3%, Netflix’s futuristic sci-fi thriller in which countless twenty-year-olds undergo a ruthless elimination process in hopes of becoming part of an elite few with access to their holy land, appears destined to remain in viewers’ queues unfinished or unwatched.
Adapted from creator Pedro Aguilera’s made-for-TV movie of the same name, 3% is Netflix’s first entirely Brazilian production, and no doubt a byproduct of the streaming service’s success with the crime drama Narcos. The eight-episode first season, looking to capitalize on its timely themes and painfully deliberate diversity, showcases a wealth of well-intentioned observations and opinions on modern society and governing bodies. And yet, the series ultimately fails to produce the compelling, compassionate, bone-deep commentary its setup could elicit.
In a not-too-distant dystopian future, the show opens as some combination of overpopulation and lack of a sustainable food and/or water supply have led to slum-like living conditions for all. The details of how this squalor came to be are noticeably absent from the first season, which feels unfortunate, considering it would’ve allowed viewers to take firmer hold of the show’s premise. There is hope for the poverty-stricken, however, as each year a fresh group of twenty-year-olds are herded into a cutting-edge testing facility to take part in the “Process” for a slim chance to be transported and acculturated into an idyllic hive known as the “Offshore.”
Created by an unnamed founding couple, the “Offshore” is a veritable paradise – or so says the government. In actuality, very little is divulged when discussing the utopia’s specifics. Presumably a sign of good faith with the Inland, the specifications of how this treaty came to be between the Inland and Offshore are left unspoken. The “Offshore” allows for a small group of new arrivals who’ve survived the “Process” to inhabit this safe haven for the rest of their days.
Very little is presented about how the “Process” came to fruition. All viewers will know for sure is that a series of mental and physical challenges are administered to the willing combatants, which one may be asked to complete alone, in a group, or against their counterparts. Spread out over a few days or so, the tasks are focused on isolating, provoking and improving an array of attributes necessary for life on the “Offshore” that only a select few will merit. The tests become progressively more difficult, often sadistic in nature, and those deemed weak are effectively weeded out or killed.
The “Process” is overseen by Ezequiel (João Miguel), whose methods to ensure uniformity amongst his peers and effectiveness throughout the “Process” are what one might call unorthodox. Be that as it may, Ezequiel and the “Offshore” still have their hands full, with competitors concealing ulterior motives for their participation in the challenges.
Michele (Bianca Comparato), the show’s protagonist, is out to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of the “Process,” while Rafael (Rodolfo Valente), who’s cheated the system, is going through the “Process” for a second time. Fernando (Michel Gomes), Joana (Vaneza Oliveira), and Marco (Rafael Lozano) comprise the remaining group members that the show follows throughout the experience of the “Process.”
With a quartet of directors behind the camera, most notable of which being Cesar Charlone, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer of City of God, it’s easy to see why consistency is an issue for 3%. The show’s ” Process,” thought to be infallible yet wrought with flaws and contradictions, comes pretty close to paralleling 3%‘s inability to convey its own vision, so riddled with issues is this series. Adding to the lackluster storytelling is some shaky CGI, which immediately tarnishes any mystique the show had going for it. It’s disappointing that some strong performances have gone to waste here, some of which come close to inducing deep feeling.
The spawn of a Hunger Games and Stanford Prison Experiment whirlwind romance that ended on bad terms, 3% is less Lord of the Flies and more the teenage book report of said novel. One can’t help but think that a handful of 3%’s episodes would’ve been better spent providing answers to the significant backstory questions that ultimately should never have had to have been asked in the first place.
In the end, there is just far too much missing from 3% for it to succeed as the effective sci-fi allegory it so desperately wants to be.