Review: 3%

Note: this is a spoiler-free review of the show.

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In the future, year 104, the world is divided into to two classes: the poor in the slums, and the rich who live in the Offshore. Every year, all 20-year-old citizens from the slums compete to live in the Offshore. “In The Offshore, all are given equal opportunity to advance.” Proclaims the charismatic leader, Ezequiel. Only 3% of the contestants, candidates, will get to live in Utopia. However, The System is threatened by The Cause. Maybe there was something lost in translation (show is shot in Brazilian Portuguese), but those are the most unoriginal names. Anyway, 3% follows five candidates (Michele, Fernando, Joana, Marco, Rafael) in their quest to become the lucky 3%, and Ezequiel (João Miguel). He’s the almighty Supervisor, who might be working with The Cause.

As an ensemble show, 3% follows a Lost format. Each episode focuses on one character of the ensemble, with flashbacks, and their journey through The Process. Michele (Bianca Comparato), is the secret resistance fighter. Marco (Rafael Lozano) is the vain and relatively well-off candidate. He considers it his birthright to make it to The Offshore, the rest of his family has. Rafael (Rodolfo Valente) is the trickster-type. Fernando (Michel Gomes) is the sweet, paraplegic, who befriends Michele. Joana (Vaneza Oliveira) is the lone wolf.

You also see elements of the Hunger Games, Elysium, Survivor. Candidates must outwit, outlast, and outplay each other to prove themselves worthy to the Administrators. They are given “tests”, like assembling blocks quickly to show high IQ; and successfully making across a tunnel while being dosed with hallucinogens, to prove perseverance, maybe?

From the beginning, the show presents The Process as an invasive and dehumanizing ordeal that only proves the candidates’ willingness to submit to the system. In the pilot, they are put through a questionnaire that is invasive and harsh. It is like a job interview, psychological evaluation, and lie-detector test. They ask a black woman how often she washes her hair. Fernando’s disability is mocked. Michele is hit on by the interviewer and mocked for her attachment to a sentimental object. “Are you worth being saved?” They ask. They are really asking what are the candidates willing to give up. The ones who pass the first stage, must disavow all ties to their former lives.

Despite rigged nature of The Process, some characters are willing to defend this system, like Fernando, the paraplegic who has near-religious faith in the system. The most optimistic character of the show. He firmly believes in the system, and believes in its mission for good, even when confronted of the reality of its unfairness. He believes in self-reliance, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It is admirable, but also frustrating to Michele, who tries to get him to see the injustice. The candidates know they are being watched, yet this doesn’t prevent anyone, Rafael mostly, from cheating. No one is eliminated for cheating. They are eliminated for giving the wrong answers or not completing the test on time.

This is not light escapism. In fact, you may be wishing for escapism from this show. Given the current political climate, this is a show that plays to the worst fears of a totalitarian government, built on ideals of equality and self-reliance. This show might be better if watched once a day, like a miniseries event. One problem is that the 3% is depressing. The demoralizing tests are, well, demoralizing after a while. The subplot of Ezequiel being watched by his superiors is the least interesting part of the show. The Cause is barely mentioned after the pilot. Michele is pushed to the back burner soon. It’s not that all shows have to be upbeat and positive. But for a show that presents a resistance and a revenge story within the pilot, it doesn’t show much interest in either of those.  All of 3% eight episodes are streaming on Netflix.

Recap: The Santa Clarita Diet

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Available on Netflix February 3

Spoilers on the first half

Meet Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore). They sort of like their bland, upper-middle class, Southern California life. Shelia and Joel are real estate agents. They have a surly teenage daughter Abby (Liv Hewson). Their home is between two rival, alpha-male cops Dan and Rick. Dan (Ricardo Chavira) also acts as a one-man homeowner’s association. His wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is phony and bored. His stepson, Eric (Skylar Gisondo) is a nerd and has a crush on Abby. Abby is indifferent.

Their suburban dream is interrupted one morning, when Sheila feels a pain in her lower abdomen. Later while showing a house, she projectile vomits in front of the buyers. It’s worse than The Exorcist. Total faux pas, and everyone pretends they can’t hear her vomiting her insides out in the bathroom for the next ten minutes. Joel finds her in a bathroom that looks like the lobby from The Shining, but with a kale smoothie. She’s also thrown up an organ apparently.

