Though far from perfect, Netflix’s original series have mostly delivered in terms of both quality and diversity. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, Bloodlines and Marco Polo all bring something very different to Netflix’s lineup. While it has you covered for dramas of a political, fantastical or super-powered nature, the service does however have something of a blind spot when it comes to science fiction shows.
Enter Sense8. Sense8 is a 12-episode production that brings together the talents of Andrew and Lana Wachowski as well as writer J. Michael Straczynski. The first season dropped over the weekend and while we’re only a handful of episodes in, it’s definitely worth talking about.
The show’s premise is a vague but interesting one. It sets out to introduce seven individuals across the globe – called “sensates” – whose lives are drawn together by a mysterious psychic connection and visions of a dying woman named Angelica (Daryl Hannah). The broad nature of the setup (along with a stylish intro sequence) lends the show a global and multicultural scope reminiscent of others like Heroes or Lost.
As a consequence of this, there’s a lot of variety in the show’s ensemble including a cop (Brian J. Smith), a transgender blogger (Jamie Clayton), an Icelandic DJ (Tuppence Middleton), a Nairobian bus driver (Aml Ameen) and a German gangster (Max Riemelt). There’s a risk that the potential inherent in having this diversity could be curbed by stereotypes but, for the most part, early episodes leverage this diversity positively – though the Nairobian and Indian plotlines do seem to be getting less attention.
Depending on who you ask, the Wachowski’s do have a bit of mixed record stretching from the revolutionary first The Matrix film to, well, The Matrix: Revolutions. However, their talents are well utilized here as the pair build on the storytelling techniques they used in Cloud Atlas. There’s a lot of attention to detail and visual impact to shots. While their solution to conveying the abstract nature of the psychic connection tying the sensates together is at-times hokey, the visual trickery involved is surprisingly effective.
If anything, the most inconsistent aspect of the show so far has been the writing. Dialogue is often clumsy, overbearing and overwritten – beating you over the head with the subtext of each storyline. An apparent holdover from Straczynski’s history with comic-books, characters speak in a way that sounds contrived, unnatural and occasionally cringeworthy. Though partially salvaged by some fun performances, I’d go so far as say this dialogue represents the biggest obstacle in Sense8’s path.
Like many Wachowski productions, Sense8 aims for the profound but often stumbles into nonsense. On a dramatic level, the pacing is all over the place and the flawed writing really holds the series back. However, the series dares to excel on a visual level that’s genuinely compelling. I wouldn’t call it mind blowing but the first episode is absolutely worth a look. Early episodes that we’ve seen thus far also leave the series with plenty of directions to explore. Keep an eye out for our full review of the first season in the near future.