My life tends to consist of three things: code, paint, and television. You'll find the last one odd if you know me at all (and many of you don't, thus the intro), since I have willfully avoided cable subscriptions for the last seven years. I'm one of those dreaded cord-cutters the cable companies hate, and Netflix is my savior.
You can imagine, then, that I get a little excited about the premiere of a new Netflix series -- I am a television marathoning champion. I got through nine seasons of Supernatural in less than three weeks, and three seasons of Person of Interest in about half that time. Netflix's idea of a season -- 12 episodes -- is incredibly appealing to me because it's easily-digestible weekend entertainment.
I'm also a sci-fi nerd, so when I heard that the Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) were teaming up to deliver Netflix's first major foray into genre television, I marked June 5 on my calendar.
This put me in a rare position after work on Friday night: a weekend with nothing on the agenda, a new show on Netflix, and a comfy spot on my couch. As I watched, messages from friends began to ping my phone with increasing frequency.
"Oh wow are you watching Sense8?"
"Hey what episode are you on?"
"Did you get to episode four yet? Oh, my God!"
The show had been on Netflix less than 24 hours. By Saturday night, my entire group of friends was at least halfway through the show.
I called my mother and told her to watch it.
It's that good.
In fact, Sense8 from start to finish might be one of the best dramas out there right now. It's masterfully produced, its cast is arguably more diverse than any show currently in production, and it tells a story we can all relate to -- the story of human connection (also, the entire soundtrack should be your next Spotify playlist). Each of the eight sensates -- a term used in the show to describe the eight main cast members, who are mentally linked to one another -- has an honest, relatable backstory that is told with care and portrayed with no small amount of heart by each of its stars (including Dallas native and Allen High School alum Brian J. Smith). Along with that honesty, however, come a lot of graphic reality -- Sense8 is TV-MA, in every sense you would expect out of anything you'll find on HBO or Showtime. Put the kids to bed first.
The most refreshing aspect of the show might be its depiction of healthy, caring relationships of all kinds. There's no shortage of toxic influences in each character's life, but positive connections -- some of which are formed in surprising places -- form the core of the show. The science part of this fiction might be the reason the sensates are connected, but their story forms a very human drama. That's not to say this is a feel-good show at all -- danger lurks for every character, both because of their shared gift and because of who they are outside of it. The combination of all these story elements (and some breathtaking performances by each actor) brings the audience to feel for these people, as if you not only understand what they've gone through, but personally know them. By the end of the season, I found myself invested in all of the characters -- sensate or otherwise -- and their relationships, something that honestly seemed unlikely after the first few episodes. It takes a while to get to know them all well.
It tells a story we can all relate to -- the story of human connection.
Sense8 is also just plain pretty: Elite filmmakers use artful cinematography to tell a deeper, emotional story, and the Wachowskis are gifted at this kind of visual storytelling. The bulk of the show was shot on location, and the attention to detail that has become their hallmark comes through in some truly exquisite scenes. The best payoff is in the depictions of all the senses an audience can't experience but the characters can, and the visual translation of sensations beyond sight and sound. We're intended to understand what the characters feel without the benefit of the connection they share, and that is no easy feat.
The biggest ask this show makes of its viewers is to think, especially in the first episodes. It's not grounded so deeply in science fiction that only genre fans appreciate it, but the audience learns what is going on as the characters do, which takes some time. We receive the first bit of exposition in the fourth episode, and if you can make it that far, things begin to come together in satisfying ways after that. If this show were on television, serialized and aired only once a week over the course of several months, the execution would be much harder to stay invested in. Netflix's model allows for far more initial ambiguity in a show, because you don't have to wait weeks to get answers to the questions each episode leaves you with. Sense8 was made to be binged, and that's exactly how it should be consumed.
This season won't end on the typical cliffhanger you would expect out of an ongoing show, but that doesn't at all mean there isn't a lot of story left to tell. Neither are we given all the answers at the end, and that's perfectly OK. J. Michael Straczynski usually has a fully fleshed-out plan before filming ever begins, so this show's future is almost assured not to meander the way its genre-adjacent cousin Lost did. That said, I want more answers, and I want them sooner than a second season will afford me.
My mother called me last night, and though her nose was stuffed up and her head hurt, she excitedly jabbered at me about the show for an entire hour -- she stayed home sick yesterday, and spent the day curled up on her couch watching the season from start to finish.
If you enjoy well-written characters and beautiful television, and can deal with a little lingering mystery, Sense8 should be the highest priority on your Netflix watchlist.
Alyssa Powell is a developer for GuideLive and dallasnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at alyssapowell03.