Although it’s been three years since the special finale episode of Sense8 aired, the fandom behind the show still lives on. British academics Rob Stone and Deborah Shaw, both based in Britain, are currently exploring and documenting the Sense8 fandom phenomena. Their book is called Sense8 Transcending Television.
The science-fiction series by visionaries Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski was a wild ride. It is one of the best streaming titles that Netflix has ever approved. After two seasons, the show was cancelled. However, after a long campaign and massive backlash from fans it was purchased back to make a last movie to wrap up any loose ends.
The fandom, as well the television show, is now being honored in a book called Sense8. Transcending Television. Deborah Shaw is an assistant professor at Portsmouth University. Rob Stone is also an associate professor at Birmingham University.
Rob and Deborah were able to talk to us via email recently, and we had the opportunity to ask them several questions about the book as well as 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. Our fan and academic selves decided to collaborate on a book. We love the show and its characters, but this meant we also had to look at it critically and address any criticisms. We all admire the ambitions of this series and its values. We each wrote chapters about different parts of the series, and we reached out to others for help. For example, chapters are written about the series' role in the Netflix universe and its evolution; music and queer identities; the fan base and Sense8, Sense8 and a new belief system; and Pride and orgies get a lot attention.
You are both academics at UK universities. Can you tell me why you found this series particularly appealing personally?
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 4 when the characters and themes came together. I wanted to go up on that roof in Mumbai with Kala. The world building, the feeling of being a better human, and the music used throughout the series, I love it. I also love all the different songs that I have listened to from around the globe. 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: It was a great book. It takes a utopian ‘what if we were all connected premise’ and makes it work through fabulous storytelling. It integrates characters, connects trans and gay characters, then makes a group that transcends individuals 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.
What surprises did you encounter while reading the book? Did you talk to any people involved in the production of the book?
Rob: We were very pleasantly surprised by how vibrant and widespread the Sense8 fanbase was. It was a great experience to discover fan-sites and groups as well as Twitter accounts dedicated, in part, to the series. Rewatching Sense8 during the pandemic was also a surprise. We found it so comforting, and how the themes of virtual oneness resonated in our experiences of connecting online immediately, collaboratively and even when we were far apart.
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.
Sense8 is one of very few Netflix shows that has had its cancellation decision made to end the series. Despite strong support for canceled shows, how is Sense8 able to buck the trend?
Rob: In part, I believe the cliffhanger that poor Wolfgang suffered was a blessing in disguise. It wasn’t like Deadwood, for example, which ended abruptly but without any major cliffhanger. The fact that the story was painfully incomplete made Sense8 feel like a premature cancellation. This was an utter disservice for the fans, which is obvious to everyone.
Deb: I agree. And then there is the fan base. The Sense8 fan base is unique. It was a series that connected people all around the globe in an intimate manner. After watching the series, many people were openly gay, lesbian or transgender. Many people found a safe, loving and supportive space. They could also see themselves as the heroes in 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.
We ask everyone we interview: What have you been watching on Netflix lately? Are there any suggestions for Sense8 fans?
Rob: I liked The Queen’s Gambit a lot for its unique sensibility, feminist themes and gorgeous cinematography. Mindhunter was my favorite for its period details and intensity, while Sex Education is my favourite for its embrace of diversity and love of life. 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. Disclosure is a brilliant documentary about the history and representation of trans people in TV and film. It follows the Sense8 theme and stars Jamie Clayton and Lilly Wachowski from Sense8. Pose is also a great show. It has an enormous heart, and it's funny, sad and outrageous. 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?).
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