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Why Netflix’s 3 Body Problem is such a high-stakes project for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Updated Jul 27th, 2023 9:32PM EDT
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Image: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

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You’d think having “Game of Thrones showrunner” on your resume would open almost any door in the entertainment industry. But the creators and showrunners of one of HBO’s biggest hits of all time have nevertheless struggled to find a new win since leaving Westeros behind, with at least two major post-Thrones projects for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss failing to get off the ground over the past several years. Fortunately, their upcoming Netflix series 3 Body Problem looks to have all the makings of a hit.

Set to debut on Netflix in January 2024, 3 Body Problem boasts a star-studded cast and brings to life one of the most celebrated sci-fi novels of all time (from Chinese author Liu Cixin). The optimistic view here is that this is the perfect IP to tackle for two creators who’ve been searching since 2019 for their next hit — while, at the same time, the cynic in me also can’t help but remember what happened the last time Benioff and Weiss got their hands on material from a beloved author with a devoted fanbase.

The showrunners

The misfires and failures that Weiss and Benioff have encountered since Thrones ended included an HBO series that was killed before it even got off the ground. Confederate, from Weiss and Benioff, was to be an alternative history story that envisioned what might have happened had the Confederacy won the US Civil War. A series that portrays the dissolution of the Union and depicts slavery still rampant, run by two white guys? Who could have foreseen the problems there?

Weiss and Benioff, meanwhile, were also in talks for a minute there to helm a new Star Wars trilogy, though not much is known about where they would have taken audiences in the galaxy far, far away. The creators were rumored, at least, to have an interest in delving into the origins of the Jedi.

That brings us to their forthcoming Netflix series, 3 Body Problem.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, shown at the 2020 Netflix SAG After Party. Image source: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Netflix

What is the 3 Body Problem Netflix series about?

Certainly, what we’ve seen of 3 Body Problem so far looks absolutely fantastic. I’d even go so far as to say the series looks like it has the potential to deliver the streamer another triumph along the lines of shows like Black Mirror and the cult favorite Dark.

The 3 Body Problem’s story is set during China’s Cultural Revolution. A secretive project involving the military sends out a signal to try and make contact with aliens, and that effort ends up being a success. The signal is picked up by an alien race that’s imploding, and it decides to invade Earth — which sets off all sorts of squabbles and creates divisions between those who, for example, want to fight the invaders and those who want to help.

“It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.”

Liu Cixin, 3 Body Problem

Fans of the book include celebrities like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, and President Barack Obama.

As for the Netflix series, it will consist of eight episodes and has a cast that includes Liam Cunningham, Eiza Gonzalez, Benedict Wong, and Jonathan Pryce. Alexander Woo co-created the series with Weiss and Benioff, and is an executive producer and writer.

3 Body Problem book seriesImage source: Netflix

The significance of the title

In simple terms, by the way, the title of the novel and the forthcoming Netflix series refers to a phenomenon in physics involving three particles/masses/bodies with mutual gravitational interactions. The “problem” refers to the fact that there’s no simple or generic way to model the movement of those three entities — the three-body problem, basically, is about predicting their future orbits.

I haven’t read the novel, but it seems that the title here is also being used metaphorically. The “three bodies” of the title, for example, could also refer to the interplay between the alien race and the competing factions on Earth. Additionally, you can see how the difficulty of modeling three bodies or entities can also be applied outside the realm of physics.

The former head of US Strategic Command — which, among other things, is responsible for nuclear deterrence — told the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., last year that STRATCOM is furiously “rewriting deterrence theory” to account for a three-party nuclear status quo between nation-states. He was referring, of course, to the relationship between the US, Russia, and China, and the rub lies in the fact that modern physics doesn’t even know how to model the three-body problem, yet crisis planners have to figure out some way to do so within the context of game theory and various nuclear scenarios.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.