‘3 Body Problem’ Review — ‘GOT’ Creators Adapt Your Next Favorite Sci-Fi Show

Mar 9, 2024

The Big Picture

3 Body Problem
blends all three Liu Cixin books for a more well-rounded story and diverse cast, simplifying complex concepts.
The Netflix series, unlike the books, fleshes out characters and focuses on their development, enhancing the viewer’s connection to the story.
With an expansive cast and stunning visuals,
3 Body Problem
has the potential to become Netflix’s new flagship series.

When news dropped that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would be helming a new TV show for Netflix — after a disastrous finale for Game of Thrones and a few failed follow-up projects — obviously, there was a lot of apprehension. The duo was announced to be teaming up with Alexander Woo (best known for his work on True Blood and Season 2 of The Terror) to take on the ambitious task of adapting Liu Cixin’s extraordinarily popular sci-fi book series Remembrance of Earth’s Past. If that sounds unfamiliar, you might recognize the first book in Liu’s series better: The Three-Body Problem.

For anyone who has dipped a toe into Liu’s vast, vast fictional universe, it’s understandable to worry a bit when hearing that the guys responsible for Bran the Broken are going to be taking on this hard sci-fi series. However, Benioff, Weiss, and Woo remind us in 3 Body Problem how good an adaptation can be when it’s done properly — and might have just stumbled on making Netflix’s next masterpiece.

‘3 Body Problem’s Greatest Strength Is One Viewers Won’t Notice

The first thing you’ll note from this review is that this is not just an adaptation of The Three-Body Problem. Wisely, the showrunners have decided to mix aspects of all three of Liu Cixin’s books, bringing in more interesting characters from later novels into the present to give a more well-rounded approach to the story with an ensemble cast. So, if you’re going into this series having only read the first book, expect a bit of confusion. However, combining storylines does simplify Liu’s story somewhat for viewers, which is not actually a bad thing.

3 Body Problem follows several different characters who come to discover that a scientist’s decision during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s China has set humanity on a path of destruction. With an inevitable doom coming for them in 400 years, the world’s scientists and defense forces must come together to try and figure out a solution to save humanity from an impossibly powerful enemy.

There are some very high quantum physics concepts in Liu’s books, ones that likely excite astrophysicists but can kind of go over the average reader’s head. 3 Body Problem eases us in, and the natural medium of television also gives us visualizations of some of the book’s higher concepts. It was difficult to imagine a world where an average viewer could sit down and watch a show based on Liu’s books and be enthralled by it, but the television show manages to elaborate on and stitch together ideas that feel complicated on the page.

In this way, the show has something for everyone. For purely show-watchers, it’s an enticing story that hints at complicated theoretical physics while applying it in a real-world (as real as a television show is) scenario that makes it digestible and understandable. For book readers, it’s a new version of Liu’s stories, mishmashing some of the projects and conflicts of later books into the first season that will keep them guessing about how the story has changed.

‘3 Body Problem’ Adds a Crucial Element the Books Missed

In many ways, while watching 3 Body Problem, I was reminded of the adaptation of another massive, century-spanning sci-fi series about the universe. When Apple TV+ first premiered Foundation, based on Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi series of the same name, I also wondered how a series like this could work on television. In the many ways that Asimov’s books are similar to Liu Cixin’s, the shows are also alike. Liu’s strength has always been rooted in his ability to craft complicated stories about humanity using science and sociology. However, when it comes to the characters in his novel, a problem Asimov has, it’s hard to feel a connection to them in the same way. Your investment is in the future of humanity, but not necessarily of one single human.

However, 3 Body Problem changes that. On top of merging and/or remixing some book characters, the Netflix series spends its time developing these characters. Ye Wenjie, played by Zine Tseng and Rosalind Chao, is one of the most pivotal figures in the series, and her plight and backstory are a solid backbone for the first half of the story. Both Tseng and Chao are completely in sync as the younger and older version of the character, respectively. Although Wenjie is the catalyst of the main conflict of 3 Body Problem, it’s impossible to call her the villain, or even a true antagonist. We view much of the first part of the season through her eyes and consider her justification for an impulsive decision. Tseng is magnificent at playing this cutthroat survivor who has been made tough through her difficult circumstances, and Chao reveals that time has not dulled all of those sharp edges.

At the center of 3 Body Problem is Jess Hong, who plays the beating heart of the story, Jin Cheng. Jin is a genius at theoretical physics and constantly searching for answers to the universe’s biggest unanswered questions. Like many of the characters, she is a scientist, but she is also the one who puts her entire heart and soul into humanity’s endeavor to save itself. Hong will no doubt be the breakout star of the series, and every scene with her, especially in the back half of the season, is thrilling to watch. The entire cast of the series delivers fantastic performances that add more dimension. Benedict Wong’s Da Shi, Liam Cunningham’s Thomas Wade, Jovan Adepo’s Saul Durand, Alex Sharp’s Will Downing, and Mario Kelly’s Tatiana all bring something new to the series that makes it unique.

‘3 Body Problem’ Has the Potential To Be Netflix’s New Flagship Series
Image via Netflix

With such a massive cast, some stunning visual moments (specifically from Episode 5 “Judgment Day” and Episode 8 “Wallfacer”), and Ramin Djawadi scoring the series, it’s hard to imagine another show that is better poised to be Netflix’s next flagship series. Of course, no one can predict which direction the audience might sway, but 3 Body Problem has all the moving parts to make it great. It’s very clear that, despite missteps and mistakes in Season 8 of Game of Thrones, Benioff and Weiss, along with Woo, know how to take an expansive book series and make it into a great TV show.

With Stranger Things’ ending looming near, could this be the show to replace it? Could it do what House of Cards did for the Netflix brand and “prestige TV” at large? The landscape of television is so different from when those shows first premiered, but it’s clear audiences are still hungry for creative and intelligent stories. One benefit of this series being on Netflix is that 3 Body Problem actually benefits from being binge-watched. There is so much going on that a week-to-week release is likely to leave viewers scratching their heads if they aren’t fully giving the show their complete attention. The multiple storylines that intersect with each other at different points in time also make the series incredibly rewatchable.

And, on top of that all, if there were ever another series that could rival George R. R. Martin when it comes to “subverting expectations” — something the Game of Thrones TV show was often praised and sometimes criticized for — it would be 3 Body Problem. Especially as the books barrel toward an end, each twist and development comes out of nowhere but makes perfect sense in hindsight. For the showrunners, a successful adaptation will hinge not on staying 100% loyal to those twists, but loyalty to the themes at the center of Liu Cixin’s series. With so much of this dense story to dive into, so many theories to learn about, and so many characters and motivations to investigate, 3 Body Problem already has an amazing foundation for a brilliant series.

3 Body Problem Benioff, Weiss, and Woo prove that adapting the unadaptable is possible and you can improve on the original with 3 Body Problem.A fateful decision made in 1960s China reverberates in the present, where a group of scientists partner with a detective to confront an existential planetary threat.ProsThe showrunners take high concepts from the source and make them digestible and intriguing to the viewer.Rosalind Chao, Jess Hong, and Zine Tseng are magnificent in their respective parts.The combination of story and stunning visuals that show off the scope of the story makes this a potential flagship series for Netflix. ConsThe series has a lot of stand-out performances, but they are not all perfect and the ones that are lackluster drag the pacing down.With such an expansive cast, the development of some supporting characters is neglected.

3 Body Problem is available to stream on Netflix beginning March 21.

Watch on Netflix

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