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Sense8: We have feelings

The news of Sense8's cancellation had the members of ProfsDoPop reeling. In this post, we reflect on what made this show so great and try (and fail, really) to say goodbye.

After 23 episodes, 16 cities and 13 countries, the story of the Sense8 cluster is coming to an end. It is everything we and the fans dreamed it would be: bold, emotional, stunning, kick ass, and outright unforgettable. Never has there been a more truly global show with an equally diverse and international cast and crew, which is only mirrored by the connected community of deeply passionate fans all around the world. We thank Lana, Lilly, Joe and Grant for their vision, and the entire cast and crew for their craftsmanship and commitment.
Statement from Cindy Holland, VP Netflix original content

Art: One of the great things about Sense8 was that there were so many reasons to watch it. There are five of us and I am sure you will get five distinct reactions to its cancellation. For me, the amazing thing about Sense8 was its belief in connection.

In a country where The American Dream can often feel like a form of divide and conquer and Love Didn’t Trump Hate in our recent election, Sense8 presented us with triumphs of empathy and compassion. In U.S. popular culture, we often depict needing others as a sign of weakness. An inability to “go it alone” becomes synonymous with powerlessness. This mentality prevents people from seeing how connections with others can make us all better. Strength can be found in our shared resolve and pain can often be shared to lessen its grip on us all.

When I finished the second season of Sense8, I had a one sentence reaction: “That is the best show on television.” I was crushed when I found out Netflix would not be continuing the show. There are just so many reasons why it should continue.

Join the petition to save it.

Alix: I love Sense8. I love everything about it. It is one of my favorite two television shows at the moment (Orphan Black is the other). I love how the show consistently highlights difference and understanding as strengths – they make everyone stronger rather than weaker. In every instance – the differences among the characters make them better and stronger. The empathy and understanding they all show toward one another is one of the best things about this show.

Often in shows that have large casts, I find myself preferring certain characters and plot lines over others – and I put up with some characters’ screen time in order to see the stuff I’m actually excited about. I loved ALL of the characters on Sense8 and not once was more or less excited about certain characters over others. I think this speaks to some amazing writing, acting, and directing. Regardless of what happens now (oh, how I want it to not really be dead), I will be following virtually everyone who worked on this show to see what they do next – I hope that the approach that made Sense8 so great continues to be present in their work despite Netflix’s horrible decision not to support it.

Adam: When Sense8 was first previewed before season 1, the idea that J. Michael Strazynski (amongst others, Babylon 5) and the Wachoskis were putting their sizeable minds together and cooking this up was enough to make me drink the kool-aid – or take the pill – before episode one. I was not disappointed. The conversations I had with graduate students and other researchers about this series went deeper and broader than most other media texts. The ideas presented, the way it was shot, the questions it asked – not to mention the casting of the series – blew me away.

Before I reflect on the abrupt cancellation of the series by Netflix and the response that has occurred, both from the cast and the publics (which is killing me, BTW), I do want to bring one thing up that stuck with me throughout (particularly season one – not so much season two).

One aspect that stuck with me was the casting of the “beautiful people.” Looking across the cluster … they were all hot. They all were aesthetically pleasing to the eye and to our standards of what is considered “preferred” or “desirable.” Not a single member of the cluster, or those connected to the cluster, were “average.” For a series that was devoted in its writing and promotion to all aspects of diversity, why this miss? Why are they all slender? Fit? I am still working through these ideas, but it is something that struck me as disappointing.

Alix: I see where you’re going here, Adam. Part of me does want to excuse some of this away as “Of course they are all hot – it is still a medium steeped in physical expectations.” However, in some respects at least, I do think they push the boundary a bit when it comes to physical presentation. The women are not constantly unrealistically made-up or waking up with perfect curls in their hair. I guess that while, yes, they are all very pretty people, the ways in which they present the characters is often physically realistic (or at least – more physically realistic than we might see otherwise). The secondary cast is also diverse in terms physical/demographic representation – perhaps even more so than the primary cast is… or rather – was… oh god… WHY WAS IT CANCELLED?!?!

Andrew: I do concur with Adam, with one caveat: each of the main male leads was cut AF. I kept thinking, “That’s a bit much.”

Alix: Okay – one of the leads is an actor – he and all of his people are GOING to be super good looking. I don’t know… I don’t actually disagree with anything you guys have said Adam & Andrew – I just think it is perhaps a bit silly to be focusing on the fact that we put pretty people on TV when it comes to Sense8 when there are so many other things to talk about when it comes to this show. It just seems unfair to indict this particular show for this – a show that does get so much right. Would it be nice to see more physical diversity and all kinds of body positivity in this show? Yes, of course. Always.

