3 Body Problem Review | A Unique Sci-Fi Tale

It's not a perfect show, but it does enough things right to make for compelling sci-fi viewing.

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Netflix is betting big on 3 Body Problem, its new sci-fi series. Aside from the fact that it is helmed by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss along with TV veteran Alexander Woo, Netflix also previewed the series quite early. After all, the show’s global premiere is still around two weeks away.

What this tells us is that Netflix is confident in this series. This makes sense as it’s based on the hit novel by Liu Cixi which is arguably the novel that helped bring Chinese sci-fi onto the global stage. Not to mention that it features a stacked cast featuring many familiar faces.

After getting to watch all eight episodes, I can say for certain that this series tells a unique and interesting sci-fi story, though it’s not a home run.

A Compelling Sci-Fi Story That’s Surprisingly Easy to Follow

3 Body Problem’s story is huge in scope. It might not be something like Cloud Atlas, but it features a large cast across different locations and periods. In one scene you’ll be in China amidst the Cultural Revolution, then in another, you’ll be in a virtual world.

Without getting into spoiler territory, I can say that this is an expansive series that tackles a lot of interesting ideas. Aside from themes like nihilism, it also asks some big-picture sci-fi questions like what our place in the universe is. While Netflix isn’t new to sci-fi, this series is more akin to classic sci-fi by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke than the more in-your-face concepts in Black Mirror.

This should all be familiar to fans of the book. That doesn’t mean this is a retread though as Netflix’s live-action take on the series is different in many ways. Unlike the novel which is set mainly in China with Chinese characters, this series has an international cast and takes place in the UK and other locations around the world.

Of course, the show’s Chinese roots aren’t erased as one key character’s journey during the Cultural Revolution-era China is still a major focus. Aside from the thought-provoking sci-fi elements, this aspect of the show is one I enjoyed the most as it’s rare for a big-budget series like this to be set in that time and place.

The show’s story takes a lot of twists and turns, though what I found interesting is that it’s quite easy to follow. Even if there are many complex topics, the show was able to explain them well, at least from my perspective as someone who is far from an expert in that field. There’s a chance that the simpler explanations may not be up to snuff for those in STEM fields.

To give you another example, take HBO’s cancelled Westworld. I enjoyed that series, though there were many times that I had to pause and think, or even go online to verify if I understood things currently. Meanwhile, I did not have any such moment with 3 Body Problem, meaning it should be quite approachable for most viewers.

Its sci-fi concepts are no doubt a major aspect of its appeal, but the show also aims to expand on the original story with an extra layer of human drama. This kind of works, but its execution could’ve been better.

Human Drama Elements are Interesting, Albeit a Bit Clunky

The biggest change aside from the setting is the characters. This adaptation introduces a lot of original characters, and their stories are big parts of this new take on the modern sci-fi classic.

3 Body Problem’s cast all did well in their roles. But while watching it, I couldn’t help but feel that these added character layers were the weakest parts of the show.

I understand why they were added as this extra layer to the story gives a viewer more to chew on, and the additional characters make it easier to identify with the situation. But in terms of execution, there were times that they felt tacked on.

Maybe this will work better if the show gets renewed for another season. That’s because this first season adds story elements from the second and third books in Cixin’s 3 Body trilogy, and the new characters will play a role as these arcs continue.

While the human drama aspect of the story didn’t land as strongly as I had hoped, the visuals did at least make up for it.

Gorgeous Visuals, Mostly

As Netflix’s next big-budget series, it’s no surprise that 3 Body Problem looks great. There are virtual worlds in the series that are depicted incredibly well, while the real-world scenes are also shot nicely.

It’s gorgeous most of the time, though I did find some parts of it to not look as great. This might be down to the fact that I watched a preview though, so here’s hoping that the final version will clean up some of the effects.

Take note that this is not the type of sci-fi series featuring battles with space lasers. So, it won’t deliver eye candy in that aspect, but it will still treat viewers to some memorable scenes, one of which I found to be incredibly creative.

3 Body Problem Final Verdict

Overall, 3 Body Problem is a compelling watch. Sure, some aspects of it regarding the dramatic character elements could’ve been a bit better, but thanks to its unique sci-fi take and eye-catching visuals, this show is still a recommended watch for any and every sci-fi fan.

Sure, it may not be the kind of action-packed sci-fi with lasers shooting everywhere, but it does have a thought-provoking story that’s surprisingly easy to follow. While I can’t call it a perfect series, it did enough things right that I hope it gets renewed for another season.

3 Body Problem is coming exclusively to Netflix on March 21, 2024.