Despite being annoyingly and pointlessly overstuffed, The Wachowskis' latest project does show some potential. However the pay-off is unlikely to be worthy of the time one needs to invest in its twelve episode season.
Fresh from the spectacular train-wreck that was February’s Jupiter Ascending, one-time hotly-tipped sibling team the Wachowskis return to our screens with an entirely new project, finally shifting away from their preferred medium and looking to bring their unique blend of highly-stylised action and ludicrously complicated plotting to television. Jumping on the ever-growing Netflix bandwagon, the Wachowskis turn their attention away from cyber-obsessed dystopian nightmares and huge galactic space battles, to focus instead on a far more grounded story of human connectedness. So, does smaller equate to better for the ambitious pair? Sadly not.
Following an oddly similar (though far less complex) set-up to the siblings’ recent Cloud Atlas, Sense8 explores the bizarre spiritual connection felt between eight strangers across the globe in the wake of an unsettling incident involving a suspected terrorist and a young woman’s suicide. When each of them begins to telepathically experience each other’s feelings and in some cases, talents, without having ever previously met, they decide to investigate the matter further, tumbling very slowly down an exceedingly far-fetched rabbit hole.
As can be expected based on the above synopsis, what becomes very clear about Sense8 from the opening of its very first episode, is that it requires a great deal of patience. As usual, the Wachowskis have created something far bigger than the medium which they have used to explore it. The result is a show which, despite boasting twelve complete episodes available to watch instantly one after the other, still feels overstuffed.
The siblings dive straight into the lives of eight separate people with eight separate talents, all of whom are struggling with their own personal issues in a different corner of the globe. Thus each fifty-minute episode is plagued with an attempt to showcase eight different stories. Some are more well-represented than others, but ultimately this early dose of Sense8 feels too much like a free-for-all: a horde of wildly different characters all vying for attention. Some are destined to be left behind and ultimately are. By the end of episode two, less than half of the show’s protagonists have a clear or understandable narrative in place, and at least two of them are barely existent or recognisable. Obviously with more time this would be developed further, but to the non-binge watcher who can only manage their viewing in episode-sized chunks, Sense8 does little to keep your attention.
The characters who are explored in some depth however, do present some sense of potential. Tuppence Middleton’s London-based DJ boasts an eerie ghostliness intriguing enough to keep watching, whilst the kind-hearted Chicago cop who forms the story’s (possible) central hero is a familiar but welcoming presence. Otherwise, a great deal of the Wachowskis’ characterisation feels far too one-dimensional. It is indeed refreshing to see the siblings spread their focus wider than just the classical Hollywood archetypes, exploring gay and transgender characters, as well as those from different non-western cultural backgrounds. Yet this only truly works if the characters themselves actually feel like real people. Within Sense8 they simply don’t, existing largely as nothing more than simple stereotypes who feel as if they have been neatly lifted from a thousand other television dramas.
Ultimately, if binge-watched or given a huge amount of patience, such a show may well grow into something devoutly watchable for fans of similar endurance contests such as Lost or Heroes. However given its exceedingly slow and puzzling start, all signs suggest that Sense8 really isn’t worth the time, especially given the plethora of other great dramas Netflix has to offer. Where this may prove to be a rare misfire for Netflix and its new ‘Originals’ strand, Sense8 does sadly mark yet another worrying flop from the Wachowskis. If the siblings are to stand any chance of maintaining the acclaim that they still just about hold for creating The Matrix, they should probably knuckle down and create something worthwhile. One more failure and they could well find themselves dangling far too close to Shyamalan territory.
All 12 episodes of Sense8 are available to stream now on Netflix.