With the Summer season more or less coming to a close, we’re in the midst of the calm before the storm: the small window of time that exists between now and the Fall, when major networks on every platform and syndication will eagerly churn out the latest batch of offerings for the new season — heavy-hitters and hay-makers alike.
With all the early talk surrounding shows like Zoo (and now Fear The Walking Dead), Netflix (somewhat quietly) set Sense8 upon the world, and, the world of television as we know it hasn’t been the same since. Though it was panned, poked, and prodded by critics and viewers alike within the first weeks of its release, Sense8 continues to smash The Matrix of what we know television to be, and offers us an alternative glimpse of what it could be.
These are the 10 reasons why Sense8 is the most ground-breaking show on television
10. The Writers/Directors
For the most part, everyone has seen The Matrix, and, even if you haven’t, you’ve heard of it and continue to pick up on pop culture references to it (even if you may not be fully aware of doing this). The Matrix was such a game changer that, even now, some 16 years later, it’s still being talked about, watched, and heralded as a revolution in cinema (much like the revolution Neo and company fought against the machines they’d created). Though the Wachowski’s latter offerings (Speed Racer, Jupiter Ascending, Cloud Atlas) have never quite reached the critical mass of The Matrix franchise, their style of visually-stimulating, philosophical storytelling is as well-oiled a “machine” as it’s ever been.
Co-captaining the ship along with the Wachowski’s is J. Michael Straczynski (best known as the show runner and creator of Babylon 5 (penning 92 of the 110 episodes).
9. The Cast
The first thing that comes to most viewers’ minds when they see a show like Sense8 that spans multiple characters, story lines, and locations is a Lost/Heroes 2.0, and, while that’s a fair initial assumption, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. While the cast does feature some notable actors (including Lost alum Naveen Andrews and silver screen powerhouse Daryl Hannah), much of the main cast was relatively unknown to American audiences when Sense8 was made available to stream on June 5th, 2015.
This is not to suggest that the actors themselves were completely unknown, but that the level of anonymity allowed the story to be the star in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if A-listers were cast as the main eight. This relative ambiguity adds an air of “believability” to the roles and to the characters that wouldn’t have been possible with household names.
8. The Genres
When it comes to genre and classification, Sense8 blows any such attempt at categorizing right out of the water. Each of the eight main story-lines could easily function as their own standalone series, and, the fact that they exist both independent of and part of the collective narrative speaks to the sheer ambition and scope of the project.
Whether it’s a Bollywood romance, a guns-blazing Telenovela, an inner-city cop drama, or a fight for sexual identity and acceptance, each story line offers something completely different. That said, the level of fluidity that exists between the characters and the narratives is such that each can walk in the footsteps of the other (quite literally) and not feel out of place. This genre-bending, classification-defying, vanguard approach is a hallmark of not only the creators, but, by extension, the show itself.
7. The Locations
While most television and Hollywood productions often resort to sets (or green screen and CGI in the studio) as the preferred method of re-creating locations, atmosphere, and ambiance, the cast and crew of Sense8 took that idea one step further: opting to film on location in all nine cities featured in the series. While such globe-trotting was no doubt a logistical nightmare, the end result is utterly breathtaking.
There’s a level of authenticity that comes with shooting on location that simply cannot be replicated even with the most sophisticated set-building and CGI. The cities themselves become part of the overall picture – background characters that breathe life into each and every frame.
6. The Diversity
While certainly not the first of its kind to pitch the idea of diversity to its viewers, Sense8 is certainly in a category of its own when it comes to the depth of that diversity. While shows like Heroes, Lost, and Orange Is The New Black have certainly made a case for showcasing that depth, Sense8 is a melting pot that’s been slowly simmering for days whilst the other offerings have barely come to a boil, imbuing said melting pot with a depth of flavor that renders all others bland by comparison.
