Skip to main content

Netflix’s 3 Body Problem is missing the one thing that made Game of Thrones great

Ye Wenjie sits in front of a radio dish controller in 3 Body Problem.
Netflix

Netflix’s 3 Body Problem isn’t just the streaming service’s long-awaited adaptation of the acclaimed Chinese science fiction novel of the same name by Liu Cixin. It’s also Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ follow-up to their HBO smash hit. In many ways, the Netflix series, which Benioff and Weiss co-created with Alexander Woo, is a worthy successor to a show like Thrones. Like that game-changing HBO drama, it’s an adaptation of the kind of famously complex source material that many understandably believed to be unadaptable.

To Benioff, Weiss, and Woo’s credit, they prove that’s not true across 3 Body Problem‘s debut eight-episode season. Together, the trio and their collaborators successfully streamline the science-driven narrative of Cixin’s original novel, turning it into an episodic story that is both easily digestible and propulsive. While 3 Body Problem gets a lot right, though, it’s missing the one thing that made Game of Thrones such a beloved show in the first place. To put it frankly, its characters just aren’t all that memorable.

A rich foundation

3 Body Problem | Official Trailer | Netflix

The story that 3 Body Problem tells spans roughly 60 years. It begins during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and it follows a young Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng) as the traumatic losses she experiences throughout that period cause her to lose faith in humanity and make a decision that ultimately shapes the show’s present-day storyline. Outside of its 1960s flashbacks, the series largely focuses on the lives of several scientists as they’re forced to react to (minor spoiler alert) the news of a forthcoming alien invasion.

Like Game of Thrones, 3 Body Problem tells a story that is heavily influenced by the events of the past and relies upon the interconnected actions of a fairly large group of characters. Despite having far fewer subplots and human figures to focus on than they did in Thrones, though, Benioff and Weiss fail to introduce enough standout characters to make you emotionally invested in 3 Body Problem‘s story. Actors like Benedict Wong and John Bradley emerge as welcome, confident presences among the show’s cast, but they’re ultimately not given enough to elevate everything else around them.

The show doesn’t have breakout characters like Jon Snow or Arya Stark

Kit Harington as Jon Snow in his Night's Watch uniform beyond the wall.
HBO

Most of 3 Body Problem‘s characters, whether it be the countdown-plagued Auggie (Eiza González) or the stuck-in-arrested-development Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo), lack the kind of depth, inner turmoil, and identifiable personalities that would make you want to spend hours with them. That’s noteworthy, especially given the plethora of compelling characters featured throughout Game of Thrones. Thanks to A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin, Benioff and Weiss had more striking characters than they knew what to do with on that HBO series.

Look at characters like Arya Stark, Jaime Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen, all of whom are now considered iconic figures in TV history. When they were introduced in Game of Thrones‘ first season, they were complex, and viewers could mostly identify with their plights. Even more importantly, they all immediately demonstrated the capacity for great change, and Game of Thrones mined nearly 10 years’ worth of engaging drama out of the transformative journeys that they and the rest of the show’s core characters all went on. Not even 3 Body Problem‘s best characters are as half as rich as those of Thrones, and that’s a problem that keeps viewers at a frustrating distance from the Netflix series’ already cerebral story.

Liam Cunningham sits behind Benedict Wong in 3 Body Problem.
Netflix

To be fair to Benioff, Weiss, and Woo, even the biggest fans of Liu Cixin’s original 3 Body Problem books are quick to note that their characters aren’t their strongest element. That may, in part, be by design. Cixin’s trilogy spans hundreds of years, which means that it features a revolving door of characters. Plot and science are what come first and foremost in the books, and Benioff, Weiss, and Woo’s Netflix series doesn’t diverge from that approach.

The sins of Game of Thrones’ past haunts 3 Body Problem

A man and two women stand in the sand and stare.
Ed Miller / Netflix

On TV, though, plot can only get you so far. At the end of the day, a show tends to live and die on the quality of its characters. While 3 Body Problem effectively communicates both the intricacy and danger of its central alien invasion, it doesn’t make a convincing enough case for the strength of its characters.

By falling short in that regard, the Netflix show inadvertently proves something that many Game of Thrones fans began to suspect near the end of that show’s run, which is that Benioff and Weiss are better at navigating complex plots than they are at exploring and developing equally complex characters. That seems to especially be the case when they don’t have a character-rich text to pull from like the one George R. R. Martin gave them at the start of Thrones.

Season 1 of 3 Body Problem is streaming now on Netflix.

Editors' Recommendations

Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
Best new movies to stream on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Max (HBO), and more
A man leans on a TV camera in Late Night with the Devil.

Even in the middle of the month, new additions are still arriving to our list of the best movies to stream on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Max (HBO), and other services. Throughout 2024, we've added recent Oscar honorees, new originals, and much more to this list -- and not always at the beginning of the month. Each week, there's something new worth your time.

This week, we've added five films to this list, including a new horror entry to Shudder, one of 2024's most popular movies on Paramount+, the Illumination hit Migration on Peacock, and two movies on Netflix, including part two of Zack Snyder's Rebel Moon series.
We also have guides to the best movies on Netflix, the best movies on Hulu, the best movies on Amazon Prime Video, and the best movies on HBO.

Read more
The 50 best movies on Netflix right now (April 2024)
Staz Nair and Djimon Hounsou in Rebel Moon: – Part Two The Scargiver.

It's always a bit of an adventure to try and stay ahead of the most popular movies on Netflix, especially when films like the unheralded 2019 action thriller Anna leap to the very top of the list. Because after spending a lot of money on Zack Snyder's Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver, Netflix would obviously like to see that original film land in the top spot. Time will tell if the second half of Rebel Moon outperforms the first part. but action fans are really going to enjoy their movie nights this weekend.

Fortunately, Netflix isn't reliant on any single genre. The streamer has a vast library of original movies across all genres, including comedies, dramas, thrillers, romantic comedies, horror, and more. And we've put together the standout titles in our roundup of the best movies on Netflix right now.

Read more
The 50 best shows on Netflix in April 2024
Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in Killing Eve.

Unlike some of its streaming rivals, Netflix has so far been able to weather the slowdown in production from last year's Hollywood strikes. There have still been big Netflix originals like 3 Body Problem, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Gentlemen, and Ripley. But Netflix has also maintained momentum with key additions from other networks and studios. There's no better example of that this week than the two latest shows to debut on Netflix: Killing Eve and Black Sails.

Killing Eve was a BBC America original spy thriller that was already a hit on cable, and is finding an even bigger audience as it climbs the list of the most popular shows on Netflix. Starz's TV-MA pirate series Black Sails isn't far behind. And while Black Sails only had modest ratings on Starz, it may also reach a far wider audience than ever before.

Read more