Every week we’re bringing you recommendations for great movies or TV shows streaming on Netflix. This week’s selection is…
"Sense8” Created and written by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and J. Michael Straczynski; Directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, James McTeigue and Dan Glass; Starring Aml Ameen, Doona Bae, Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, Tuppence Middleton, Max Riemelt, Miguel Angel Silvestre, Brian J. Smith, Freema Agyeman, Daryl Hannah, and Naveen Andrews; Run time 60 minutes; Originally aired June 5, 2015.
I remember a time with Netflix original programming was a mere legend still residing in the nebulous land of may-happen. Those days are long gone and the streaming giant is now cranking out original content almost faster than I can watch it. What began with safe bets like continuing existing franchises with strong fan bases has gone through a metamorphosis and out of that proverbial chrysalis has arisen a beautiful, if variable, butterfly. One of that butterfly’s more colorful and interesting appendages is the Wachowski/Straczynski team up, “Sense8.”
The series follows eight individuals spaced in varying locations around the world, California, Korea, Russia, and Kenya to name a few. Each of these characters has seemingly nothing in common. Nomi (Clayton) is a transgender woman living in California, Lito (Silvestre) is a closeted actor in Mexico City, Capheus (Ameen) drives a Jean-Claude Van Damme themed bus in Nairobi and struggles to earn the money to afford the AIDS medication his mother desperately needs. These characters, essentially from different worlds, all cross paths within each other’s minds as they learn that some force connects them all.
The connection runs deep and gets deeper as the season progresses. The sensates, as they come to be known, are seemingly individuals that make up a larger collective. In essence they are each parts of one larger organism and as their connection gets stronger they find that not only can they visit one another in shared headspace, they can experience the physical space of those they visit, share memories, and share skills.
Watching “Sense8” was initially slow going. The first couple of episodes drag a little as the series sets up the characters and builds the world they inhabit. I almost didn’t go back to it after those first two episodes but I’m glad I did. Episode three is where it starts to pay off, particularly in a scene involving Sun (Doona) the daughter of a Korean business man who moonlights as a kick boxer, and Capheus.
Capheus finds himself facing off with Kenyan gangsters and vastly outgunned when Sun visits him. What results is a beautiful scene intercutting the events of an underground kickboxing match with Capheus’ fight.
In that moment, without any exposition, it becomes clear just what this connection the eight protagonists share is. While each of them is still a distinct individual, they are in essence the sum of their parts able to draw on one another in times of need or even just to see a friendly face.
Seeing the Wachowski name alongside Straczynski, who is perhaps most well known for “Babylon 5” made it a safe bet that we would be delivered at least a moderately good science fiction thriller series and “Sense8” delivers on that front.
"Sense8" is the show that the socially conscious among us have been clamoring for and I think it’s pretty important that we support it.
What I didn’t quite expect, and was pleasantly surprised to find, was a show that is thought provoking both in the expected metaphysical sense as well the unexpected real world sense. “Sense8” explores topics like acceptance both from family and from the world at large. It explores income inequality the world over. It explores the concepts of right and wrong both from the perspective of the criminal and the police. It explores all of these things successfully because in each case you are first provided with a character you can care about, one whose motives are understood as well as understandable.
What is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the series, at least for me, are the characters themselves. While “Sense8” is, on the surface, a high thinking science fiction show what makes it utterly watchable is the diverse cast of characters and how easy it is to care about them despite how different their lives may be from your own.
In a world that is increasingly clamoring for more diverse character representation it saddens me that “Sense8” has for the most part gone under the radar. The creators obviously took pains to represent as many different types of humanity as they could with only eight characters. You have an even split of male and female characters, you have straight characters, gay characters, transgender characters, white characters, black characters, Hispanic, Indian, and Korean characters. Some of the strongest and most badass characters are women; some of the weakest are men and every one of them feels real, not a caricature in sight.
By the end of the season, what began as nonsensical and confusing becomes a beautiful tale of equal parts shared human experience and kickassery. It’s the show that the socially conscious among us have been clamoring for and I think it’s pretty important that we support it. It is well deserved.