Your mileage may vary, of course.
If these are topics which bother you, I’d urge you to watch the show anyway, as it isn’t just about gay or trans rights. Hell, that’s a small part of the show, really, when you look at the other deep themes that Sense8 handles with equal aplomb — loneliness, death of loved ones, alienation, abandonment, finding your place in both your family and society, trying to overcome your past, trying to fix your mistakes, doing the right thing when the right thing is the hard thing, and finding the strength to do that thing.
In other words, a lot of the same themes (and ambitious scale) that inform the books Sean and I write at Collective Inkwell, which is why the show resonates with me so much. THIS is the sort of story we’d love to tell on television. And until now, I never thought I’d see someone do it so well on such a gigantic scale!
As I’ve said before, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good mystery, and deep, flawed, conflicted characters. Sense8 does these things better than maybe any show I’ve seen in a long time.
One other thing Sense8 does so well is humor!
You’d think a show about such heady and depressing subjects would be a dour hour of gloom and despair. Not so! There are so many laugh out loud moments (with all the characters, not just one or two comic relief ones) made all the better because you know these people!
I think almost any decent book or TV show can make you cry. But to make you cry and laugh, that is how you know you’re in the hands of masters of the craft. I’m talking about both the writers and the actors! (This show is maybe the best cast show since Orphan Black).
Because of the boldness of the show, and the surely large expense of making it, I was worried that Sense8 wouldn’t see a second season.
I’m glad to be wrong. On August 8, we got this announcement on Twitter that the show WILL return.
I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Have YOU seen Sense8 yet? What did you think? Leave a comment below. Please, NO SPOILERS!
I’m thinking of doing an episode-by-episode review/discussion of the series if there’s any interest. Leave a comment if you’d like to see that, or email me.