2023 was an eventful year for Netflix, with its password-sharing crackdown and marquee shows like Stranger Things being delayed by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. But the ubiquitous (and embattled) streamer is starting 2024 with a handful of high-profile new shows, none more ambitious than David Benioff, D. B. Weiss and Alexander Woo’s 3 Body Problem, a sweeping existential sci-fi series whose second trailer just hit YouTube after debuting at the CES conference in Las Vegas today. In a quote from Netflix’s Tudum event shared by The Verge, Woo—known for his work on True Blood and the second season of AMC’s The Terror— described the new show as “a history of humanity from the point of first contact with an alien civilization all the way to the end of the universe.”
The series is based on Liu Cixin’s 2008 novel The Three-Body Problem, originally published in Chinese and later translated to English, eventually becoming the first entry in an ambitious trilogy called Remembrance of Earth’s Past. The title of the first book refers to a complex astronomical question relating to the movement of a trio of celestial bodies in relation to one another. In an NPR review of the novel, Jason Heller praised the book as “hard [sci-fi], full of lovingly lengthy passages of technical exposition about everything from quantum mechanics to artificial intelligence,” but noted that its connection to Chinese history is likely something English-speaking readers are only cursorily aware of. This English-language series is the second major adaptation, following the Chinese series Three-Body, which debuted in early 2023 to critical acclaim and was quickly greenlit for a second season.
Judging from the trailer, Benioff, Weiss and Woo’s 3 Body Problem seems like a deliberate mix of quintessential prestige-TV grit and glitzy science fiction, at times looking like True Detective and at others like Annihilation. The show tells the story of scientist Ye Wenjie, whose discovery of alien life sets off a series of global events and tensions among factions with different ideas for how to handle a potential invasion. The trailer makes brief allusions to the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s, before jumping forward to the present, when the impact of her research becomes a matter of global importance.
The series marks the first major new project from the Game of Thrones team of Benioff and Weiss, who were previously slated to work on new Star Wars films and the instantly-controversial alternate-history series Confederate for HBO before both projects were dashed. Since then, their output has been relatively sparse—they’ve executive-produced the well-received academia limited series The Chair with Sandra Oh, worked on a few films, and codirected a Leslie Jones comedy special. The other main mind behind 3 Body Problem is Alexander Woo, best known for his work as a writer and producer on True Blood and The Terror.
The 3 Body Problem cast ranges from relative newcomers like Saamer Usmani and Marlo Kelly to prominent actors like Rosalind Chao, Eiza González, and Benedict Wong. Fans of Samwell Tarly, the High Sparrow, and Davos Seaworth will also spot Game of Thrones alums John Bradley, Jonathan Pryce, and Liam Cunningham in key parts.
Naturally, some skepticism still lingers around Weiss and Benioff after the disappointing conclusion to Thrones, but Cunningham has lavished praise upon their writing for 3 Body Problem. “These guys, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever come across in my life. And this is also saying I spent a year and a half with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I’ve done Shakespeare on stage. These boys are absolutely extraordinary, the words they put in an actor’s mouth,” he said.
3 Body Problem will be released on March 21. It’s the latest in a run of high-concept science fiction series released by major programmers, following FX’s Devs and Apple TV+’s Foundation.
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