TV Review: “Sense8” – Sensory Overload

Written by Michelle Young June 15, 2015

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Complete with Bollywood dance numbers, a high stakes diamond heist, underground kickboxing, a telepathic orgy, and a complicated sci-fi plot that runs throughout it all, it’s safe to say that there is a lot to take in on Netflix’s new original series “Sense8”. But this new show from The Wachowskis, the creators of “The Matrix”, suffers from sensory overload; there is simply too much going on to really appreciate it.

“Sense8” is the story of eight different people, a group of Sensates, who are suddenly able to experience each other’s senses from across the globe when their “mother” Angelica (Daryl Hannah) gives “birth” to them before killing herself. The group, called a Cluster in the show, consists of Nomi (Jaime Clayton), a Transgender hacktivist from San Francisco; Riley (Tuppence Middleton), a Icelandic DJ living in London; Capheus (Aml Ameen), a Nigerian bus driver with a Van Damme obsession; Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), a German safe-cracker mixed up in organized crime; Sun (Bae Doona), a repressed Korean business woman who takes the fall for her brother’s crimes; Will (Brian J. Smith), a Chicago cop with a troubled childhood; Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a closeted gay Mexican action movie star; and Kala (Tina Desai), an Indian pharmacist trapped in a loveless engagement.

“We all experience many births and deaths during our life, but few know what it means to be reborn a Sensate.”

The series spends most of its time devoted to each individual characters storyline and not so much on answering any bigger questions about the main plot: what are these new powers that these people have, what is their purpose, and why does it matter? Every once in a while Jonas (Naveen Andrews), a sort of Sensate tour guide, pops up to drop some exposition about these new powers, but other then that the show is mostly about eight people dealing with their own problems in various parts of the world. Only in the last three episodes of the season do we get any sort of meaningful development in the bigger story.

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This is my main issue with the show; it focuses so little on exploring its original concept and more on the generic stories of these eight people. It literally felt like I was watching eight different shows that occasionally crossed over for a couple minutes. The whole “sharing each others senses” concept is largely used as a device to showcase the “Sense8’s” fairly obvious message about the importance of empathy and global unity, or as a comedic mechanism that really doesn’t fit with the tone. The most weak instance of this had to be when Lito goes insane dealing with Sun’s menstrual cramps.

“If this was an episode of ‘CSI’ I would be hooked, but cut to the god damn chase and tell me what the hell this has to do with us.”

As well as being completely disjointed from each other, each character’s story-lines, with the exception of Nomi’s that explored her identity as a Trans woman, were so unoriginal. There was Sun’s “Orange is the New Black” Korean edition, Will’s portrayal of practically every cop show ever, Lito’s sexed-up “Three’s Company”, Kala’s soapy love drama, and the list goes on. The allocation of time to each story was also really uneven. In the beginning I kept getting confused as to why we were suddenly in Africa until I realized that I was forgetting that certain characters actually existed.

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The one aspect of the show that I actually enjoyed was the visuals. The way they showed the experience of feeling each other’s senses was really well done, especially during the action scenes. Each of the various geographic locations were also incredibly distinct and well utilized.

“To be something more than what evolution defines as yourself, you’d need something different from yourself.”

“Sense8” was also filled with a lot of unintended irony and inconsistencies, which made for the occasional laugh. For instance, despite being located around the world, everyone (even background characters) spoke English, but when they first meet each other they suddenly change to their country’s native language and are surprised that they can understand each other, then switch back to English (if you could inexplicably understand each other’s different languages why would you even bother to switch to English). I do realize that this was probably so the whole show wouldn’t be subtitled, but it really diminishes from their intended message of global acceptance. There was also an instance when the cheesiness of Mexican cinema dialogue was discussed, which is laughable considering the show’s own terrible dialogue (the phrase “impossibility is a kiss away form reality” was a little much for me).

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When I first saw the trailer for “Sense8” I was really excited. The concept of people being able to tap into each other’s senses sounded really compelling. But after watching how it was executed, with its large scope and many characters that weren’t properly reigned in, I was severely disappointed. Hopefully in future seasons – which I can only assume will happen based on the season’s ending – “Sense8” will devote more time to its wildly creative original concept and not waste time on so many innocuous, played out character plots. That would be a show that I would actually devote my time to watching.

My Rating: 5.5/10

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