Binge or No? Netflix’s 3%
Though it may have been ever-so-slightly overshadowed by a certain other Netflix series whose name may or may not rhyme with “Shmilmore Shmirls”, November 25th brought with it the debut of 3%, an eight-episode Brazilian series that may not be quite as innovative as it believes itself to be, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging or timely.
Imagine a world where the economic elite build a wall to keep out the lower economic classes, and then take it one step further by putting an entire island’s length between a small percentage of rich privileged folks, and the poor underprivileged masses who make up the societal majority. Crazy, right? Unfortunately, not in this day and age.
At first blush (and second, and third), 3% is a dystopian young adult fantasy, the likes of which you’ve seen before in countless successful novel trilogies and films. The premise is simple: at some point in the not-so-distant future, society alters itself in some way that it believes will increase the peace among the people. So a group of young attractive folks of varied social backgrounds and dubious moral compositions must compete with one another to prove they’re worthy of living in the upper echelons of this new society.
What’s refreshing (albeit a bit frightening) about 3%’s view of future dystopian society is that, unlike some of its predecessor’s visions (a society based on individuals’ possession of singular random personality traits? Huh? A society based on the fact that rich people, with terrible taste in clothing, get their kicks out of watching poor teenagers murder one another? What?), this series’ premise actually seems fairly plausible.
In short, this is a future society based at least ostensibly on merit. Every year, all the 20 year olds in the poor part of the world (“The Inland”) compete with one another in a series of mental, physical, psychological, emotional, and team-building tests known as “The Process”. Those who score in the top three percent on those tests get to join the world of the elite on an island referred to as “The Offshore.”
I even liked how the tests involved in “The Process” actually required some intelligence, leadership, and cooperative thinking, and weren’t just about people beating the crap out of one another.
This is not to say that I think the fictional society created in 3% is a good idea. In fact, the series takes great pains to show you that it’s not. Specifically, like any form of society premised upon separating the haves from the have-nots, it breeds corruption among those in power. It also seems to reward those most capable of deception, manipulation, and at times outright violence, at the expense of those individuals who are honest and more docile.
And of course, like many series involving a dystopian society, this one includes a rebellious faction, hell-bent on overthrowing the current status quo in exchange for something “better”. In 3%, these folks are referred to as “The Cause”.
But unlike some of the more simplistic dystopian stories, 3% is a bit less black-and-white in how it views its society. In fact, the arguable main villain of the story, Ezequiel, the person responsible for creating and running the process whereby the 3% are ultimately selected, is easily the most complex, multi-faceted, and interesting character in the series. Likewise, the members of “The Cause,” the would- be heroes of a tale like this, are shown to have some dubious, and less than noble motivations of their own for doing the things they do.
Character is something 3% offers in abundance. There are some juicy intriguing characters here, ones that don’t fall into the pat stereotypes that tend to pervade this particular genre. The episodes are structured in the now-familiar format made popular by the TV series Lost. Namely, each character (at least the important ones) get their own “centric” episode, which flashes back to key moments of their past, before whisking them back to the present in the Process, thereby illuminating how their experiences in the former dictate or inform their actions in the latter.
To keep you entertained and guessing, the series also offers some clever twists along the way. Some of which you will guess quite easily early on, even before the characters do. Others may genuinely surprise you.
One of the things I enjoyed (particularly about the earlier episodes of the series) was the fact that, since I didn’t know any of these actors and I wasn’t reading a book about them told from a first-person perspective, I was never entirely sure which participants in the Process would be eliminated in a particular episode. In fact, more than once, a character I thought would be important to the story suffered an early elimination and became a complete non-entity.
I would be remiss not to mention that the actors in 3% speak in Brazilian Portuguese. So if that’s not your first language, some adjustments will have to be made before beginning the series on Netflix. A number of dubbing options including English are available. But the message boards are informing me that the English dubbing kind of sucks. Therefore, I recommend watching 3% as I did, in its native tongue, with your chosen language as subtitles. I promise it won’t detract from your viewing pleasure.
Another caveat: Given the heavy amount of exposition generally required for the world-building of dystopian series like this one, I found the first episode of 3% to be a bit slow-moving, and some of the dialogue to be unnatural at best, and clichéd at worst. If you feel as I did after watching episode #1, I recommend trying episode #2 anyway. It gets better.
In Summation: 3% offers up many of the structural, thematic, and narrative devices you’ve come to expect from dystopian young adult stories. However, its use of a plausible premise that will have you and your friends debating the merits of a sociological oligarchy based on merit, complex characters, and clever plotting overrides some of its more clichéd aspects for an entertaining and intelligent viewing experience, provided you’ve selected the proper subtitle settings prior to viewing.
Final Answer: Binge it!