TV review: Sense8, Netflix
Sprawling global sci-fi as the Wachowskis make their TV debut
Hollywood directors working on TV are no longer an anomaly. And now the Wachowskis (otherwise known as Lana and Andrew Paul Wachowski) are joining the migration from big to small screen with Sense8. Co-created with J Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), it's a sprawling sci-fi drama that spans the globe, from London to Nairobi via Chicago, Berlin and Mumbai, as Angel (Daryl Hannah) mysteriously appears before eight people around the world.
Their experiences start to filter into each other's reality, their thoughts merging as visual and auditory hallucinations. For example, Icelandic DJ Riley's (Tuppence Middleton) techno set starts to bleed into Chicago cop Will's (Brian J Smith) life during the opening episode. Is this the onset of mental illness or the beginning of something far grander? Meanwhile Jonas (Naveen Andrews) pops up from time to time doling out enigmatic advice to our new 'Sensates' about sharing skills, knowledge and abilities.
Sense8 struggles to balance its ensemble cast. It's a common problem on TV and splitting our time between so many distinct characters in different locations makes it hard to build any early connections. However, while the characterisations might feel simplistic, they are incredibly diverse and hint at wider discussions on sexuality, gender and race in the future.
As they proved so effortlessly with The Matrix, the Wachowskis know how to film sensational action sequences, but we're only drip fed minor action beats (a short shoot out, a scuffle and a quick car chase) until the very end of episode three, when Sense8 finally shows its potential as Kenyan bus driver Capheus (Aml Ameen) draws on Sun's (Bae Doona) martial arts and taps Will's shooting skills as he confronts a gang of armed robbers.
Many sci-fi shows are deliberately mysterious but Sense8 takes too long to iron out its premise. Like all of the Wachowskis’ post-Matrix projects, there are flashes of brilliance. There's a kernel of a great idea at the heart of it, but it takes too long to get going. Even by the end of episode three, it still feels like we're in set-up mode. And with so many quality viewing options on offer these days, will anyone be willing to put in the hours to get to the good stuff?
Sense8 premieres on Netflix, Fri 5 Jun.