“3 Body Problem” is Less Than It Should Be

3 Body Problem. Sea Shimooka as Sophon in episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

3 Body Problem feels like it should be the next “it” show. It’s got a strong, diverse cast, headlined by Marvel star Benedict Wong, but also featuring standouts like Eiza González, Jess Hong, and Jovan Adepo. It was created by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss, and Alexander Woo. And most importantly, it’s based on Liu Cixin’s best-selling novel The Three-Body Problem, which won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. So, the foundation is there.

But the series never decides what story it wants to tell, either going too big or too small and landing seemingly nowhere despite having eight hour-long episodes in its first season. Ironically, for a show that doesn’t have much world-building to do (because everything takes place in a world we understand), 3 Body Problem spends way too much time on setup. It gets to a point eventually, it’s just not fast enough, especially since it doesn’t get anywhere satisfying.

Character-wise, it fails spectacularly, while its one saving grace is the way it establishes the interpersonal dynamics. Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao and Zine Tseng, depending on the timeframe), the one character we desperately need to relate to for the show to click with us turns out to be the least relatable of all. This is unfortunate because when 3 Body Problem starts, she seems like she’s going to be the easiest to root for.

Yet she quickly becomes a caricature, losing all depth. Why does she do the things she does? Is it because of spite? Rage? It might be a combination of all of those understandable reactions, but the script leaves Zine Tseng with a character who starts a chain of events that affects all of humanity for a reason that feels hollow. The show never recovers from that.

But Eiza González’s Auggie and Jess Hong’s Jin certainly try to pull 3 Body Problem out of the depths of its own mediocrity, and they almost succeed. There’s a certain magic to seeing two women get to be unapologetically smart and these two deliver the show’s best moments, together and apart – partly because, to the show’s credit, their storylines are far removed from what we usually see from women in sci-fi.

3 Body Problem. (L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng, Saamer Usmani as Raj Varma, Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand, Alex Sharp as Will Downing in episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Ed Miller/Netflix © 2024

Adepo’s Saul and Alex Sharp’s Will are two other standouts in a show that is at its best when it allows the so-called “Oxford Five” time to just be with each other. The character moments are where 3 Body Problem shines, so of course, it’s what we get the least of. Instead, the show seems to always be chasing the next twist, the next big reveal.

In that regard, the series delivers, though it must be noted that 3 Body Problem expects a basic level of understanding of a lot of fairly complex terms as a baseline to make those moments work. That is pretty much to be expected when your main characters are physicists. A show that can be watched casually, or without giving it your undivided attention this is not.

3 Body Problem presents an interesting theoretical scenario, with some compelling characters and a few dynamics that are worth exploring. But despite the revolutionary source material, the show isn’t all that groundbreaking, at least not yet.

Sure, 3 Body Problem takes big swings at every turn, and though it doesn’t hit on most of its at-bats, it does set up some interesting things for a possible Season 2 and beyond. The question is, of course, if viewers – and almost as importantly, Netflix – will be patient enough to give 3 Body Problem a chance to get to those storylines.

Whether the show ends up being just another forgettable adaptation or one that can stand the test of time will depend on future seasons.

3 Body Problem premieres on Netflix on March 21, 2024.

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