‘3 Body Problem’ provides many questions but little intrigue.

3 Body Problem
3 Body Problem Copyright COURTESY OF NETFLIX/ 2023 Netflix, Inc.
Copyright COURTESY OF NETFLIX/ 2023 Netflix, Inc.
By Jonny Walfisz
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Netflix’s TV series adaptation of Liu Cixin’s successful sci-fi novel ‘The Three-Body Problem’ is a disappointingly dull mystery box that won’t leave you wanting more.


Liu Cixin’s novel ‘The Three-Body Problem’, the first in his ‘Remembrance of Earth’s Past’ trilogy, was a massive hit in China after its release in 2008. The 2014 English translation turned Liu into a household name among sci-fi fans when it made him the first Asian author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015.

After a failed attempt at a Chinese film adaptation and a critically acclaimed Chinese TV adaptation last year, the Netflix-produced eight-part series comes from David Benioff, Daniel Brett Weiss, and Alexander Woo.

Benioff and Weiss are best known for their award winning TV series ‘Game of Thrones’, which ran for eight seasons between 2011 and 2019, although their creative direction in the final few seasons was criticised as they moved past the timeline of original material from ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ writer George R. R. Martin.

Having presided over one of the most prestigious shows on television and its fall from grace, their adaptation of Liu’s novel is the first major project since Thrones.

3 Body Problem
3 Body ProblemCOURTESY OF NETFLIX/ 2023 Netflix, Inc.

Starring Benedict Wong alongside some returning Thrones faces like John Bradley, Jonathan Pryce and Liam Cunningham, the show’s ambition is clear from its opening scene. Set in Beijing’s Tsinghua University in 1966, we see a theoretical physicist's public execution in a hugely attended denunciation session, typical of Maoist China.

So far, so very Thrones. Things change up a bit for the rest of the first episode, as we jump between a timeline in China and one in modern day England as physicists puzzle over the laws of physics being broken while Wong’s investigator Da Shi looks into a peculiar pattern of suicidal scientists.

Something is very awry as a countdown shows up in the vision of Augustina ‘Auggie’ Salazar (Eiza González), the same countdown written in blood at the scene of a previous physicists murder/suicide scene.

Auggie is brought together with her old university mates as they puzzle over the inexplicable new results from all the world’s particle colliders, suggesting the last 60 years of theoretical physics research is wrong.

Benedict Wong making the best of a bad script
Benedict Wong making the best of a bad scriptED MILLER/NETFLIX/ 2024 Netflix, Inc.

Over in the past, the executed physicist’s daughter Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao) is doing hard labour in Inner Mongolia when, after an inappropriate liaison with another worker, she is recruited to work on the top secret alien communication project in the mountains.

From the first episode, we’re given the obvious signs of a tightly wound plot. Having not read the books, I can’t say whether they have a satisfying conclusion. However, I can say that the opening episode’s mystery box structure, providing a litany of questions, gives viewers very little to latch onto why we should care.

The vast majority of the performances fall completely flat without a shred of personality excluded from the main cast, besides the ever-eminently watchable Wong providing his trademark exhausted charm. It’s not just the performances though, the script gives them so little to work with in the way of character. Every line is either dull, expository or a tired witticism.

In the modern day setting, the world of particle accelerators and Cherenkov chambers is remarkably drab. Even when Jin (Jess Hong) enters a trippy video game world meant to inspire discomfort, the game’s design is sludgy and bland.

The saving grace is the sections set in Communist China. The scale and severity of the situation is upped and everything benefits. Chao is understated but necessarily so as Wenjie attempts a surreptitious romance amid the repressive era. Hopefully more time in further episodes is spent on her character as she gets closer to the nexus of this show’s mystery. Maybe we’ll even care by the time she finds out.

Share this articleComments

You might also like