I would, however, rather have cast like the one on Sense8 rather than say, a token big person like we have on the overly-saccharine and shallow This Is Us – a show in which ALL of Kate’s plot lines revolve around the fact that she’s overweight. ALL OF THEM. Apparently, fat people can only meet potential love interests at weight-watchers or fat camp. That’s it. And once Kate gets a boyfriend – all of the relationship issues they have revolve around weight and food – because that makes sense… Suffice to say, I would rather have a show such as Sense8 in which they treat all of their characters and their differences with empathy and in which demographic differences aren’t the characters’ only defining characteristics – rather than a show such as This Is Us that throws in token characters and acts like they deserve a fucking gold star because they deigned to put someone so different on television.

I think we tend to expect even more of shows (and movies) that tend to get it in some way – but we can’t expect all of the world’s diversity/difference/perspective to be represented in one show or in one story – I think we need to be more demanding of the industry as a whole and demand more shows such as Sense8 rather than expecting more of Sense8.

Adam: Back to the cancellation. DAMMMNNNNNITTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!! I think Netflix missed the boat on this one. However, I am wondering if they have an ROI model being used in their productions. Production cost was the reason another series, Marco Polo, was cancelled after season 2. This might be worth investigating. Regarding Sense8, I am personally saddened that we lost this one, but am not surprised. Location cost, the myriad narratives at play, even the very fact that this cast was about as near-global as you can get (Lost may come in at a distant 2nd) – these and so many more reasons are why I loved the show … and precisely why it did not get the audience numbers it needed to survive. It was not white enough, straight enough, or male enough, and this probably made audiences uncomfortable. Well, good. Get freaking uncomfortable. Its at that moment that art and life intersect. We, as audiences and publics, need to demand more of it.

Art: I also think that this is a product of moving from an outsider to an insider. Remember “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.”? It’s mostly just TV there now. Their originals are mostly white (shows such as Insecure stick out as a welcome respite) and the content is very bland (in my humble opinion). The scope is what makes a show such as Game of Thrones spectacular, but at its heart it is just a political drama set in a fantasy world. Netflix had a show with spectacular scope, shooting, and content, but it was expensive and Netflix (like HBO) is becoming less and less an auteur’s space and more and more a place for “safe” mainstream (get it, stream?) content. Maybe I’m just a skeptic, but with all the reports that this was a “business” decision and there are going to be more cancellations coming tell me that Netflix is mainstreaming to work just like other “networks” and appeal to generic (straight/white) audiences. Even Jenji Kohan admitted that Piper was a “trojan horse” in Orange is the New Black. She used a white woman as the lead to be able to tell stories about a diverse cast of characters. We have to be better. We must insist upon it.

Andrew: My first reaction when I read that Sense8 was being canceled was visceral and full of obscenity and vileness. I mean COME ON! They are taking off a show with not only a diverse cast, but a show with a diverse cast of creators in the Wachoskis and Strazynski.

Looking at the bigger relational picture, this is what organizational communication people call synergy. This goes back to what both Art and Alix were saying. Each of the sensates was strong because of their connections with each other. Each one was able to add their physical, mental, and emotional strengths to bolster another’s weakness. This was not simply community – this was communal in the truest sense.

I was intrigued with the Lito storyline and how he eventually challenged hegemonic masculinity as a Latin American movie star by coming out of the closet. I thought it was a brave story given how much of Latin American masculinity is mas macho. Furthermore, in a strange way, the Lito, Hernando, and Daniela storyline was an interesting take on polyamory. Although Daniela never had sex with either of the men, you could tell she was in love with them and they her. Daniela is my favorite secondary character in the series. A shame I’ll never get to see that relationship develop more.

Alix: Re: The Daniela storyline – I think this is a great example of the many different kinds of love the show the highlighted. The love Lito and Hernando have for Daniela is different than the love they have for eachother – and that’s a good thing – not all relationships have to be defined by anyone else’s terms or rules.

Andrew: Going really big picture: we are living in an age where there is a tremendous backlash against all kinds of diversity. Anything that does not conform to hegemonic discourse is under attack. From feminism in Russia to anti-gay marriage lawsuits in Tennessee, to the recent attacks against racial minorities in the mid-Atlantic and the northwest there is pushback – often violent pushback – against all the recent gains made by these communities. For me, that’s what made Sense8 so fantastic. Eight people. Eight different backgrounds. Seven nationalities. Various gender configurations. None of that mattered in the cluster.

Art: Couldn’t agree more. The best show on television just got canceled.

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