The trouble with watching shows on Netflix is there’s always a risk. Economists even have a special name for this risk, catchily calling it the ‘opportunity cost’. For Netflix viewers, it works like this: Every time you chose to invest your valuable viewing time in a Netflix series you are sacrificing the possibility of watching something else. So when you have finally finished trawling the seemingly endless lists of series to watch and have carefully weighed up all the options and settled on one you are willing to commit to, that final ‘click’ is equivalent to a ring on a finger in front of an altar — with all concerned desperately hoping the marriage doesn’t end 49 wasted minutes later.
Without the fanfare of other Netflix originals, Sense8 appeared and with the Wachowskis in tow, seductively tried to tempt us into a 12 episode marriage with a relatively simple premise — eight strangers, scattered across the globe, unwittingly find themselves psychically connected. That’s the easy bit. From there all bets are off. The seemingly disconnected stories of the ‘Sense8’ members play out and intersperse gradually, delicately, as each one becomes aware of their inexplicable connection.
As Season One opens it becomes immediately apparent that perhaps the biggest hindrance to the success of Sense8 will be the viewing public themselves. TV watching viewers of recent years have become very used to, perhaps addicted to, a cliffhanger at every turn and a shocking death thrown in for good measure every now and again. So when a show comes along which is focussed on telling a good story and telling it well without pandering to the networks or the masses with ‘quick hit’ moments, it could well be misunderstood and dismissed. This is Sense8. After the first couple of episodes, you may well feel intrigued and happy with your choice of Netflix spouse, but you might also feel a lack of connection with the characters, their lives and their plight. Like any good relationship, however, this is where you must begin to trust. Sense8 creates a whole new story-telling style which rewards, in shedloads, the patience and careful thought of its viewers. You chose to watch it, out of all the other shows out there, and it wants to pay you back with an experience much more powerful and resonant than the standard fare. Like a good book, you will learn about the characters gradually, building a relationship with them and, somehow without you even knowing, gently begin to care. Straczynski, Sense8's writer, consistantly credits the audience with intelligence and trusts in their ability to stay faithful, never force feeding backstory, or providing plot outline on a platter. Every episode feels individually fingerprinted with a careful, nuanced human dimension, which then grows organically as the series works its way through the twelve stunning episodes.
Sense8 is also far from dull. There are plenty of shocking, bold moments throughout the season which quickly demonstrate this is not your ordinary sci-fi drama. This has balls. Big balls and a mighty social conscience, successfully dealing with issues of sexuality and abuse in a way sci-fi has typically been reluctant to. It takes risks and is brazenly unashamed to be what it is. Real life with real people, warts and all — bravely depicting every possible human emotion and consequently therefore reflecting the cavalcade of emotions each Sense8 individual is waking up to.
It goes without saying that for a show like this to really work the sum of its parts must be up to the job in every way. And as an ensemble, the cast is incredible. From a very understated, touchingly vulnerable performance by Brian J. Smith as Will Gorski to Miguel Silvestre’s comedic yet desperately confused Lito, the casting is spot on. We care and are convinced by their need to be heard and their desperate desire for a connection. We believe this is real. Even those characters not psychically connected, and as such the supporting cast, Freema Agyeman and Eréndira Ibarra in particular, turn in convincing and heartfelt performances which illuminate the Sense8 world and the confusing lives of the gifted ones they love. This is a family and each and every connection matters. There are unsung heroes on this show too. Whoever heard of editors doing a job worth mentioning? Well in Sense8 they do. The constant cutting between different connected characters, all experiencing the same situation, is done in such a way that it is never jarring or clumsy. It flows with the same ease as the thoughts themselves. It’s simply a beautifully put together show.
So what exactly, if any, is the risk Netflix is taking here? This is excellently-crafted, wonderfully acted TV for the binge watching generation which is no bad thing. The creators are aware that viewers don’t have to wait 7 days for the next installment and essentially they use this fact to their advantage. Straczynski is able to evolve a story, and has the space to delicately paint an intricate picture of the characters’ lives, so that one extraordinary lingering shot of a tearful face says so much more than a contrived episodic cliffhanger ever could. It is a show packed with such emotional crescendos that viewers will be left broadsided and breathless at simple moments which will stay with them endlessly. Even the season finale is emotionally theatrical through its simple beauty.
So if you do find yourself choosing a new show to watch on Netflix, keep this in mind: Sense8 is not a quick fix - this marriage is for keeps. So say your vows, slip on that ring and watch with an open heart and a thoughtful mind. Hopefully this will be a long and very happy marriage to the wonderful Sense8.