Although it’s been three years since the special finale episode of Sense8 aired, the fandom behind the show still lives on. The Sense8 fandom phenomenon is being explored and documented in an upcoming book by British-based academics Deborah Shaw and Rob Stone called Sense8: Transcending Television.
As a quick recap, the science fiction series from visionaries Lana and Lilly Wachowski had a roller coaster ride on Netflix and is still one of the most unique titles the streaming service has greenlit so far. It went on to produce two seasons before an untimely cancelation and after massive fan backlash and a well-fought campaign, it was bought back for a final movie that looked to tie up loose ends.
Now, the fandom is being celebrated (as is the show itself) in a new book entitled Sense8: Transcending Television. Written by Deborah Shaw, who is a professor at Portsmouth University, and Rob Stone, who is also a professor but at the University at Birmingham.
We managed to speak to both Deborah and Rob recently via email where we got to ask several questions about the book and Sense8.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us on your new book – can you walk us through what the book is about and who it’s for?
The book’s genesis came from a group of brilliant film and screen studies academics who were fans of the series and would chat about it informally on Facebook. We took the leap to combine our fan selves with our academic selves and decided to collectively write a book. While our love of the series and the characters comes through this also meant that we had to cast a critical eye over it and discuss where there had been some criticism such as with representation and a degree of US-centrism. Nonetheless, we all love its ambitions and what the series stands for. Each of us wrote about different aspects of the series and we contacted others to fill gaps. So, for instance, there are chapters on its role within the Netflix cosmos and the evolution 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!
Both of you are academics in UK universities, can you talk about why this show in particular personally and professionally appealed to you?
Rob: I recall being confused by the first episode but intrigued enough to watch the second, and then being gradually beguiled by the whole premise until the What’s Up? scene in episode four when all the themes and characters came together and I so wanted to be on that rooftop in Mumbai with Kala. I grew to love the world-building, the sense of a better kind of human to which we could all aspire and I loved the use of music throughout, from the theme tune to the songs from all over the world that are all on my favourite playlist. Personally and professionally, that is, because the two things don’t really separate, which is why my chapter in our book is about music in the series and how it functions in relation to empathy, synchronicity and multiplicity.
Deb: I loved it from the start. It takes a utopian ‘what if we were all connected premise’ and makes it work through fabulous storytelling. I love the way it integrates all the characters and connects gay, trans, and supposedly straight characters from all over the world and then creates a cluster that transcends individual selves and identities. It’s wish-fulfilment television where you suspend disbelief to connect with the fictional cluster and their struggles and pleasures. It’s magical and real, sci-fi and social reality; it blends gender and genre – what can I say, I love it as a fan and as a thinker and co-editing and writing the book has been a joy.
Did you have any surprises while researching the book and did you speak to anyone behind or involved with the show?
Rob: We were very pleasantly surprised by how vibrant and widespread the Sense8 fanbase was. Discovering clusters, fan-sites, groups, and Twitter accounts dedicated to the series was tremendously interesting. We were also surprised by rewatching Sense8 for the purposes of research during the pandemic and discovering how comforting it was, how its themes of virtual togetherness resonated so deeply in our experience of connecting online, immediately and collaboratively, even though each of us was distant and alone.
Deb: Sometimes there’s a belief that studying a film or TV show detracts from the pleasure as it becomes work, but I was really happy that this wasn’t the case for me. I had to rewatch the series in working on the book’s introduction with Rob and for my own chapter, and Sense8 just got better with every rewatch. Contributors’ chapters also gave me new insights and helped me understand key aspects such as the use of multiple genres, and the series’ parallels and relationship with the streaming platform of Netflix.
To date, Sense8 has been one of the very few shows Netflix has its cancelation decision on to give the show an ending. Why do you think Sense8 managed to buck this trend despite there being many other strong fan campaigns for canceled shows?
Rob: I think in part the cliffhanger of poor Wolfgang was a blessing in disguise. It wasn’t like Deadwood, for example, which ended abruptly but without any major cliffhanger. In Sense8 the sense of premature cancellation was massively exacerbated by the fact that the story was so painfully incomplete. Nobody could deny that this was a grave disservice to the fans.
Deb: Agreed and then there are the fans. There are no fans like the Sense8 fans. The series connected with so many all over the world in a very intimate way. Many people came out as lesbian, gay or trans 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 heroes of their own stories. They were relentless in their campaigning and one special finale wouldn’t have the massive costs of an entire series but would give the fans the gift of an ending.
And we ask all of the people we interview this, what have you both been watching on Netflix? Any good suggestions for fans of Sense8?
Rob: I liked The Queen’s Gambit a lot for its unique sensibility, feminist themes and gorgeous cinematography. I also enjoyed Mindhunter for its intensity and period detail, and Sex Education for its love of life and warm embrace of equality and diversity. And I’m catching up with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is goofy and endearing and makes me laugh out loud a lot.
Deb: I echo Rob’s recommendations of The Queen’s Gambit and Sex Education. Following the Sense8 theme, Disclosure, a documentary on the history of trans representation in film and TV, is brilliant and features Lilly Wachowski and Jamie Clayton from Sense8. I also love Pose which has a huge 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 am drawn to series that present possibilities of better worlds and chosen families and I am really enjoying it.
Can you fill us in on where we’ll be able to find the book and when it’s releasing?
The book is out in June (June 17th) and can be pre-ordered from Bloomsbury’s website and there is a promotion until the end of June that gives fans a 35% reduction if they enter the code Iamawe (that’s “I am a we” without spaces – get it?).