The new sci-fi thriller from The Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski landed on Netflix yesterday, and after a promising media campaign which piqued our excitement, we’re sorry to report that it is – so far at least – not worth the 9 hours of your life.
I wanted to like this – I mean, it’s JMS, creator of Babylon 5, possibly my all time favourite science fiction TV show. It’s The Wachowskis, responsible for The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Bound, Assassins. I wanted to really like this. I wanted come on to these pages and rave about how I just couldn’t turn it off and only gave in when the need for sleep got the better of me; but the truth is that I gave up after episode 5 because I was just bored.
A Sense8 episode is about 45 minutes long, excluding opening and closing credits; at 12 episodes that’s a 9 hour season. I got through episodes 1 to 5 which is 225 minutes – I think that’s more than fair in one sitting. Not all of those 225 minutes were dull, I’d guess that there’s maybe half an hour of exciting, interesting, stuff in there, spread between those episodes, which made me think “maybe it’ll pick up now” and keep on going.
It opens well. In fact it opens very well with the lovely Daryll Hannah, clearly in pain, conversing with two men – Terrence Mann and Naveen Andrews – who are there and yet aren’t, and aren’t aware of one another; one offering strength and courage, the other threats and subjugation. An angel and a daemon on her shoulders, if you like.
From here we begin to meet our “sensates” – the 8 characters who find themselves able to sense and see one another – and the next 4 episodes are a long, drawn out process of character development with more time dedicated to some than others. There’s a lot of swearing and even a C-bomb at one point, a few sex scenes (notably a lesbian one involving the brilliant Freema Agyeman in a state of almost total undress, I’m sure the Daily Mail have already written up the shocked and appalled piece full of screen grabs they don’t want you to look at), and very little else of note. Actually, there’s a lovely sequence which is sound-tracked by 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Going On?, but it doesn’t last long.
We’re 30 minutes into episode 4 before we, and our heroes, begin to get even a hint of a proper explanation of what’s happening to them, and then there’s an exciting few minutes at the end of that episode where what seems to be our “main” character begins to use and embrace his new ability to rescue one of the others. Unfortunately, episode 5 dials up the dull again.
One of the problems Sense8 has it that it does not lack in ambition, but the concept is not very well realised in the season’s first half. It’s all over the place. Literally.
One minute we’re in Chicago, the next we’re in London, Nairobi, Seoul, Berlin, Mumbai. And after spending what seems like several hours or even a day with one character, we jump back to another for whom only a few minutes have passed. It’s a mess.
The Netflix description says of Sense8, “Their gift of telepathic communication made them targets for extermination. But it’s the one thing keeping them alive.” That is not the show I’ve just spent 225 minutes watching.
At almost half-way through the season there’s no suggestion anyone is targeting the sensates for extermination. One of them is almost forced to undergo a clearly sinister brain surgery, but that happens at the behest of her unaccepting mother who can’t accept that her son Michael is now a transgender lesbian woman called Nomi.
I truly believe that if Sense8 had been released as a weekly on a television network it would have been cancelled by now, going the way of Ascension and the BBC’s short-lived Outcasts. Both of those shows made the mistake of bedding-in the characters before bring the plot to the fore, and both were cancelled as a result because viewers lost interest before getting to the real meat of the story. If you ask me that was a crying shame in both cases, especially Outcasts, which felt like a Ray Bradbury, but I digress…
It is perhaps a good thing that Sense8 was released to Netflix as a whole season. It may be that it will be saved by the binge-watch culture as people decide to finish it just because it’s there.
The show is high-concept. With the Wachowskis and JMS writing, and Grant Hill in the Exec Producer chair it dripping with promise, but it’s looking, so far, like that promise is going unkept. I’ll plough through the second half of the season, maybe it can pick up – a lot of sci-fi needs time to find its footing – but the first half so far is a dull mess in which very little happens and barely makes sense.
Have you watched Sense8 yet? What’s your opinion of it? Let us know in the comments.