*This post was updated 6/23/14 to add the full cast list and official plot synopsis.
Netflix’s push into original programming has been stealing headlines over the past year, praise for House of Cards, debate over Arrested Development, and almost embarrassing gushing over Orange is the New Black. Plus, the future promises four separate 10-episode shows centered around Marvel superheroes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Power Man, and Iron Fist before culminating in a Defenders mini-series.
With all of that, it can be easy to forget that Netflix actually have other things going on with their original programming. There’s Lilyhammer. Okay, no seems to actually watch that one. But then there’s Hemlock Grove, which some people kind of liked (if only to mock it), and the upcoming animated series BoJack Horseman. Then there’s the forthcoming new sci-fi show – Sense8 – from the Wachowskis (Matrix) and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Stryzinski. The highly secretive project was first announced last March, but up until yesterday we didn’t know much about it. TVLine got the scoop on the show’s basic premise and character descriptions:
The sci-fi drama will focus on eight people scattered around the globe who are connected by a shared — violent — vision. Each episode — shot in the UK, Seoul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Berlin, Mexico City, San Francisco and Chicago — will follow the characters’ separate stories, even as one entity tries to bring the octet together and another tries to kill them.
Among the regulars (as yet uncast) are: 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. Perhaps most intriguing, though, are Jonas, an apparently magic African-American who appears to all of the “visionaries,” and his evil counterpart, Mr. Whispers.
Since they last blew us all away with The Matrix (1999), the Wachowskis gave us the two divisive Matrix sequels, the off the wall, seizure-inducing, largely reviled live-action adaptation of Speed Racer (2008), and the ambitious, stunning, but odd and confusing Cloud Atlas (2012). They also wrote and produced V for Vendetta (2006). They now have the big-budget sci-fi pic Jupiter Ascending due out February 2015.
Their track record is mixed. The jury is still out on Jupiter Ascending, but their most recent effort, Cloud Atlas, was their most ambitious effort yet, weaving together six storylines through different settings while recasting its actors in various roles throughout time and space. Running nearly 3 hours long, it’s no wonder they needed Tom Tykwer around to help co-direct it. It was just too much for audiences to accept, though, turning it into a bomb. The Wachowskis remain the people who made The Matrix, and the level of ambition displayed in everything they’ve done since then means they are filmmakers who demand our attention, albeit with continually lowered expectations.
J. Michael Straczynski is a freakishly prolific writer, most known for having created and written almost every script for the cult sci-fi classic Babylon 5. Beyond Babylon 5, he also co-created and executive produced the Babylon 5 spin-off Crusade as well as the the post-apocalyptic Jeremiah at Showtime. On the film side of things, he is a credited writer for World War Z, The Changeling, and Thor. To some, he might be best known for his work in comic books, heading up The Amazing Spider-Man from 2001-2007. He has since moved on to DC. However, the work he did with Thor from 2007-2009 is easily the best stuff anyone had done with the character in the comics in years.
Straczynski’s graphic novel series Superman: Earth One features a more Spider-Man-like Superman, a bit of a smart-ass, barely scraping by, and always tempted to use his powers for financial gain. Two volumes in with a third on the way this year, it’s certainly not for everyone. However, it probably makes a more interesting version of Superman than Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, and David S. Goyer did in Man of Steel, even if Man of Steel kind of steals elements of Superman: Earth One, Vol. 1’s plot.
Frankly, it is the presence of Straczynski on Sense8 that intrigues more than the Wachowskis. The set-up for the show sounds vaguely similar, like a sci-fi version of the ill-fated ABC drama The Nine. Plus, its multi-ethnic cast is am admirable aim for diversity, even if it’s a bit Captain Planet-esque. Ultimately, this seems tailor-made for Netflix’s original programming formula which calls for all episodes to be released at the same time. Sense8 seems like it will follow each of our characters one at a time, the episodes tied together by an outside force stalking each character. It could be kind of awesome, but then I remember that one of the characters will be named Mr. Whispers and can’t stop laughing. Now, I’m worried.
UPDATED 6/23/14: Boy, did this project ever go to radio silence. There’s been pretty much nothing new to report about this for over 6 months until now. Over the weekend, Deadline exclusively revealed:
Lost alum Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah andS targate Universe‘s Brian J. Smith are among the 14-member international cast of Sense8, Netflix‘s 10-episode sci-fi drama series from the Wachowskis and J. MichaelStraczynski. Also cast in the show, expected to debut next year, are British actors Tuppence Middleton, who appears in Wachowskis’ upcoming film Jupiter Ascending; British actors Aml Ameen (The Maze Runner, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who, Torchwood), Indian actress Tena Desae, South Korean actress Doona Bae, German actor Max Riemelt, Mexican actors Alfonso Herrera and Erendira Ibarra as well as Jamie Clayton, Miguel Silvestre and Terrence Mann
Full disclosure: outside of Freema Agyeman, Daryl Hannah, and Terrence Mann, I’ve never heard of any of those actors. However, with Freema “Martha Jones” Agyeman around my Doctor Who fandom kicks in pretty hard, and I suddenly feel obligated to at least watch the pilot.
Furthermore, Straczynski offered a plot synopsis, noticeably failing to make any reference to a character named “Mr. Whispers”:
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 also appears as if Sense8 has been delayed ever so slightly, currently expected to debut all 10 episodes on Netflix at some point in early 2015 as opposed to the late 2014 launch period we had originally been told.
What do you think? Are you holding this at arms length given the Wachowskis’ track record? Are you completely drinking the Sense8 kool-aid? Let us know in the comments.