Yesterday THR confirmed that Sense8 has joined the list of Netflix shows not making it to another year. Marco Polo, Bloodline (Which at least got a chance to come into land) and The Getdown have also all been cancelled for the coming year.
This is one of those situations where being journalists and fans makes our job doubly hard. We loved Sense8 here at MCM Towers. It’s a show unlike anything else, either in execution or approach, on any form of TV right now. The show acts much like the cluster of Sensates at its heart, changing shape and plot depending on where you stand. Looked at this way it’s a conspiracy thriller. Looked at another it’s a story about the perils and joys of long distance relationships. It’s an exploration and celebration of multiple viewpoints, a show in which gender, nationality, sexual orientation, even different approaches to the law are treated with the same respect. It gave, and continues to give us, hope. Given the current state of global politics, that’s a precious commodity right now.
We understand completely that the show was expensive to produce. Unfolding continuity across eight countries simultaneously is a Herculean undertaking and the show was only ever getting better at it. But one of the things that stings about the decision is that season 2 closed with every indication that creators The Wachowski Sisters and J. Michael Straczynski recognized the show’s sprawling costs and were moving to change that. ‘So You Want A War?’, the barnstorming season finale sees every sensate bar one in the same physical location at the same time as the plot both escalates and contracts. It’s an astonishing hour of TV, a declaration of war and gear shift into what was reportedly going to be a final season. One configured to please the endlessly conflicting twin demands of modern media; do something good and do something cheaply.
Besides, it seems likely that expense is not the issue for Sense8. Worse still, that issue speaks to a systemic failure at Netflix of the strangest possibly sort. Here’s what Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, said:
“Our hit ratio is way too high right now,” he said. “I’m always pushing the content team; we have to take more risk, you have to try more crazy things, because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.’
That, bluntly, mystifies us. This is genuinely the first time we’ve ever seen ‘We make too many good shows’ be a problem. Possibly in the history of television as a medium in fact. Any artistic endeavor, especially when it’s docked with commercial intent, is all about making the best possible thing to make the most possible money. How Netflix have apparently got to the point where they need to cancel ‘good shows’ to take more risks is honestly beyond us. What happens the next time this situation arises, or where the line between ‘good enough to keep’ and ‘too good to keep’ lies is even more of a mystery. As is the thought of what could be riskier in the current climate than a show that treats every sexual orientation with respect and compassion.
The second way this mystifies, and honestly angers, us is the way it was done. To cancel a show like this is, perhaps, understandable even by the positively inverse logic that Hastings presents. But to cancel this show, with gay and trans characters among its leading cast, on the first day of Pride is almost incomprehensible. The kindest way to approach it is as a bundled piece of PR. The more direct is that it was deliberate. The truth, for many, won’t matter. This will play like Netflix picking the worst possible day to announce the cancellation on purpose and that, for a lot of the show’s fan base, is something that will be neither forgotten or forgiven.
Stories end. If they don’t, they wither. Netflix are at the bleeding edge of a new way to produce and watch TV and up until now they’ve been doing work that’s rarely been less than amazing. Sense 8 was one of their best shows and one that, years from now, will still be influential and remembered. Whatever they replace it with will have a lot of ground to make up and have to take huge, ill-defined risks. Its clear Hastings wants that. It remains to be seen if viewers feel the same.