Sens8's Muddled Grand Ambition And Epic Faceplant – Look! It Moves! By Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh writes,

sense8You'd think Sens8 was the type of ambitious international Science Fiction epic that many of us have dreamed of, finally realised through the labyrinthine dynamics of international financing that wasn't possible 10 years ago.

A famous actor in Mexico with an identity crisis… an East European criminal inheriting his father's gang and planning a big score… a Korean businesswoman fighting sexism in the corporate world… an earnest Chicago cop (there always has to be a cop character in an American thriller series!)… a young Nairobi bus driver with a sick mother tyring to make ends meet… a London DJ trying to stay out of the drug scene… a San Francisco trans woman with a terminal illness dealing with acceptance and LGBT activism… a woman in Mumbai facing an unhappy marriage and adulthood… all these disparate people across the world discover they're linked by a single consciousness, a hive mind, seeing through each other's eyes and able to draw upon each other's memories, experiences and skills to deal with their own crises to fight a conspiracy that's out to get them.

Unfortunately, the show is not good.

All of it feels like we're watching these people and their lives from the outside. They all feel like plotlines on a graph without an sense of real authenticity, like we're reading Guardian articles reporting on all of these stories for the first time. All the dialogue is on-the-nose and horrible cliché, either stating the theme or the plot outright for the audience just so they can keep track. Every moment, every line, every plot point is hammered home with thudding clumsiness as if the filmmakers were trying to convince us it's all real when they don't seem totally convinced either. None of the characters even reach two dimensions, not taking on a life of their own to become rounded characters we can care about enough to invest in – they're all platitudes and types that never left the surface of a piece of paper. There are no breakout characters like Trinity or defining action scenes like when she took out a squad full of cops or Neo tapping into the power of the Matrix. All the action scenes are muted and bland.

sense8.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeThe filmmakers are taking this very, very seriously and the characters are, too, and the whole thing suffocates under the weight of all that terribly, terribly serious worthiness. It's all very comic book, but the problem is it's not good comic book. It lacks the sense of crazy improvisation and fun you get from good comic books, instead it feels leaden, heavy, like warmed-over porridge. It feels calculated, going through a checklist of themes and ideas that are cover a range of progressive interests – drugs, sex, DMT, sex, consciousness, sex, clubbing, sex, LGBT activism, sex, Bollywood, sex, Mexican show business, sex, Eastern European crime, sex, policing and inner city crime, sex cultural diversity, sex, globalisation, sex, the interconnectedness of human consciousness pointing to the greater capacity for empathy and togetherness, oh, and sex – and end up making them all dull.

Sense8-Netflix-Trailer-ImageThis is a shame when co-creator J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis have created influential Science Fiction in the past that has earned them our eyes – Babylon 5 and The Matrix – but have been hit or miss ever since. They also sympathise with the progressive politics that many of us make time for. The show bears all the signs of being created by comics readers. You can see the influence of Vertigo Comics' political undertones and desire to look at the world with an alternate view like a Grant Morrison or a Garth Ennis, but it doesn't seem able to fully illustrate what it wants to be about beyond the sleek, shiny surface of pretty actors and production values.

sense_s1_035_h_2040.0This leads me to think about the Wachowskis' work of late. There's some earnest attempt to get at deeper, even spiritual, themes beyond just the bang-bang and explosions (but still keeping those for the entertainment parts) in their adaptation of the David Mitchell novel Cloud Atlas and the wildly-overstuffed Jupiter Ascending. Cloud Atlas was marred by having white actors play in yellowface and Jupiter Ascending was a wild and wooly space opera whose plot was fuelled by intergalactic property rights inheritance laws. As far back as Bound and even in their bastardised, watered-down adaptation of V for Vendetta that bleached out all the political punch of Alan Moore's original, they were always preoccupied with themes involving gender politics and fighting oppression. With their abiding interesting in comics, anime and Asian action movies, they're pulp storytellers at heart, but who aspire to be a Tarkovski or a Kiewslowski in the mainstream pop world, but may their execution falls short of their aspirations. They create stories whose hearts are in the right place, but some of it feels like cultural tourism, a form of colonialism, lacking in a sense of authenticity. It feels appropriated and overdesigned to death. As a result the final results feel like kitsch, real-life issues and ideas embalmed into bright, ornate comic book kitsch.

I really wish I could like their work more.

Insens8 at

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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