Here Comes the Rating:
3 out of 5
SENSE-8 (TV REVIEW)
Globe-spanning and mind-tripping, but how does Sense-8 fare?

In what appears to be an abandoned cathedral, two opposing forces seek to control the fate of an ethereal woman called 'Angel' (Daryl Hannah). Seconds before she puts a gun in her mouth, she sends some kind of energy out into the world and at that moment several completely unconnected individuals catch a glimpse of her fate. In the day that follows each of them believe it was a mere case of dreams or exhaustion but there appear to be echoes of the experience and also sensations they cannot explain - sounds and images from other parts of the world, from others' lives.

What has suddenly connected them and why... and now what danger are they in? As one of them, a London DJ named Riley (Tuppence Middleton) takes some mind-expanding drugs, she is able to communicate with a Chicago cop, Will (Brian J. Smith) one of the other people who saw Angel's death, but neither understand what is happening.

And, it has to be said, neither does the audience for the moment... The Sense-8 pilot is full of interesting if frustratingly vague ideas and concepts - and that's fine... it's laying the groundwork for something that is obviously ambitious in any number of ways. However the narrative is SO fractured that while you'll admire the ways in which they purposefully bleed into one another, you'll also be aching for the show to have some forward momentum within its own swirling maelstrom. The script is equally uneven, plenty of exposition and cliches thrown together and even if this is true for most pilots, it does wear on the nerves a little bit - the metaphors ane explnations a tad too on the nose throughout.

It's always very hard to gauge a full series from the pilot alone. The truth is that from its opening hour, Sense8 could be any and all of a number of things: a wildly innovative series taking interesting risks and carving its own niche... or it could be highly derivative and merely mixing the imponderable ingredients in nicely shot but pretentious ways to bait the hook.  

Though it's set-up has some obvious parallels with mainstream shows like Heroes (back with its own revival later in the year), the language and nudity quickly inform you that it's a cable show, though such things are used for punctuation rather than pentameter. Certainly it doffs its hat to just about every tv demographic imaginable - on a truly global level - and begins playing them off against each other. There's urban gang war in America for those who miss The Shield... a reluctant bride asking for divine help in India... pill-popping Londoners for those who think raves haven't enough of the Guy Ritchie spin... an impoverished bus-driver in Africa trying to afford medication for his other... and one scene - guaranteed to get Doctor Who a polarity relapse - that involves a naked Freema Agyeman, an overly lubricated strap-on dildo and enough sapphic action to make Torchwood look like Play School.

The Wachowskis are, of course, the wunderkinds who originally gave us The Matrix and equally the team responsible for the utter mess of the more recent Jupiter Ascending. In many ways, if you put aside many of the on-location shooting, this feels like a much more restrained project for the siblings (if one had to guess blindly it would feel much more like M. Night Shyamalan territory) though there's a constant strain against the limits of the canvas. Straczynski is the man behind Babylon 5, the 1990s sci-fi series that was often described as the alternative to Deep Space Nine when actually it was far more of a complex political long-game which became more genuinely admired in the rear-view mirror than it was in the ratings. Straczynski is a proven good story-teller but does little to give us a clear understanding of the story he wants to tell going forward - however he  liberally drops in a few cultural references for fans including a nod to Doctor Strange AND The X-Files within a few minutes of each other and African transit buses that are decorated and named after Batman and Jean Claude Van Damme!

The feeling from the pilot is that it's one big tease - a concept rather than a story and one you want to like more than you do... because it has all the right material but no real co-ordination. In some ways it's not trying hard enough - that it is being as coy with the central narrative as much as it isn't with the more adult material - and in other ways that it's just trying way too hard to hit the requisite beats. Somewhere in the middle is a potentially viable balance and with all episodes now available to watch on Netflix, then it might be interesting to see how it fares.

It's bravo to Netflix for trying something risky and it's all lovely to look at in some ways - the multi-country production efforts shine through the various tales of sexual politics, job frustrations and geographical strife -  but how many viewers will ultimately feel enthralled enough to stick with it and go that distance is, for the moment, a greater mystery than the one the show offers...  

 

 

Author: John Mosby
8th June, 2015
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