Realms Podcast
3 Body Problem: It's got some problems, but a bad plot ain't one!

3 Body Problem: It's got some problems, but a bad plot ain't one!

Should you watch this sci-fi epic?

Hello and Welcome to Realms!

Realms is a fantasy and sci-fi newsletter. I am the writer and narrator of this publication. I consume tons of sci-fi and fantasy media that I think everyone should know about. In these two genres, I’ll be reviewing books, video games, podcasts, films, and TV shows.

And just like Realms’ short stories, you’ll get reviews once a month. Never on the same week as a short story. 

And here’s what I offer with my reviews:

  • A short, spoiler-free summary

  • My take and thoughts

  • Whether or not it’s worth your time 

  • Notable quotes or moments. 

  • And finally, I’ll give it a score 

  • Speaking of…I’m stealing my scoring system from fighting video games. From best to worst, it goes: Z, S, A, B, C, D. 

from netflix

Let’s get on ahead with today’s review!

3 Body Problem: Hard Sci-fi for Western Viewers

The Overview

Netflix’s 3 Body Problem, directed by D&D (David Benioff, D.B. Weiss), is a wonderful adaption of very complicated, high-science material. This series takes the novel The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, and brings it to life in an enjoyable, yet notably more western way. There’s a lot of mixed press about this series, but I’m here to tell you that it’s very well done. A great entry in Netflix’s sci-fi empire (though I think Apple TV+ is edging them out more and more.)

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the show, as I read the books and loved them, and many reviews were blasting the show for being terrible. But I read one that convinced me otherwise, and after watching the show myself, I’m happy to have dived in. Now, I can add my own thoughts to the mix. 

3 Body Problem is a great achievement for TV viewers everywhere. What you might not know is that the source material is hard sci-fi, which means science fiction that is grounded more in science than anything else. Character motivations, complex emotions, and more take a back seat to delivering high concepts from science. If you watched the show, you got drip-fed bits of physics, science, and technology; in the books, it’s an unstoppable freight train of those things. 

That’s why, for me, the Netflix show is so well done. It takes the sci-fi concepts I really loved in the novels and condenses and refines them, though I do think there could have been a smidge more, as there seemed to be quite a bit of fluff in the show, like long exposition shots, scenes of characters walking or driving, etc. Less of this, more sci-fi weirdness, please. 

On the note of character development, 3 Body Problem handles the ensemble cast well. It gives you just the right amount of each character, and develops their inter-relationships. It helps make the show feel realistic and grounded. Characters talk to each other and actually listen, which is a detail I appreciate in my shows. The characters all want things, too, which should be a given, but isn’t in today’s crowded show lineup. 

Other excellent things include: special effects, camera work, and editing. Nothing really took me out of the world of the show in these areas. 

The Problems

Now to talk about the imperfections that did impact my experience. For one, and this appears to be a uniquely Netflix issue, is the lack of bright colors in the show. I’ve done some digging into this after seeing a lack of color and contrast in multiple Netflix shows. You can read more about this here. Netflix has standards for all of its own shows, understandably, but this standard of filmmaking leaves my eyes craving bright colors and firm textures. Everything tends to be muted, desaturated, and even when the filming is crisp, it lacks weight. Compare Netflix shows to others, and you can spot the differences. Marvel has a similar issue with its own films. 

One issue I take with 3 Body Problem is the near-total westernization of its cast and storyline. In the novels, a majority of the plot takes place in China, with some international movement and involvement. The creators changed this for obvious reasons: to make the show more palatable to Netflix’s audience, to make it more diverse and representative, and probably so they didn’t have to content with too much disagreement from Chinese authorities. 

I get the changes. I get why they blended the book’s characters with new backgrounds, and even inventing new characters to serve the television’s story better. I’m not against changes like this as long as they help the story be stronger. In this case, I’m not sure they do.

In the first book, we see China during its cultural revolution, this is the inciting incident that gets the whole story going. In the show, however, these incidents move one of the main characters, Ye Wenjie, out of China. This effectively eliminates a big question at the heart of the books: what is the purpose of absolute authority? In the book, the characters struggle with an autocratic communist state, then, when the alien threat becomes apparent, that same state mobilizes its power to counteract that threat. Its power is justified in many ways. The show does not wager this particular question in the same clear, powerful way. There is mystery, action, great storytelling, and questions of humanity’s place in the universe, but it is missing that extra punch. It’s missing “the sauce” so to speak. 

I hope that season two can incorporate these deeper themes and questions. They’re relevant to today, as we ourselves are wrestling with our governments and the power that they have, from taxation to individual rights to healthcare. The highest goal the sci-fi genre can achieve is to encourage reflection on our reality. Even though this show is on Netflix, an organism that seeks to addict us to content consumption, the core story of The Three Body Problem doesn’t exist to be mindlessly consumed. 

We’ll see if the next season can spoon-feed us less and challenge us more.

Anyway, time to give 3 Body Problem a rating: 

A - a beautiful sci-fi epic that outshines many other Netflix shows and films. It has its faults, but they’re not glaring by any means. 

Did you watch 3 Body Problem? What did you think? Did you also read the books? How did the adaptation work or not? Let me know!

Leave a comment

Thank you for reading!

Until next time, Realm Walkers, 

This is Zach and you’re reading Realms.

Realms Podcast
Escape the real world for a better one. Realms produces original sci-fi and fantasy short stories and reviews - releasing once a month. Follow this podcast to get updates or subscribe at to get episodes directly in your inbox.