Critical Consensus: The Wachowskis' Sense8 Is Netflix's First Big Mistake

Thursday, 28 May 2015 - 10:10AM
Thursday, 28 May 2015 - 10:10AM
Critical Consensus: The Wachowskis' Sense8 Is Netflix's First Big Mistake
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Between House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Bloodline, and Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix has had an exemplary record with their original programming thus far. True, Hemlock Grove and Marco Polo have both received mixed-to-negative reviews, but the streaming service has never produced a show that was universally panned by critics. Enter Sense8.

We so wanted Sense8 to be good. The Wachowskis demonstrated that they're capable of extraordinary storytelling with the Matrix trilogy, and that they're capable of bungling the execution of good ideas with Cloud Atlas, Speed Racer, and Jupiter Ascending. After the latter turned out to be an unmitigated failure, we were all hoping that Sense8 would begin the Wachowskis' comeback. (Plus, Naveen Andrews!)

And there are only a few reviews online for Sense8, so we can't be sure yet, but it certainly looks like the critics are going to slaughter this show. Variety's was the harshest so far, calling the show a "mundane, chaotic soap opera" that's "so tiresomely put together, it's enough to make one long for the second season of 'Heroes.'" Ouch.

It's easy to see why Netflix would jump at a series from the Wachowskis and science-fiction writer J. Michael Straczynski... Yet while the streaming service was no doubt hoping for "The Matrix," in commercial terms, it wound up with something closer to "Jupiter Ascending" and "Cloud Atlas" - or worse, its own "Marco Polo." A dense sci-fi construct that's poorly explained through three episodes, "Sense8" bears some resemblance to Fox's short-lived "Touch," infusing a sense of global interconnectedness with mystical mumbo-jumbo. But the main problem, simply, is that the show doesn't make much sense.

Everyone seems to agree that, based on the first three episodes provided by Netflix, the show takes far too long to get going. The other reviewers at least concede that there is still potential for the Wachowskis' show to get better as it goes along, as the premise and underlying ideas are fascinating at times, but the average TV viewer's attention span may be too short to get there:

Many sci-fi shows are deliberately mysterious but Sense8 takes too long to iron out its premise. Like all of the Wachowskis' post-Matrix projects, there are flashes of brilliance. There's a kernel of a great idea at the heart of it, but it takes too long to get going. Even by the end of episode three, it still feels like we're in set-up mode. And with so many quality viewing options on offer these days, will anyone be willing to put in the hours to get to the good stuff?The List

Sense8 fails miserably to execute anything worth watching within the first sixty minutes. Netflix provided the first three episodes of the series for review and I can say that combined they make for an interesting introduction but it should not take three hours for a show to get going.JoBlo

I disagree somewhat that it "shouldn't" take so long for a show to get going, as some of my favorite shows didn't find their footing until the second season. This is especially the case with sci-fi, as complex premises often take a while to explain to the audience before the show can get to the meatier part. So there's a chance that television is exactly the medium that the Wachowskis need, as it will give them a chance to explore their "brilliant" ideas in more depth while ironing out the execution over time. But they'll need to do it sooner rather than later, as it's all too easy for us to just switch to House of Cards or Daredevil.

My hopes aren't too high, but I'm pulling for the show to get better after the first three episodes, if only to encourage the Wachowskis' decision to tell such diveres stories. Not only are each of the eight sensates citizens of different countries, they include a transgender character, a closeted gay man, and a female boxer. The List says, "While the characterisations might feel simplistic, they are incredibly diverse and hint at wider discussions on sexuality, gender and race in the future."

But on the other hand, JoBlo says, "The stories feel more preachy than need be. The Wachowskis attempt to explore territory not covered by mainstream science fiction like sexuality, gender bias, homophobia, AIDS, and more. It is admirable that they have found a vehicle to tell these stories but, unfortunately, they didn't make them very interesting." 

Here are the character breakdowns from Netflix via Buzzfeed:

The first season of Sense8 begins streaming on Netflix on June 5. Will you be binge-watching?
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