They can’t worry about that too much though, because the new guy, Gary (Nathan Fillion) might steal their big sale. He also shamelessly hits on Sheila in front of Joel. But Sheila kind of likes it. She’s feeling different, a little frisky. She buys a new Range Rover and starts clubbing. Oh, and she can’t feel her heartbeat and craves raw meat.

After consulting Eric, the family concludes that Shelia is “undead.” They’re not using the zed word. They’re not entirely sure what she is; but, just in case, they figure it’s a good idea to keep her fed. They wouldn’t want to see her when she’s hungry.

Speaking of cravings, Gary is thirsting for Sheila. He sneaks up on her in her backward one morning. In a predatory Gaston-y way, tries to get Shelia to have sex with him. It almost works, until Shelia gets hungry. Nathan Fillion has been Marion Craned.

This is a triple-D cocktail: equal parts Desperate Housewives, Dexter, and Death Becomes Her. The first five episodes are binge-worthy. Each episode is about 25 minutes, and while the tonal shifts are awkward, the chemistry between the leads is charming. It’s fun watching Joel and Sheila figuring out how to be serial killers while maintaining their perfect façade.

One criticism is that Sheila isn’t fully set up as a meek suburbanite. Her transformation into a cussing, impulsive realtor doesn’t stick. They rely a little too much on Barrymore’s natural sweetness. It’s a safe tactic, because Drew Barrymore is just adorable, especially when she’s cheerfully making a brain smoothie.

As the uptight and cowardly Joel, Timothy Olyphant veers into manic desperation.  His pasted smile is borderline psychotic. His only outlet is weed, which annoys Sheila. One day, in his impotent rage, he destroys the toaster oven. I wish there was a little more to his character than failed musician. Oh well.

The first half of The Santa Clarita Diet deals with Joel and Sheila trying to find appropriate victims. Joel is trying to figure out what happened to Sheila. Sheila is “following her passion” and “living her best life.” She’s become the neighborhood Oprah. Abby starts having trouble in school. She and Eric become friends. Meanwhile, Dan is snooping around their yard. He thinks there’s something up with the Hammonds.

 

Recap: The OA

Episode 1 “Homecoming”

SPOILERS

What is The OA? A better question is who? Netflix’s new original show promises a sci-fi and fantasy mix that should appeal to fans of The Returned or Stranger Things. The OA pulses with a quiet intensity, which may not be for everyone. An unidentified woman (Brit Marling) is caught on a cell phone jumping off a bridge. She later wakes in a hospital, and is identified as the missing girl, Prairie Johnson. Seven years after her disappearance, she has a strange scar on her back, mysterious powers, and isn’t blind anymore.

She refuses to tell anyone where she was, or how she got her sight back. So, her homecoming is difficult. Her parents, played by Alice Krige and Scott Wilson, struggle with connecting to and protecting their daughter. Was this alien abduction, a cult, or a rift in the time-space continuum?  Prairie says she wasn’t kidnapped; she just left home one day, and was picked up by some woman. She says her jump off the bridge was an attempt to find the people who she was with. Oh yeah, she also doesn’t call herself Prairie anymore, she now goes by, The OA.

OA talks vaguely of this dimension’s sickness and being true to your invisible self. Which seems mysterious for the sake of it. While referring to yourself as an entity is a little annoying, Marling is assured and not overly delicate. Thankfully, The OA doesn’t dwell in the mystery of the premise too long. As soon as she meets the local teenage bully/sociopath-in-training Steve (Patrick Gibson), she recruits him, and four other people, to help her find someone named Homer Roberts. But first, she tells a story.

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OA was not born Prairie Johnson. She was born the scion of a Russian miner. When she was seven, she, and her other rich classmates, almost drowned in a bus accident. She was saved by a woman who exists, possibly, in another dimension. In exchange for going back, the woman took young OA’s sight. Who was this woman? Who is Homer Roberts? How did young OA become Prairie Johnson?

Brit Marling, one half the show’s creator, writer, and producer, is an assured lead. And doesn’t act with any contrived fragility, kind of like a grown-up Eleven. Looking forward to uncovering the mysteries.