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The Wachowskis’ new Netflix series, Sense8, has flown under the radar for so long that you may be wondering, “What Wachowski Netflix series?”
Sense8’s first season wrapped filming last year and will debut in May, but hardly anyone seems to be talking about it. Which is kind of surprising, given that it’s a globe-spanning sci-fi series that apparently involves psychic orgies, a Bollywood dance sequence, and a cast to rival Game of Thrones.
At first glance, Netflix seems like an odd choice for a pair of filmmakers who usually deal in gargantuan CGI-heavy epics like The Matrix, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending. However, it makes a lot more sense when you take a look at Sense8’s wide-reaching premise, which is too complicated for a single film and too esoteric for mainstream American TV. Here’s a plot summary from co-showrunner J. Michael Straczynski, who is best known as the creator of Babylon 5.
“The series follows eight characters around the world who, in the aftermath of a tragic death, find themselves linked to each other mentally and emotionally. They can not only see and talk to each other as though they were in the same place, they have access to each other’s deepest secrets. Not only must they figure out what happened and why and what it means for the future of humanity, they must do so while being hunted by an organization out to capture, kill or vivisect them.”
It’s easy to imagine how this idea would pan out on network TV. Basically, we’d be looking at another Heroes. But with the Wachowskis and Straczynski in charge, you know it’s going to be a lot more interesting. Recent projects like Cloud Atlas (ambitious, critically acclaimed, and a box office flop) and Jupiter Ascending (unabashedly ridiculous) prove that the Wachowskis want more than to just produce another Matrix. And now, the binge-watch format of a Netflix series means they can work on something far weirder and more expansive than the blockbuster genre allows.
According to TVLine, Sense8‘s main characters include, “a closeted Mexican telenovela hunk, an Icelandic party girl, a German safe-cracker, a Korean businesswoman, an African bus driver and a transgender American blogger.” Judging by its IMDb page, the show also has one of the most racially diverse casts we’ve ever seen, a result of the fact that it takes place in Kenya, India, Mexico, Iceland, Britain, Germany, and the U.S.
The cast is an unusual combination of established genre actors (Doctor Who’s Freema Agyeman, Lost’s Naveen Andrews, Stargate Universe’s Brian J. Smith, Wachowski regular Doona Bae), several actors who have impressive careers overseas but are virtually unknown in the U.S., and… Daryl Hannah. So while Netflix’s lower budget prevents the Wachowskis’ from working with their typical stable of A-listers, they’re getting free rein to cast outside the restrictions of typical Hollywood protagonists.
Obviously there’s no guarantee that Sense8 will be any good. But whatever happens, it won’t be boring. Straczynski is already touting the ambitious nature of the show, saying, “We are going to tell a story on a planetary scale. No cheats. In ways no one else has ever done before. We are going to treat subjects that most TV series, and pretty much all SF series have avoided. In 2015 we are going to blow the doors off the television business.”
Overzealous self-publicity aside, he has a point. Netflix hasn’t revealed many plot details yet, but the scenes we have heard about sound pretty far removed from your average sci-fi fare. They include:
Live births. In an interview with io9, Andy Wachowski specified that they had filmed “babies coming out of vaginas.” Also, “crazy psychic orgies with all sorts of different bodies.”
A Bollywood dance sequence choreographed by Longinus Fernandes (Slumdog Millionaire).
A sequence in Nairobi that required 700 extras, 200 cars, and a helicopter.
What the hell is this show? We’re burning with curiosity to see how they combine all these elements in a single 10-episode season. Although if there’s anyone who can manage it, it’s the Wachowskis.
“If all we were interested in was money, financial practicality, box office and popularity, we would have never made any of the films we’d made,” Lana Wachowski recently told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re sort of oddities in that we keep making original movies. How long will that last? I don’t know, in the current cultural climate.”
In that context, the move to online streaming seems ideal: the Wachowskis get 10 hour-long episodes to tell the story they want, and sci-fi fans get a show that wouldn’t have been greenlit without this kind of team at the helm. Plus, live birth scenes. Because Netflix is apparently chill with that.
Photo via Anna Hanks/Wikimedia (CC 2.0)
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor