Sense8 is a sci-fi drama thriller which is particularly popular in LGBT circles. Indeed, I wouldn’t know about this fantastic two-series Netflix show if it wasn’t for my trans connections.
The reason is obvious; it is directed by the Wachowski sisters, two transwomen, and contains a trans actress and model playing a transwoman, with no shying from the everyday drama of being trans.
She also happens to be in a gay relationship, and she isn’t the only one – there is a gay male relationship too, looking at the problems of being a gay action star icon in a socially conservative country. There is also a pansexual minor character and more than a handful of characters seem happy to swing both ways in some situations, engaging in a couple of eight-way mixed sex telepathic orgies.
As for the actual plot, it’s about eight people, the “sensate” who are telepathically connected to each other in their own “cluster”, feeling each other’s emotions and physical pain / pleasure, and lending their skills to each other when in dire need – that involves martial arts, lock picking, fast driving, gun firing, safe cracking, hacking and a handful of of other unpredictably useful bits and bobs.
If you ever thought it was too distractingly inconceivable in action movies that one person has the skills and abilities of eight people, Sense8 offers a cheeky get-around.
Mostly though, it is at its heart a sensitive human drama about relationships and connections; slow burning and beautiful, it is the kind of thing that could have comfortably taken ten series to complete the main storyline (some shadowy conspiracy agency is after them all, of course). Because of its pacing and strong character focus, Sense8 is one of the few series around that runs no chance of getting tired by series five.
So, why was it cancelled after just two series?
It’s no mystery, really. Google “why is Sense8” and the drop-down list features the ending “so gay” before it features the word “cancelled”. More people are concerned by the abundance of homosexuality than they are by the fact that this excellent show is now over.
Or rather, not so much abundance as prominence – there is plenty of soft male homoeroticism and discussion of gay social issues, making these seem like a bigger part of Sense8 than they are. The greatly more popular Orange is the New Black actually has a far more unrealistic quotient of gay and bisexual people. Not even in prison are half of the population doing regular homo.
Sense8 will gain popularity over the long term. It will become a cult classic, like some of the most critically acclaimed media in existence. This does not seem to have factored into the Netflix decision to cancel the show, because hosts are looking for certainties, not unpredictable potential way off in the distant future.
It is a sad fact of life that niche shows like this are undervalued by audiences, and, consequently, hosts. This does not concern me overmuch. What does concern me, however, is the waft of bullshit surrounding Sense8‘s cancellation.
Netflix founder, Reed Hastings, effectively said the show has to be cancelled because Neflix’s hit ratio is “way too high right now.” Have you ever heard the like? Since when do businesses cancel business because they are getting too much business?
It got better:
“I’m always pushing the content team – we have to take more risk, you have to try more crazy things, because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”
I am right behind the sentiment of taking on bold ideas and risking a higher cancel rate in exchange for better art and a better service. The best way to do that would have been to not cancel Sense8.
It was a bold new series, representing a small identity group, still in the fringes of social acceptance – itself quite a bold concept. It wasn’t fantastically popular. Keeping Sense8 and cancelling the beloved, heavily promoted House of Cards would have been a much, much bolder move.
We know that companies, Netflix included, want to make money. It’s insulting to suggest that this tiny, cult series which was so important to the LGBT community is being cancelled because it might threaten to make Netflix too popular and successful. The reality was that Sense8 was too gay, too trans, too niche, too subtle and too nuanced for a mass audience.
But of course, Netflix know better than to say that. It makes them look better if they can claim they were being “bold”. Such a bold choice, cutting an obscure sci-fi created by two transgender sisters. I would never have predicted it.