TV Review: ‘Sense8’


It’s easy to see why Netflix would jump at a series from the Wachowskis and science-fiction writer J. Michael Straczynski, even if the credits are a spellchecker’s nightmare. Yet while the streaming service was no doubt hoping for “The Matrix,” in commercial terms, it wound up with something closer to “Jupiter Ascending” and “Cloud Atlas” — or worse, its own “Marco Polo.” A dense sci-fi construct that’s poorly explained through three episodes, “Sense8” bears some resemblance to Fox’s short-lived “Touch,” infusing a sense of global interconnectedness with mystical mumbo-jumbo. But the main problem, simply, is that the show doesn’t make much sense.

The extra-long premiere opens by seeking to establish the basic premise, which involves eight disparate people — ethnically diverse and geographically spread across the world — being joined in a vague manner that allows them to share experiences and knowledge. That opens, somewhat promisingly, with their “mother” (Daryl Hannah) being hunted down by a shadowy bad guy-type, subsequently appearing to each of her far-flung progeny in strange visions.

After that, however, “Sense8” becomes a pretty mundane, chaotic soap opera, following the lives of its various characters without doing much to advance what binds them. Yes, Naveen Andrews (whose connection to “Lost” is clearly no accident, given Netflix’s data-driven approach) gradually begins appearing and dropping cryptic clues, but this show is so tiresomely put together, it’s enough to make one long for the second season of “Heroes.”

While scattering the key players far and wide — and shooting in eight different cities — is certainly ambitious, activity shouldn’t be confused with achievement, as the legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to say; rather, jumping among those plots makes the whole enterprise feel disjointed. Characters do intersect, fleetingly, but based on the pace of these first three chapters, those who choose to invest in the full 12-episode ride to reach the nexus where the trains finally meet pretty much will have made that commitment from the outset.

The characters, in fact, seem heavily defined by their locations, the most interesting, relatively speaking, being Nomi (Jamie Clayton), a transgender woman in San Francisco who finds herself in the most jeopardy; Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), a closeted telenovela star in Mexico; and Kala (Tina Desai), a woman in Mumbai on the verge of getting married.

The press notes colorfully describe them as being “hunted by an organization out to capture, kill or vivisect them,” but like a lot here in the early going, all that must be taken on faith. Then again, faith is clearly what inspired Netflix, having no doubt surveyed its mysterious metrics and recognized that the collaboration of the Wachowskis and Straczynski (whose diverse credits include another numerical series, “Babylon 5”) on a sci-fi project would be catnip to a subset of its subscriber base.

It’s understandable that, principally working in features, the Wachowskis would revel in the freedom an episodic series provides to tell a story in a more protracted fashion. There’s a fine line, however, between filmmakers taking their time and trying viewers’ patience, which, initially, is the category in which “Sense8” most directly belongs.