Attractive young people fighting for revolution in dystopian hell-holes was the hottest YA sub-genre of the late Noughties, but after the success of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, a slew of movie adaptations brought with them a case of diminishing returns.
When it was announced this summer that the Divergent franchise would be cut short and dumped to television following its latest box office flop, it was hard not to question whether the genre had anywhere left to go. Thanks to Netflix, we now know it just packed its bags and headed to South America.
3% is the latest experiment in original foreign content for the streaming service, and Netflix’s first for Brazil. Adapted from a 2011 YouTube series, the show is set in a futuristic São Paulo awash with poverty, where state rule dictates that, aged 20, individuals must partake in a series of trials in order to join a neighbouring society of privilege known as The Offshore – a mythical land of supposed opportunity, peace and riches.
In the hopes of being chosen, candidates undergo various tests of mental and physical agility in order to prove their worth. Think Katniss Everdeen on a very special episode of The Apprentice.
With its tortured female lead and perpetually capitalised references to vague MacGuffins like The Offshore, The Process and The Cause, 3% is, narratively speaking, largely something you’ve seen before. But the Brazil locale is initially intriguing, enough at least to separate the show from its big-budget peers. Characters occupy enormous, ragtag favelas, neighbourhood cranks are outfitted in spiderwebs of multi-coloured fabric, and an oppressive wall keeping the 97% firmly shut away feels decidedly relevant for 2016.
But, disappointingly, it all proves merely incidental long-term, as the show’s look and style quickly transform into an identikit pastiche of rival Hollywood dystopias. Unique wardrobes are subbed for shiny mesh military garb; interior design is uniformly grey and gloomy; villains can never enter a room, but rather are beamed into them via Godzilla-sized holograms.
What saves the show are an intriguing set of protagonists, notably a grouchy street-thief fighting for redemption, and a wheelchair-bound genius attracted to The Offshore due to its promises of a cure. But while 3% seems more creatively invested in mining their characters for emotional drama than it does exploring the inner workings of The Offshore, it also devotes most of its time to the latter, leading to a series frustratingly crippled by its own plothole-laden mythology.
3% wants to be a story about privilege and the groups rendered voiceless in a capitalist, patriarchal society. But it’s weighed down by its devotion to a genre that often places cold visuals and nonsensical world-building over anything else. Based on the first three episodes, it’s neither as interesting nor as progressive as it seemingly hopes to be. It does, however, have a character whose sole personality trait is her use of an e-cigarette. Which has got to be a first