As one of the most controversial TV shows to hit the television sphere in recent history, Sense8 is more than the little show that could. Having been an obscure and at times niche entity on Netflix’s original content page, the show’s cancellation sparked a global outcry so profound that it made the network rethink the end of the series and commission a revival with a two-hour special airing next year. So what is this hardly hyped show with a global following that rose from the ashes to become one of top trending series across dozens of countries in a matter of months? And more importantly, is it for you?
Labels are the Opposite of Understanding
Reading the show’s synopsis will do you little good as staring at the Eiffel Tower from its base. Sure, it looks impressive and implies the outlines of an epic scale but it doesn’t quite compare to the views from above. If anything, you will attest to the excessive use of metal and as showrunners go, Sense8 does possess some heavy hitters. From the creators of The Matrix, Bound, V for Vendetta- the visionary filmmaking duo known as The Wachowskis, award-winning German director of Perfume and Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer as music director and Emmy nominated cinematography from John Toll to German, South Korean, Spanish and Indian film stars among its cast, with likes of Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell among its consultants, it’s got a lot of metal and of the cinematic and literary kind, no less. You may even perceive its sky piercing height and scope. With eight main characters based in San Francisco, Mumbai, Berlin, Seoul, Nairobi, Chicago and London, Sense8 is one of the most diverse, ambitious and culturally rich television series ever conceived. But once again, it fails to capture the essence of a show that defies definition, much like the famed Parisian landmark is no mere monument. Add to that, what it requires of its audience, those who take the ride to the top to see the horizon.
Whether you are willing to take the journey, however, really depends on one fundamental question. Just how human are you?
Isolated Above, Connected Below
Genre is perhaps the most superlative of all of Sense8’s attributes and one of the reasons why its premise, themes and plot cannot be summed up in bite size hashtags. As Instagramer RilesGorski astutely noted, Sense8 is a German gangster heist movie, American procedural cop show, Bollywood romcom, South Korean action movie, European indie music flick and Mexican telenovela as well as a dozen other genres that crisscross the individual and collective plotlines of the eight protagonists, all in one. But Sense8 hardly adheres to the conventions of these genres but turns the familiar on its head to form a layered storyline that is anything but predictable. It also creates a realistic and compelling narrative to evoke what all genres fail to acknowledge and embrace – raw human emotions. Sense8 not only seamlessly fuses these completely unrelated genres inside a single show but it enhances the effect of each to bring unifying human emotions to the surface.
Emotions are at the core of what makes Sense8 a groundbreaking work of television with the ability to feel not only your own but that of others touted as a key virtue. It is ironic that in a time and TV space that is designed to distract most of us from what we feel, a piece of entertainment, a grand distraction at its most addictive, compels us to feel what we refuse to acknowledge in our daily lives. Sense8 is and always will be for the hearted, faint or otherwise, around the world, as it wears its heart on its sleeve as shamelessly as it inspires its audience to, with enough courage.
Connectivity is the bridge that emotions forge to link us to one other. As it turns out, we humans are a social species and were not meant to live out our insular lives in concrete filing cabinets around the world. The value of genuine and empathic connection is again and again the ultimate protagonist of Sense8, showing up time and again to save each character, cluster, community, in turn.
More than a few first-time viewers of Sense8 have been surprised by just how much variety can be contained within a single character and in retrospect, themselves. We humans are all spectrums, multitudes making up a whole but this is a notion that is gibberish in a TV world where consistency and predictability are hallmarks of a lovable character. Sense8 pushes this further by not only introducing viewers to a cast of characters that rarely get air time in contemporary television but by also letting said characters evolve in a span of episodes instead of seasons to show tangible growth. Where else can one witness a transgender hacktivist, a Kenyan bus driver, Icelandic Dj, Korean business mogul and an Indian chemist fight alongside a German safe breaker and a Chicago cop? Sense8, where else? But keep in mind that the characters just described are hardly static. This is just who we start out with.
Sense8 at its core is a complete exploration of what it means to be human, to be alive, what it means to breathe and be able to create life, art and love within the confines of a multifaceted heart and existence. This is most indicative in the show’s seductive colour pallate and cinematography which not only captures the essence of the locations around the world it essays in visual form but also the varying moods, subtexts and textures of the environment, scene and characters it encompasses.
What’s Going On
In an era, where a majority of programming is focussed on disillusionment, cynicism and separation, Sense8 marches to the beat of a different drum as it champions the most human of all emotions, hope. That anxiety inducing emotion we dare not feel without the spectre of certainty. And this is not the kind of candy floss hope that’s flaunted in sitcoms and dramedies where your intellect is circumvented for a speedy and unconvincing resolution. Sense8 specializes in the kind of hope, even the most pessimistic among us, can believe in.
As willing consumers of disconnection, hate and violence and hopelessness where viewer impact is measured by the body count and shock value, we are all guilty of dedicating bookshelves and movie collections to validating our own particular and personal brand of hopelessness, dissonance and “the world’s too broken to belong” ethos. As creator Lana Wachowski puts it ” I get that pessimism and darkness are easy sells, for gritty and the way the world is”, hope, love, connection are a tougher sell, that is until Sense8 entered the fray. Hope can be a dangerous thing in the hands of the right people, especially those who have never felt it before. A fact the show’s fan base will attest to as the guiding principle of their successful and ongoing truly global movement to bring the show back to life for more seasons.
The circular motion of hope motivating inspired action applies to every aspect of sense8, from its plot, to its impact, to the fan campaign that revived it, to its creators penning an unsanctioned third season due to their faith in fans. And why not? While it seems the world is tearing itself to pieces, there’s a show and a loyal following that’s moving in a different direction from the rest of humanity. “Trying to get up that great big hill of hope, for a destination”, a summit from which we can experience a unifying perspective, where boundaries blur and only wonder and humanity remain. So if this is the kind of “entertainment” you are looking for, and you are, in fact, human enough to handle it, Sense8 may just be what you’ve been waiting for.
Oh, and there’s also pan sexual orgies, mind-blowing action, cross continental sing-a-longs to a now anthemic 4 Non Blondes song and globe-trotting birthday raves, but those are just minor details, especially from this high up.