Netflix Sci-Fi Show Stays Earthbound

Entertainment

The Pitch: In mainland China in 1996, a young physicist watches her father get beaten to death in a struggle session during the Cultural Revolution. In 2024 London, a surly intelligence officer named Clarence (Benedict Wong) investigates the mysterious deaths of prominent figures in the scientific community — including the mentor of five brilliant Oxford-educated minds.

Along the way, Clarence and “The Oxford Five” will peel back the layers of intrigue that surround these deaths, both in the present and the past — all tied to a mysterious virtual-reality game, an anti-human movement living on an itinerant cargo vessel in international waters, and a fateful message sent to the cosmos in the 1970s. Before long, a scientific mystery will become a centuries-long arms race to prepare for a possible alien invasion four centuries from now — one humanity is ill-equipped to combat.

I’ve Got 97 Problems, But Foundation Ain’t One: To their credit, writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are no strangers to adapting dense, difficult genre literature to the small screen; they’re the folks responsible for Game of Thrones, after all. On the other hand, they’re also the ones responsible for the final season of Game of Thrones, so some skepticism is more than a little warranted. This goes double for their adaptation, co-showrun by The Terror: Infamy executive producer Alexander Woo, of Cixin Liu’s trilogy of science fiction novels, a head-spinning melange of literary ideas that feels even more unadaptable at this point than Frank Herbert’s Dune.

To that end, D&D and Woo have twisted and mangled the square peg of Liu’s novel into the constraints of big-budget prestige streaming drama, in ways that work wonderfully in some moments and aggravate in others. For one thing, it’s far more interested in the scientific concepts it’s exploring — quantum particles that can see all and speak to each other instantaneously across the cosmos, the practical applications of sending a human envoy into space — than the people who explore them. There are flashes of For All Mankind’s interstellar ambition here, albeit with a 400-year-long countdown clock on mankind’s aerospace advancement.

Lost in Translation: Netflix threw a lot of money at the screen for 3 Body Problem, and even among its relatively domestic climes (so many scenes take place in apartments, hospital rooms, or offices), the show looks impressive. The third episode, directed by Wall-E and John Carter’s Andrew Stanton, is a dazzling dive into the virtual-reality game the Oxford Five (particularly Jess Hong’s resolute Jin Cheng and John Bradley’s sardonic billionaire Jack Rooney) explore as a vital clue, and a daring mid-season gambit (you’ll know it when you see it) is horrifying in all the right ways.

Apart from that, it’s a largely talky sci-fi story of the classic mold, asking questions essential to the human condition: Given our destructive natures, do we deserve to live? What does life look like when our days are literally numbered? Is it worth fighting for a future we will almost certainly never see?

3 Body Problem (Netflix) Review

3 Body Problem (Netflix)

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