3 Body Problem TV Review

Game of Thrones creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff deliver a depressing and nihilistic science fiction bore.

Last Updated on March 26, 2024

3 Body Problem review

Plot: A young woman’s fateful decision in 1960s China reverberates across space and time into the present day. When the laws of nature inexplicably unravel before their eyes, a close-knit group of brilliant scientists join forces with an unorthodox detective to confront the greatest threat in humanity’s history. 

Review: As soon as it was announced that Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff were developing 3 Body Problem alongside Alexander Woo, I grabbed the novel and read it. The dense first entry in Liu Cixin’s trilogy was a fascinating look at science fiction from a Chinese vantage point with heavy political implications from the nation’s storied history. In translating the book for the screen, 3 Body Problem incorporates many of the cultural elements from the novel into a global and diverse narrative that sets the table for an ongoing series about humanity fighting against an extraterrestrial foe. With a cast comprised of Game of Thrones veterans alongside rising stars Eiza Gonzalez, Jovan Adepo, and Jess Hong, 3 Body Problem is a huge investment for Netflix as well as a massive gamble for Weiss and Benioff. The resulting series is a bold experiment that is unfortunately a misguided one. Nihilistic, depressing, and far too heavy-handed, 3 Body Problem is a series that starts strong and completely falls apart by the final episode.

3 Body Problem review

Set primarily in the present day, 3 Body Problem opens with a flashback to the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. A shocking opening sequence, this sets the tone for a series that is heavy on technology and science in equal measure with philosophical thoughts of humanity and our place in the cosmos. Shifting from China-set flashbacks to contemporary sequences in Europe and around the planet, the series focuses on a group of college classmates who have various careers in academia and the private sector. All brilliant in their own right, Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo) and Jin Cheng (Jess Hong) work as scientists, Auggie Salazar (Eiza Gonzalez) works privately after developing a revolutionary technology, Jack Rooney (John Bradley) owns a massive candy company, and Will Downing (Alex Sharp) teaches. When one of their close friends dies, the group is drawn together in mourning. At the same time, Auggie begins to see a countdown in her vision which connects to a mysterious virtual reality headset many of them had delivered. It is within this VR space that they and many other scientists are introduced to the titular conundrum.

As the series progresses and the threat embodied by the warrior Sophon (Sea Shimooka) begins to unfold, the massive conspiracy connects the scientists with British detective Da Shi (Benedict Wong), philanthropist Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce), and the mother of one of the friends, Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao). The truth also brings in Wade (Liam Cunningham), a brutal and adept leader who spearheads humanity’s response. It is difficult to discuss exactly what the big reveal is without spoiling the majority of 3 Body Problem, but it is a sprawling and existence-shattering twist that sets up the main narrative of the series. To date, all trailers hint at what this big twist is without revealing what viewers are in store for and it is how audiences react to this that will determine how much they are willing to invest in the series. I will go as far as to say you will need to invest in multiple episodes before the truth is unveiled. Once it is, the tone of the series shifts significantly. By plotting out the existential quandary the characters face, the series risks alienating its audience by taking on a nihilistic and negative tone which it is unable to transform into a celebratory and triumphant message.

The problem could also be how unlikeable many of the characters are. Eiza Gonzalez is positioned in the marketing as the star of 3 Body Problem but she is closer to the third or fourth lead in the series after Jovan Adepo, Jess Hong, and Rosalind Chao. Gonzalez is unconvincing as a brilliant scientist but manages to convey the weight of what her knowledge means for humanity. Hong is stellar as the most pivotal character in the series as she must balance the two extreme sides of the divide presented by the antagonists. Jovan Adepo takes on a more important role later in the series as elements from the second novel, The Dark Forest, are weaved in to prepare for the expected second season. The breakout role in this series belongs to Alex Sharp whose character, Will Downing, will be the most sympathetic and relatable. John Bradley, Benedict Wong, and Jonathan Pryce, the biggest names in the cast, are relegated to supporting roles. While good, they never really seem to be important to the plot. The best character is Rosalind Chao as Ye Wenjie. Chao has appeared in so many projects over the years and proves how talented of an actor she is with a character that may be the most controversial once audiences see the full season with Game of Thrones favorite Liam Cunningham running a close second.

D.B. Weiss and David Benioff assembled a solid team of writers and directors for 3 Body Problem, themselves scripting three episodes together and a fourth alongside Alexander Woo. Woo wrote two episodes solo while Rose Cartwright and Madhuri Shekar tackled the remaining two. Directors include Derek Tsang on the first two episodes, John Carter‘s Andrew Stanton on the third, Mikie Spiro (The Plot Against America) on the next three, and Jeremy Podeswa on the final two. Podeswa is known for helming some of the most memorable Game of Thrones episodes and is one of multiple collaborators from that series, including composer Ramin Djawadi. With producers including Rosamund Pike, Rian Johnson, and Brad Pitt, 3 Body Problem should have been a slam dunk, but it lacks virtually everything that made Game of Thrones so engaging. There is little sexy about this series and the intricate plot overwhelms the characters and their motivations. There is also the heavy dose of Chinese history that will be unfamiliar to Western audiences but adds to the brutally negative tone of the entire plot.

3 Body Problem review

The trailers for 3 Body Problem position this series as a combination of the virtual reality world of The Matrix with a global conspiracy seemingly involving extraterrestrial beings. This is not untrue, but it makes it seem like a very different story than it actually is. The virtual reality sequences are well-made and visually impressive, but they are overall a minor component of the larger story. While David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were raked over the coals for changing elements when adapting George R. R. Martin’s fantasy saga, I hoped that they would alter a lot more of 3 Body Problem than they did. This series was likely doomed from the outset because of how flawed the source material was to begin with. I found it very hard to engage with this story, these characters, and this series. A misfire in every way, 3 Body Problem has some talented actors delivering some memorable moments, but none of it adds up to an experience that is satisfying, fulfilling, or even all that enjoyable.

3 Body Problem is now playing on Netflix.

3 Body Problem


Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.