While also not the first of its kind to depict a character who’s transgender on a network show, what Sense8 does with Nomi Marks (played by actress Jamie Clayton) is truly revolutionary. Nomi is not identified by her transition, but as the woman she has become. Rather than be judged by what she was prior, Nomi is judged by her contribution to the narrative as she steps into a leading role – a television first.
For Sense8, it isn’t just about meeting a gender/ethnicity quota or checking off a list, it’s about telling each character’s story and capturing his or her location in the most authentic way possible – grit, glamor, and everything in between. Sense8 is unapologetic in its depiction of “alternative” lifestyles; broaching taboo topics and asking tough questions all in the same breath. Such diversity is not limited to outward appearance, as it addresses diversity of thought, belief, and reality in a way that hits home for many – a divergence from the norm that has the potential to become the new “normal.”
5. The Platform
Speaking of diversity and unapologetic depictions, Netflix as a platform allows a level of artistic freedom and expression that one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Without the restrictions of traditional cable networks (and even some premium networks), the Wachowski’s and J. Michael Straczynski were, in essence, given free reign to tell their story. Whether it’s the now infamous orgy scene found in episode Sex or the rather graphic birthing scene later in the series, no holds were barred and no punches were pulled in the telling, and the end result is as raw as it is riveting.
4. The Philosophy
While some have referred to Jonas (played by Naveen Andrews) as the Persian Morpheus, the philosophical threads weaving their way in and out of the Sense8 fabric go much deeper than that. Whether it’s the Greek concept of Henosis, the Principle of Oneness (Tzu-jan) in Tao, or some other variant, the core philosophy of Sense8 is that of oneness – with the self, with others, and with the environment. Through the concept of eight individual parts coming together to create the whole, we view the entire experience through a Humanist lens tinted with the supernatural/metaphysical. While this may seem like a contradiction in terms, it’s not. Though the show does go off on supernatural/metaphysical tangents, Sense8 as a whole is still grounded in reality, and, more importantly, humanity.
Though these eight strangers from different corners of the globe can experience one another telepathically, it’s their empathy and humanity that connects them above all else (even their Sensate ability).
3. The Concept
While the concept of strangers with interconnected story lines is certainly nothing new, the way that Sense8 presents those story lines is. Allowing characters to interact with one another by literally walking, fighting, hacking, lying, and driving in someone else’s shoes is something that’s never been done before – let alone in this cerebral, out-of-body fashion. The camera itself also functions as a 9th Sensate, if you will, allowing viewers to experience the characters as they experience each other – Sense-ception, in effect.
Ultimately, Sense8 is about connection, and, whether that connection is filtered through terms like limbic resonance, visiting, or sharing, connectivity is at the heart of everything: “I am also a we.”
2. The Quotes
Whether inspirational, philosophical, life-affirming, or comical, Sense8 is chalk-full of wisdom, wit, and wordplay of the highest grade. If Socrates, Shakespeare, and Neruda sat down to pen the script to a modern science fiction epic, Sense8 would be that brainchild.
Whether you’re looking for courage, consolation, or clarity to make your current situation seem less troubling, Sense8 has gems for every occasion – as deep as they are distinguishable.
1. The Impact
When it comes to the impact of Sense8, it’s something tangible that can be felt across all platforms of social media and social interaction. Whether it’s the actors and creators opening a dialogue with fans on Twitter, or fans continuing a dialogue of their own through various Facebook groups, Tumblr blogs, and creative GIF’s, Sense8 has evolved into something beyond a TV show, transcending the medium entirely en route to something far greater. While it may not be a full-fledged movement, Sense8 has instilled viewers with the same sense of inter-connectivity experienced by the characters, and these viewers, in turn, are taking those ideas and philosophies and implementing them into their everyday lives.
These implementations have resulted in a collective willingness to experience others with compassion and understanding in place of judgement, empathy and kindness in place of condescension, and, even though these findings are taken from a relatively small sample size, it’s significant enough to take note: “You are no longer just you.”