Sense8 could have been awful. A science fiction series about humanity with eight different main characters across the globe, written by the Wachowskis (coming off the high of Jupiter Ascending – because critics loved that, right?) and J Michael Straczynski, who created a hit with Babylon 5, but... that was about 20 years ago. Given the Wachowskis’ penchant for long-winded dialogue and high-minded philosophical ideas that teenage boys find radical, could the series pull it off?
Settle in, because this is going to be a long-winded love letter to Sense8’s first season.
The inclusion of characters like Nomi, Capheus and Sun never felt like tokenism, like “these characters will be background to the real straight white American story, and we’ll just use their culture as set dressing”. Instead, the problems they faced were fully fleshed-out storylines inextricably linked to their identity, whether that was Sun’s life being dictated by gender politics, Lito destroying everything he loves in an attempt to save his career or Capheus balancing saving his mother’s life with working for a gang boss.
Occasionally Sense8 was let down by its plotting (poor Whispers, confused by fog and the power of love – maybe one day he’ll be a real villain who can kill people while they’re unconscious!). Thing is, with such enjoyable characters, it can get away with an awful lot. The series really shone when it fully embraced its premise to show us the characters bonding together. There wasn’t just one central character meeting all of the others, or specific partnerships who kept talking to each other. Instead, it was a whole variety of friendships evolving as different characters met and found different things in common. And although a couple of the relationships did turn romantic, overwhelmingly they were platonic. It’s like Straczynski and the Wachowskis heard the cries of a million millennials screaming that no-one believes When Harry Met Sally anymore, and putting platonic male-female relationships on screen won’t scare away any viewers.
Sense8’s first season was a beautifully shot, overwhelmingly uplifting, occasionally incredulity-stretching (“you are Van Damme!”) twelve episodes of television. Still no word on whether a second season will be produced, and given how much money it must have cost to film this across the globe, it’s probably not a sure bet at this moment in time. But right now we’re riding high on a wave of love for this show. At least we’ve had one season of humanity at its best when it works together, drawing on the infinite variety of identities that make up our species.