New Sensation

When it comes to pop culture tastes, there may not be a more divisive group of properties than the movies from the Wachowskis. From talking to other cinemaphiles, it seems that people either really love or really hate their more recent work. Fortunately for me, I fall on the more "love it" side of that divide, though I'm hard-pressed to describe why. Movies like Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending were widely regarded as bizarre flops, but I found a lot to like in both of them. If nothing else, they were interesting and ambitious, even if they didn't always succeed at what they were trying to do. I'd rather watch ten movies like Jupiter Ascending than a single frame of whatever Adam Sandler is peddling these days.

The Wachowskis made the jump from film to TV this year with the Netflix series Sense8, which has a lot of DNA in common with Cloud Atlas. It deals with the same themes of common humanity and interconnectivity, but was free to break up the story to be more episodic, instead of trying to cram everything into two hours. Sense8 deals with a group of eight people, all of whom live in different countries. The premise of the show is that these characters begin to overlap in their thoughts and feelings, and are able to communicate psychically with each other, though they can't always control when and how it happens. If two of them are focused on the same type of thing or need one of the other's particular expertise, that's when they'll show up. So who are these eight chosen ones? A cheerful bus driver in Kenya who is desperate to get AIDS medication for his mother. A transgendered hacker from San Francisco. An Icelandic DJ who's fled to London to escape a troubled past. A kickboxing, Korean businesswoman who holds together a family that ignores her. A Chicago police officer. A closeted Mexican movie star. A religious, Indian chemist who's reluctant to get married. And a violent, criminal enforcer from Berlin who holds fierce loyalties to his friends.

As they begin to learn more about the others and the strange forces that are causing these crossovers, they also learn they are in danger from an organization that seeks to eradicate people like them. They must combine forces across the ether to stay alive and to come to a greater understanding about who they are.

It's a fascinating show, and one that is pretty unmatched when it comes to beautiful cinematography. It must be monstrously difficult to put the pieces of the show together, but the editing is pretty seamless. It's explicit and unafraid to explore alternative points of view and sexualities. It manages to tell eight individual stories, and still weaves them together into a single, overarching one.

That said, the people who generally don't like the Wachowski movies won't have their minds changed by this. The pacing is fairly glacial. For a story that focuses so much on love and understanding, its character's problems are often only solvable through brutal violence. And in perhaps its most grievous sin, it uses the hideous garbage song "What's Up" from 4 Non Blondes as a rallying theme in one episode. Ew.

It'd be really easy for a show like this to crash and burn, but Netflix announced on the sensates' shared birthday (August 8) that a new season is in the works. It's such heartening news, because television like this is an enormous risk, and I like to see creativity rewarded - especially when the show is as firmly in my wheelhouse as this one is. Now I'll just have to spend the time between seasons laughing about what a disappointing member of a sensate cluster I'd be.

Sense8 - Season 1: A-


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