In this most recent installment of Ryan reviews shows and books that have been out for months/years, we have Sense-8, the sci-fi drama that was among the first of Netflix’s original shows.
I need to start the review with a bit of a disclaimer: I always want to love whatever the Wachowskis make. The Matrix might be my favorite movie of all time, and while nothing they’ve made since then has been nearly as strong, I love their ambition. They never aim small, and even though I’d argue they’ve failed quite a bit, they keep at it, and I hope one day they make a worthy successor. If nothing else, they try for big, original projects, and I’ll keep giving them a chance.
In a lot of ways, Sense8 is the best the Wachowskis have done since The Matrix. If you’re a fan, everything you like about them is present: a unique, interesting story, deep philosophical questions, and fantastic action sequences. Unfortunately, if you’re a critic, everything you dislike is also there: uneven pacing, some ridiculousness, and inconsistent tone.
Being as the show has been out for awhile, I think there’s only two pieces that I want to add to the discussion. The first is about the sexuality of the show. There’s been a lot written about this, and the show has received high praise for the portrayals of LGBT characters. And it is something I agree with – diverse characters make for more interesting shows, and the way the protagonists interact in Sense8 makes this doubly true.
But from a storytelling perspective, sometimes I struggled with the emphasis on sexuality. Of the eight main characters, two have primary conflicts stemming from their sexuality, but particularly at the beginning of the season, it felt as though sexuality was an unnecessary focus.
Here’s the storytelling problem: although sexuality is a conflict for two of the characters, it’s not their most interesting one. Nomi, who struggles with her parents, is also on the run from the police. As a viewer, that’s far more interesting to me than whether her name is Nomi or Michael. The same goes for Lito. His dilemma about being outed as gay, while serious for him, seems silly compared to the criminal activities and excitement of several of the other characters.
I will say this though – although I struggled to get past the first handful of episodes, by the end of the season I was binge-watching. The tension was ratcheted up, and there were some genuinely powerful moments in the show, which in my opinion, more than return payment for the slowness of the first episodes.
I give Sense8 a tentative recommendation. It’s certainly not for everyone, but I’m excited to see what the second season holds.