So I think Game of Thrones might have to step aside as my favourite television show currently on air. I say this until season 6 airs and completely blows me away. But as of right now, Sense8 is top of the log for me.
Why? Wachowskis, that’s why. Okay Jupiter Ascending was a piece of shit, and I only managed to watch Cloud Atlas all the way through on my 5th attempt – it’s a slow burn, okay? Nonetheless, Sense8 has me reminiscing about The Matrix Wachowskis, the trendsetters in modern science fiction who dominated during the most memorable Y2K-ness of our lives.
So I’ve compiled a list of the top 8 reasons why Sense8 is my favourite show right now.
1. Real Diversity
The Wachowskis are never half-assed about their characters when they introduce someone you don’t expect to see on screen. They aren’t afraid of protagonists with diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, and gender identities who we can all relate to in some way.
There’s no sassy black friend, or flamboyant gay sidekick. No, firstly these are diverse main characters, with full story arcs, and the differences in personalities are more nuanced than these archetypes. While culture definitely impacts how each character is portrayed, they aren’t boxed in by a Western idea of what they should be.
Okay, some people have argued that there are a few stereotypes: An Asian martial artist, an Indian woman in an arranged marriage, a Kenyan woman with AIDS, a white saviour cop etc. I feel like I was able to forgive some of this as much of this was used to create context, and not to define characters.
2. Real Insights
One scene that really got me thinking was the moment that Kala visits Capheus in Kenya, and they talk about the television in his house.
Essentially she asks him how people in informal settlements have televisions, but not beds in some cases. He responds by telling her that the bed keeps people where they are, while the television sets them free. This is not a lie, and I for one have seen many informal settlements with satellite dishes as cable television is a priority for the inhabitants.
Now, this is only one example, but the series is littered with these types of cultural insights, indicating that the writers and producers at least did some of their research.
3. So Cinematic
Wow. Just WOW. Sense8 is beautifully shot. The compositions are really well planned; the lighting and camera movement is not at all like traditional television, and every action and portion of exposition is completely intentional.
The pacing and structure of the story adds to that feeling of a 10-hour movie rather than a 12-episode season. The Wachowskis’ film background is clearly present here. They’ve also re-teamed with Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll, who worked on Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, and his touch is clearly visible in every shot.
4. Action Done Right
Now shooting a static scene is one thing, but action like the fighting scenes in Sense8 is a whole other ball game. but Luckily, cinematographer John Toll has also worked on more impressive films like Braveheart and The Last Samurai, and his experience with shooting these kinds of films is as clear as day.
Looking at the action, it’s mostly centered around Sun, as she is the fighter in the group, although Will and Wolfgang also get their moments of action. I may be willing to forgive what some are calling a stereotype because what I see is something that’s not present in many narratives these days: a truly kick-ass female main character who’s strong on the inside and the outside. I’m just so happy they make her look as awesome as we all know she is (the actress and the character!)
Now, the word “believable”doesn’t really mix well with the science fiction genre. I get it. But what I’m trying to say here is that Sense8 brings us as an audience close enough to the characters to overlook some of the absurdities in their lives, and in specific moments that they have or experience.
I personally felt that the birth scenes in one episode were a bit much, but I like all of these characters enough to let it go. Another example of what’s believable is that Nomi is just a hacker. This is delivered entirely through dialogue most of the time.
We don’t get much back story there, but just have to accept that that is what she is and does. Also, her former colleague, Bug just seems to show up randomly exactly when the group needs him. For me, early on this was difficult to get over, but once I let it go, I had a really good time with the show and the changing circumstances of the characters within.
6. Strong Stories
Every story in Sense8 is really unique and strong on a macro and the micro level. The over-arching story of our sensates under threat from a large oragnisation isn’t exactly something new, and probably something the Wachowskis have done far too often. However, this time I think they do a great job of making each character’s story very interesting. I didn’t really find one sensate’s plight in life more entertaining than the other.
Most of the time it just felt like hanging out with these characters, a fly on the wall as we peek into their lives, almost like an unknown addition to the core group’s cluster.
Another interesting feature is how two (or more) sensates’ situations would parallel one another, allowing them to bond further over a shared experience. Like when Capheus talks to Sun just as both of them are about to make an important decision; or when Nomi and Lito discuss their struggles as members of the LGBT community; or when Lito and Wolfgang help each other out of really dangerous situations with dangerous people.
7. Doing Sex Right
Can we take a moment to appreciate how intense that orgy scene was? I thought it was pretty damn intense, and quite hot, actually.
Here’s the song that plays during that epic sex scene:
Besides the crazy orgy, there are a number of other sex scenes, and just moments of intimacy and romance that all have the perfect tone to match the level of intensity of each of these scenes.
The fearless way in which human sexuality is approached in this show is something I appreciate and would like to see other shows focus on and just do better. Time to up your game, other TV shows!
8. An Important Message
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Wachowskis always make grand films that are more than the spectacle they appear to be.
The Matrix brought some insane concepts about technology, classism and other societal issues to the mainstream global population, and although they haven’t managed to do this effectively with more recent projects, I think they’ve pulled it off with Sense8.
We now come full circle back to the point on diversity that I made right at the start. The message I got from sensate is one that takes a hard look at the human condition; how we are all so different, yet all so very similar.
And while there are completely outlandish science fiction elements in this story, I think it hits home in a very grounded manner.
Have you watched Sens8 yet? What are your thoughts on the show?
About the Author: Stephen is a film critic and aspiring filmmaker, currently working on his first film project, #BreatheEasy2016. Follow him on Twitter @thesnagel for more film rants and ramblings.