Jumping the gun and ruining the best of shows.
They’re a company that just keeps rocking the boat, but not in a way anybody seems to want. Last week, Netflix axed the Wachowskis’ sci-fi extravaganza Sense8 in their latest move to cut down on original programming.
Many remain flabbergasted. The show’s ambitious second season was much better received than the first. The show’s commitment to inclusion as well as its unapologetic celebration of (found) family and love is continually praised. The fandom remains as strong as ever. It has an inexplicable value of relatability, as much of the Wachowskis’ work tends to.
Yet, Sense8 was removed from the Netflix roster just a month after its Season 2 premiere.
There’s no definite way to know if the show had garnered enough views to keep such a big international production afloat. Netflix never officially releases data like that. But one of the show’s stars, Brian J. Smith, asserts there simply weren’t enough people watching for the company to justify spending so much:
You all are putting up an incredible fight. We hear you and it's so moving. But not enough people watched the show and it's $$$ to produce. https://t.co/FXUvlQFzBc
— Brian J. Smith (@BrianJacobSmith) June 2, 2017
That’s where it gets baffling and frustrating. One month isn’t long enough to determine a show’s popularity or eventual success. It is now regular protocol for some subscribers to watch between 10 and 13 episodes, each an hour long, in a single sitting. It’s even an inviting challenge.
To me, it’s ludicrous. The normalization of binge-watching puts unnecessary pressure on viewers who want to make sure their favorite shows continue. It’s especially redundant on a streaming site like Netflix, where shows are available for consumption long after their premiere date. This isn’t the same as taking two hours out of a busy week to see a movie opening weekend. These are long-form stories for a reason — they take time. It’s detrimental to any series to think otherwise.
Despite claims that not enough people watched the second season of Sense8, fans are steadfast and unrelentingly vigorous in their response to the cancellation. There’s an ongoing petition at Change.org with upwards of 370K signatures (at the time of writing) and climbing. Protests have come in hashtag form too. #RenewSense8 and #BringBackSense8 express solidarity and vigilant tweeting for their cause. Netflix Life even created a poll centered on cancelled Netflix Originals, and Sense8 is in the lead by an enormous margin. Fans are calling Netflix offices worldwide.
But Netflix CEO Reed Hastings seems to have a different idea. He’s probably the only person I’ve come across who’s disappointed that his company’s “hit ratio is way too high.” Of course, I’m being facetious. It makes sense to try different approaches to episodic narratives. But his idea of “risk” doesn’t seem to involve inclusion, which is troubling at best. Netflix cancelled not only Sense8 but also The Get Down and Marco Polo within the last six months. That sends a persuasive message about the kinds of stories it values.
I still struggle with the 13 Reasons Why renewal. Not because the show isn’t compelling or important in its own way (that’s really a discussion for another article). It’s because I find it difficult to imagine anything non-exploitative moving forward, as that show was already exceedingly graphic in Season 1.
Meanwhile, Season 2 of Sense8 really set itself up for more potential glory, narrative-wise. The show expanded on its mythology in conjunction with its plot, while greatly furthering character development for many of its protagonists. Now, it’s been stripped of the chance to continue when it’s clearly only just begun finding coherence and visible narrative drive.
Netflix renewed 13 Reasons Why within a similar timeframe to Sense8’s cancellation — about a month after initial release. All amidst a flurry of overwhelming praise and backlash. I’d venture to say that it speaks to a kind of sensationalism within their programming to renew it.
But either way, it’ll be back and that’s that. It’s just that, according to Netflix, the same can’t be afforded to something as fundamentally positive as Sense8. The perfect antidote to nihilism and despair.
There’s something much purer at stake with Sense8 — an unadulterated representation of empowered people who operate outside the norms of society. These are LGBTQ+ people, broken people, and people of varying race and cultural background who form healthy, dependable, and ultimately happy relationships with each other. And it’s now gone because of … low numbers? Supposedly? After a month? Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but surely its wider cultural value should be what renewals are based on.
Netflix once had a reputation of saving oft-overlooked cult shows such as Arrested Development and the US version of The Killing. In such a climate of surprise cancellations of much-loved series, that underdog spirit seems to have lessened significantly.