When Netflix started putting original series distribution at the center of its business model, many noted how willing the streaming company was to keep even its smallest and oddest projects active. Because Netflix doesn’t publicly declare its viewership numbers, its shows can use audience engagement and critical cachet as their primary measuring standards in a way rating-dependent broadcast networks can’t. And aside from the occasional cancellation of a lower-profile series (Lilyhammer, Hemlock Grove), most shows have been allowed to see their visions through for a good while.
A few incidents don’t entirely make a trend, but it’s now looking as if Netflix is more willing to drop the hammer on a troubling series than it used to be. Last fall, it was confirmed that the recently premiered third season of Bloodline will also be its last. Just last week, The Get Down was cancelled after a single two-part season, the first Netflix series to get axed after only one season. And today, Netflix announced that another young series has been cancelled: Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Sense8.
For as much grief as Jupiter Ascending visited on the directorial duo two years ago, Sense8 was a bold vision, and proof that maybe the Wachowskis’ penchant for elaborate world-building might be better served in longer-form storytelling than in overstuffed single movies. It was one of the more genuinely radical shows on air, from its politics to its open consideration of gender and cultural fluidity. It played with ideas that most action-based sci-fi wouldn’t touch, and for that, it’s a felt loss.
But it’s also a step that makes particular sense in light of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ recent comments about how the network should, if anything, be making more bold bets and cancelling more shows that don’t pay off. It’s a sad step for shows like Sense8, weirder projects that might not have a home at other networks. But in a time when even the highest-dollar Hollywood talents are starting to take a closer look at Netflix’s bottomless pocketbook, it’s probably an inevitable one as well.