Although it’s been three years since the special finale episode of Sense8 aired, the fandom lives on behind the show. This has been documented in an upcoming book by British scientists Deborah Shaw and Rob Stone entitled Sense8: Transcending Television.
In a nutshell, the visionaries Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s science fiction series had a roller coaster ride on Netflix and is still one of the most unique titles the streaming service has given the green light to date. It produced two seasons before an early cancellation, and after massive fan setbacks and a highly competitive campaign, it was bought back for one final film that seemed to be tying loose ends.
Now the fandom (as well as the show itself) is celebrated in a new book called Sense8: Transcending Television. Written by Deborah Shaw, Professor at Portsmouth University and Rob Stone, Professor at Birmingham University.
We recently managed to speak to Deborah and Rob via email where we had to ask some questions about the book and Sense8.
Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new book. Can you explain to us what the book is about and who is it for?
The book was made by a group of brilliant film and film scholars who were fans of the series and talked about it informally on Facebook. We took the plunge into combining our fan selves with our academic selves and decided to write a book together. While it shows our love for the show and the characters, it also meant we had to keep a critical eye and discuss where there had been criticism, such as representation and some degree of US centrism . Even so, we all love his ambitions and what the series stands for. Each of us wrote about different aspects of the series and we contacted others to fill in the gaps. For example, there are chapters about his role in the Netflix cosmos and the development of television; the role of music in the cluster; queer, trans and polyamorous identities; The fans and Sense8, Sense8 as a new belief system and the orgies and pride get a lot of attention!
They are both academics in UK universities. Can you talk about why this show appealed to you particularly personally and professionally?
Rob: I remember getting confused by the first episode but intrigued enough to see the second and then gradually being seduced by the whole premise to What’s Up. Scene in episode four when all the themes and characters came together and I wanted to be on the rooftop in Mumbai with Kala. I loved building the world, feeling a better kind of person that we could all strive for, and I loved the use of music, from the theme tune to the songs from around the world, all of which are my favorite playlist. Personally and professionally, that is, because the two things don’t really separate. So my chapter in our book is about music in the series and how it works in terms of empathy, synchronicity and diversity.
Deb: I loved it from the start. It takes a utopian “what if we were all connected” and makes it work through fabulous storytelling. I like the way it integrates all characters and connects gay, trans, and supposedly straight characters from around the world and then creates a cluster that goes beyond individual selves and identities. It’s wish-fulfillment television where you break disbelief in order to reconnect with the fictional cluster and its struggles and joys. It’s magical and real, science fiction and social reality; it combines gender and genre – what can I say, I love it as a fan and as a thinker and editing and writing the book together was a pleasure.
Did you have any surprises while researching the book and did you speak to anyone behind or involved in the show?
Rob: We were very pleasantly surprised at how lively and widespread that was Sense8 Fan base was. It was extremely interesting to discover clusters, fan pages, groups and Twitter accounts that were dedicated to the series. We were also surprised when we re-observed Sense8 for research purposes during the pandemic and found how comforting it was, how its themes of virtual togetherness expressed so deeply in our experience of instant and collaborative online connection, even though each of us is far was away and alone.
Deb: Sometimes you think that studying a movie or a TV show interferes with your enjoyment when it turns into work, but I was really glad I didn’t. I had to watch the series again while working on the introduction of the book with Rob and for my own chapter, and Sense8 got better with every new watch. The contributor chapters also gave me new insights and helped me understand key aspects such as the use of multiple genres, as well as the parallels and relationship of the series with the Netflix streaming platform.
To date, Sense8 has been one of the few shows that Netflix made its cancellation decision to put an end to the show. Why do you think Sense8 managed to buck this trend, despite the fact that there are plenty of other strong fan campaigns for canceled shows?
Rob: I think in part that poor Wolfgang’s cliffhanger was a blessing in disguise. It wasn’t like DEADWOOD, for example, which ended abruptly, but with no major cliffhanger. In Sense8, the feeling of premature cancellation was massively exacerbated by the fact that the story was so painfully incomplete. Nobody could deny that this was a serious disadvantage for the fans.
Deb: agreed and then there are the fans. There are no fans like the Sense8 fans. The series was connected to so many people around the world in a very intimate way. Many people came out as lesbian, gay, or transsexual after watching the show. The series gave so many people a safe and loving space, a space of hope where they could see themselves as the heroes of their own stories. They were adamant about their campaign and a special finale wouldn’t have the massive cost of an entire series, but would give fans the gift of an ending.
And we all ask the people we interview, what did you two watch on Netflix? Any good suggestions for fans of Sense8?
Rob: I really liked THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT because of its unique sensitivity, feminist themes and great cinematography. I also enjoyed MINDHUNTER for its intensity and details from the time and SEX EDUCATION for its love of life and its warm embrace of equality and diversity. And I catch up with BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, which is stupid and lovable and makes me laugh a lot.
Deb: I agree with Rob’s recommendations on THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT and SEX EDUCATION. Inspired by the Sense8 theme of Disclosure, a documentary on the history of transrepresentation in film and television is brilliant and features Lilly Wachowski and Jamie Clayton of Sense8. I also love pose that has a big heart and is funny, tragic and extravagant. I’ve just started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (ridiculously late, I know), but I think I’m drawn to shows that offer opportunities for better worlds and select families, and I really enjoy it.
Can you tell us where we can find the book and when it will be published?
The book will be released in June (June 17th) and can be pre-ordered on the Bloomsbury website. There is a promotion until the end of June where fans get a 35% discount if they enter the code Iamawe (that’s “I am a we”). without spaces – understand?)