Jun 5, 2015

Channel Surfing: Sense8 - "Limbic Resonance"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
While mainstream audiences may have tired of Andy and Lana Wachowski's film style, there is something to their goals. Having garnered success with The Matrix, the siblings have been renegade filmmakers who have pushed boundaries with their own philosophical bent that also incorporates cultural diversity on a scale that no other director is doing. With Cloud Atlas, they took their high concept to new places and across centuries, believing that everything is in fact connected, whether through a musical sample or a relative. It seems like this is the basis for their first foray into TV series culture with the new Netflix series Sense8.
Teaming up with Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, the duo are setting out to make a show on an unprecedented scale. If Cloud Atlas was appealing because of how it connected every detail, then Sense8 promises to take it to new playing fields. In the opening episode alone, there's a journey across many continents and of many descents, beliefs, and sexuality that are at play. It takes a note from The Leftovers and almost exists solely to establish characters without much focus on the actual plot, which at best comes across as a vague transition device.
Upon the death of a woman, eight individuals are able to see into each other's lives. This doesn't simply mean that they can have out of body experiences. Their worlds bleed together and a gun shot on one side of the globe can startle a woman sitting in her office somewhere else. The general formalities is a lot to take in for the first episode and there's a strong chance that some of them aren't as interesting as they are likely to be. 
However, what the Wachowskis continue to do better than anyone else is capturing a wide array of voices and talent. Where shows like American Crime use racial diversity to harp on familiar territory, it at least feels like Sense8 is going to discuss larger themes in less jarring ways. For starters, there's a telepathic mystery at the core that will hopefully be explored by the season's end. There are unifying factors that even the LGBT progressive Orange is the New Black is unable to achieve simply by its limited setting. Sense8 has high ambitions and plans to capture almost every experience known to contemporary man into 12 episodes.
This is where things become sketchy, yet is the inevitable hook. While late 90's directors like M. Night Shyamalan are making series with twists (Wayward Pines), those shows feel rooted in the gimmick. While the Wachowskis produce arguably very uneven work, it is hard not to admire their efforts. In this case, an attempt to make the most progressive sci-fi show since Star Trek isn't too bad of a feat. They are on Netflix, where their risque moves can be uncensored. There's scenes of lesbian sex and promises of live births to come. The whole thing basically sounds insane and even if the journey fails, there's a chance that this continental hopping series will pan out in some fashion. If not, it still remains fascinating that these two are given hundreds of millions to produce content that rarely makes a large profit. It could just be how singular their voice is and their inability to make conventional programming. 
Sense8 is a tough show to recommend based on only an episode's viewing. Where most pilots give a sense of what's to come, we barely scratch the surface after 66 minutes. There has yet to be a reason to root for anyone. We have some crazy ideas, but considering how notoriously maligned The Matrix sequels were, it may be a hard sell to convince viewers to hop on board their high concept train. While I personally am not a giant fan of their work, I do like to support them because they do provide something venturing into creative more often than not. With a show that strives for equal representation - and MEANS it - this feels like something that could be a big deal.
Sense8 isn't an easy show to pick up and watch one episode of. If anything, there's more questions than answers. While this is inevitably a good thing, the lack of convenience does have its turn offs and it is doubtful that this show will be on par in terms of acclaim as Netflix's other big 2015 Freshmen Daredevil and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Yet it just has so much intrigue underneath the collar that I can't write it off yet. Maybe the Wachowskis were destined for serialized TV and we didn't know it. We'll just have to watch the rest to see if that's true.

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