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First Reviews: Netflix Series ‘Sense8’ Goes ‘Full Wachowski’

First Reviews: Netflix Series 'Sense8' Goes 'Full Wachowski'

After the disappointment of Andy and Lana Wachowsksi’s “Jupiter Ascending,” fans pinned their hopes on “Sense8,” the siblings’ 12-episode Netflix series that will premiere in its entirely on June 5. Unfortunately, it sounds like the fans may have to move on to the next project, based on the handful of reviews that have surfaced so far. While the Verge’s Bryan Bishop, who suggested after “Jupiter” that the Wachowskis needed an “intervention,” comes down firmly on the side of the show’s “full Wachowski” excess, others suggest it’s a quasi-mystical mess, positing a kind of psychic connection between eight characters spread all over the globe. That the Wachowskis actually shot in eight different countries is promising, at least for those of us who found much to like about “Cloud Atlas,” and the grandiosity of the series’ design might make the three episodes made available in advance insufficient to judge. But if you were hoping for a full-scale post-“Jupiter” comeback, you’ll have to keep waiting.

The first season of “Sense8” will be available on Netflix beginning at midnight Pacific Time on June 5.

Reviews of “Sense8”

Brian Lowry, Variety

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.

Allison Keene, Collider

The Wachowskis and Straczynski flippantly suggest that most global issues could be quickly dealt with via a doctrine of good vibes. It would be easy enough to dismiss this as the wild invention of the science fiction premise that “Sense8” exists in, if the tone wasn’t so deathly self-serious, overtly sentimental, and earnest to a fault; that the series isn’t particularly creative or original beyond the basic conceit is another looming problem in both the narrative and the look of the series. You can’t exactly blame the writers, however, as they must tend to eight storylines that grow increasingly convoluted with each new episode. There are moments where one genuinely wonders if the Wachowskis and Straczynski created this on a dare to see if they could balance as many stories as “Game of Thrones.”

James Poniewozik, Time

It too, in the simplest sense, is sci-fi. It’s about eight individuals around the globe who come to realize they are psychically connected for reasons that, after the three episodes Netflix screened for critics, are unclear, and threatened by enemies yet unseen. But wait, there’s more! In its eight parallel plots, it’s also a sex farce, a gender-identity melodrama, a martial-arts spectacle, a cop show, a Bollywood-inflected arranged-marriage soap and then some. How well you enjoy the episodes may depend on how much you are willing to experience them rather than understand them. While “Sense8” is structured as essentially eight parallel “shows” — each with a different genre and tone — none is, individually, especially good on the level of plot (each of them thin) or writing (“When the streets are a jungle, there can only be one king”). But coming to a Wachowski joint for the dialogue is like going to a steakhouse for the salad. The visual language is what speaks loudest in “Sense8,” especially as the Wachowskis find novel ways to make the growing psychic connection among the eight leads concrete, as when one character “borrows” another’s hand-to-hand skills in a gasp-worthy cross-cut fight scene. The connections among the stories are more interesting than the stories in themselves, which maybe fits with “Sense8’s” globalist ethos.

Bryan Bishop, the Verge

The set-up sounds like “Heroes” or any other number of shows from the 2000s, but the Wachowskis — who direct the entire season — differentiate their show by taking different genre approaches with each character’s story. Wolfgang’s tale takes on the vibe of a gritty crime thriller, while the story of a closeted Mexican movie star and the actress who’s obsessed with him plays like a tongue-in-cheek comedy of errors. The show shot in eight different countries, and the Wachowskis are stretching their legs here, clearly having fun with the expanded canvas they’re able to work with, while never sacrificing their signature attention to detail or style. Whether it’s ponderous slow-motion or a dancehall rave, there’s no question: they’re going Full Wachowski.

At times, that visual styling does cause “Sense8” to feel a bit like a throwback. Everything from the concept to the show’s opening credits font and music cue — a thinly veiled riff on Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” — feels planted firmly in the early aughts. It’s distracting at first, especially coming from filmmakers that have been bent on pushing things forward at all costs, and it doesn’t help that “Sense8” takes its time in distinguishing itself from existing shows. But as it picks up steam and begins delving into the familiar Wachowski themes — that we are all interconnected, across lines of race, sexuality, gender, and class — it begins to establish its own sense of identity.

Margaret Lyons, Vulture

Netflix only made three of “Sense8’s” 12 episodes available for review, so it’s absolutely possible that the other three quarters of the series hangs together better and overall makes more sense. One would hope! Plus, that’s also how mysteries work; confusing at the beginning, less so at the end. That early batch, though, is often frustratingly impenetrable, and very taken by its own dreamy bullshit. Luckily, there is a coolness factor to “Sense8” that other shows would kill for. It’s cool in these intriguing, vague ways: How are these eight people connected? Why them? Is it their mutual yet distinctive profound sexiness? Whatever that connecting thread is, I’m interested (ish) in finding out more. But everything that’s not that mystery web is pretty crummy.

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

“Sense8” has a lot on its mind, as the brief encounters between its leads quickly blur boundaries of nationality, gender and sexuality, among other heady topics. It’s aiming for something big, and while these three episodes give me no idea if they can ultimately hit the mark, they’re also more interesting than they have any right to be considering how incoherent so much of it is.

Michael Ahr, We Got This Covered

In essence, the creators appear to have presented, not a 12-episode season one (although Straczynski claims to have a five-season arc planned and a second season almost completely fleshed out), but a 12-hour movie. While this may seem daunting, and the slow pacing of the main conflict may lose some viewers, the end result is exciting in the possibilities it presents. Only Netflix, with its model of releasing entire seasons at once, could allow for “binge-watchers” to devour the epic scale of this drama. 

Henry Northmore, The List

“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 characterizations might feel simplistic, they are incredibly diverse and hint at wider discussions on sexuality, gender and race in the future. 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?

Alex Maidy, JoBlo

The largely unknown cast feel like television actors and not much better. The international cast and setting do offer a nice twist on the traditional television series format, but the stories feel more preachy than need be. The Wachowskis attempt to explore territory not covered by mainstream science fiction like sexuality, gender bias, homophobia, AIDS, and more. It is admirable that they have found a vehicle to tell these stories but, unfortunately, they didn’t make them very interesting. I continued watching all three episodes hoping for something to stand out and really make me want to watch the whole season once it’s released, but I instead have a feeling I will tune in for the rest just to find out what the big payoff is going to be. Aside from a cameo from a cast member from “The Matrix,” the first hours of “Sense8” are rather dull.

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