One of the most highly anticipated Netflix releases of the year so far is the streamer’s adaptation of 3 Body Problem, the first post-Game of Thrones project from showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (joined this time around by Alexander Woo). The show arrives on the streamer on March 21, following Netflix’s splashy reveal of the trailer at CES 2024 — the company’s first major presence at the annual tech expo in Las Vegas since 2018.
But while fans of the novel on which the show is based will have to wait another month before they can check Netflix’s adaptation, there’s actually a separate adaptation of the book that’s been made into a TV series and is available on three rival streamers. It’s the series Three Body — a 30-episode Chinese adaptation from Tencent, released last year, that’s available to stream on Rakuten Viki, Peacock, and Prime Video right now.
Here’s the plot, courtesy of Viki (which, incidentally, is a great streamer to subscribe to if you watch as many Asian TV shows and movies as I do):
“Wang Miao is one of China’s leading nanomaterials experts. Shi Qiang is a police detective who specializes in counterterrorism. Shi Qiang has learned of strange goings-on that began taking place in the scientific community many years ago, leading to the apparent suicide of a number of leading researchers – and is determined to get to the bottom of this case. Shi Qiang enlists Wang Miao to help investigate.”
Wang Miao agrees to help but soon begins to learn about the existence of a secret organization called The Frontiers of Science. He also starts to get to know an elderly astrophysicist named Ye Wen Jie, the mother of one of the now-dead scientists. “As Wang Miao digs deeper, he makes remarkable discoveries about events from the past, as well as a strange online virtual reality game named “Three-Body.” Could playing this unusual game help him and Shi Qiang unlock the secrets of the suicides — and learn what The Frontiers of Science is really up to?”
The Chinese series was directed by Vincent Yang and Yang Lei. As for the Rakuten Viki streamer, it’s available to anyone to watch for free with ads — or you can watch without ads via Viki Pass Standard for $5.99/month and VikiPass Plus for $9.99/month. Rakuten Viki is available on several platforms, including desktop, mobile, and the web.
Peacock, meanwhile, acquired the rights to Three Body and began airing it just this week (it also remains available to stream on Prime Video). It’s also worth pointing out, again, that this Chinese version of the show stretches across 30 episodes compared to just eight that will be in the Netflix version. That, alone, suggests the American adaptation of this (again, Chinese) story will be vastly different, in terms of fidelity to the plot and leaving this or that aspect of the book unaddressed.
Then again, more episodes doesn’t automatically equal “more faithful” to the story. Tencent’s adaptation, for example, has also been criticized for downplaying and just wholesale leaving out aspects of the book that involve China’s Cultural Revolution. Netflix’s version, whatever flaws it may or may not have, doesn’t shy away from depicting that era.
The Netflix series is also jam-packed with some pretty high-profile actors. Among the cast are Game of Thrones vets like John Bradley and Liam Cunningham, as well as Eiza González, Benedict Wong, and Jonathan Pryce. “The story,” Netflix’s Tudum site explains, “begins in 1960s China when a young woman makes a fateful decision that reverberates across space and time into the present day.
“When the laws of nature inexplicably unravel, a tight-knit group of brilliant scientists must join forces with an unflinching detective to stop humanity’s greatest threat. 3 Body Problem is an epic story that redefines sci-fi drama with its layered mysteries and story of human connection.”