Alibi V.25 No.49 • Dec 8-14, 2016 

Idiot Box

Hangry Games

“3%” on Netflix

Perhaps in a bid to seal its worldwide dominance, Netflix has begun greenlighting original series from around the globe. In the last year, the streaming network has snapped up series from Mexico (“Club de Cuervos”), France (”Marseille”) and Japan (“Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”). The latest series to join Netflix’s multicultural party is the Brazilian-born sci-fi series “3%,” and it’s a good example of Netflix’s goal of busting across borders in the name of entertainment. No mere south-of-the-border telenovela, “3%” is a paranoia-driven, social science fiction drama for today’s divided world.

Dystopian future settings are nothing out of the ordinary for young adult literature. Up until now, however, it’s mostly been tough but sensitive teenage girls caught in a romantic triangle between two hunky boys who’ve done the majority of the work overthrowing fascist future governments. With “3%,” grown-ups get a shot at the Hunger Games/Divergent/Maze Runner action. According to this show’s slightly vague setup, near-future society (or at least near-future Brazilian society) will be divided into two distinct groups. “Offshore” is an island paradise inhabited by only the most worthy members of society. “Inland” is an impoverished urban ghetto crowded with the starving dregs of society. But, as is par for the course, there’s a way for Inland dwellers to escape. Every so often, citizens can apply to take part in “The Process.”

Candidates are dressed in color-coded uniforms and put through a series of physical, mental and psychological challenges. Those who fail are kicked out and sent back to Inland. Allegedly, only the top 3 percent will make it through the trials. Those who do get to move to Offshore, where wealth, beauty, high-tech health care and maybe even flying cars are commonplace.

“3%” starts by introducing us to a crop of desperate candidates going through The Process. Chief among them are idealistic Michele (Bianca Comparato), wheelchair-bound Fernando (Michel Gomes), hardass Joana (Vaneza Oliveira) and egocentric Rafael (Rodolfo Valente). Each episode finds them enduring tougher and tougher tests. The challenges here are more puzzle-like than gladiatorial, making the show less visceral and more intellectual than some of its predecessors. Like any good reality show, everyone’s supposed to be working as a team, but the elimination thing seems to encourage all manner of cheating and backstabbing. Flashbacks reveal bits of each character’s backstory and their various reasons for wanting to escape Inland. One of them—naturally—is a secret rebel infiltrator bent on bringing down the entire Process. But the backbone of the show’s eight-episode arc is its Hunger Games-meets-“Survivor” narrative.

Ramping up tension from the other direction is the fact that the current overseer of The Process, Ezequiel (João Miguel, the creepy Brazilian version of Wil Wheaton), is being investigated by his bosses back on Offshore. Sure, he seems like a perfect sadistic jerk—but, like everybody else, he’s got a secret.

Visually speaking, “3%” lacks a large budget and fancy special effects. (It all pretty much takes place in a glassy office building and a few Brazilian favelas.) It also doesn’t have the kill-or-be-killed action driving a lot of the other selections in this category. Still, this character-driven dystopian thriller has got enough of a hook to keep viewers binge-watching until the surprising season climax.

“3%” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.