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‘3%’ boasts a crisp script and compelling characters

(bmarks50/flickr)

The young adult dystopian genre seemed to have reached its commercial nadir when the final movie in the “Divergent” series was relegated to a television spot, instead of the big screen. However, despite the increasingly poor commercial returns of the genre, Netflix ordered the dystopian thriller “3%” in Aug. 2015.

Created by Pedro Aguilera, the eight-episode first season illustrates a fictional world in which 3 percent of the population is given the chance to leave their impoverished lives behind – but only if they can pass a grueling selection process.

Originally billed as the Brazilian take on the “Hunger Games” series, “3%” transcends this condescending label and establishes its own credibility as a unique dystopian story.

Budget restraints are seemingly the biggest setback for this series that otherwise boasts enthralling characters, noteworthy stylistic choices and a good grip on the social consequences set forth by the narrative.

The world in “3%” is rigidly split between the haves and the have-nots.  Those fortunate enough to pass through a process called, well, “The Process,” are allotted a peaceful, wealthy lifestyle in a mystical, Elysium-esque paradise known as “The Offshore.” Failing any of the physical, mental, or emotional challenges in The Process means a return to the destitute existence on what is dubbed The Inland. The tests are given each year to poor citizens at the age of 20 and are designed to allow only the most desirable people into The Offshore. These “desirables” are the 3 percent.

Of course, there is more going on under the surface. Every participant has their own agenda and fixation going into The Process; some want a better life for their family whilst others want to prove their worth to their peers and loved ones.

We are also introduced to a rebel group known as “The Cause,” which claims to fight for the people and aims to take down the whole system from the inside. Eventually, we become aware that some of the characters we are following may be working with The Cause.

The first Netflix original series to come from Brazil, “3%” unfortunately suffers from a lack of resources, having only an estimated $3 million budget. The series has its fair share of believable advanced technology and futuristic sequences, but the set design is relatively simplistic and resembles nothing more than an office building shot from many different angles. It pales in comparison to the ornate production design of Netflix’s “The Crown,” which had a $130 million budget. Still, there is enough substance and talent to sustain the world being created here.

It obviously helps to have César Charlone, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of the gorgeous “City of God,” in the director’s chair. His hand gives the series a distinguishable style, allowing the audience to ignore many of the obvious hindrances that accompany the lack of available funds.

Strongly written characters and compelling portrayals stand out as the series’ greatest accomplishments. João Miguel’s performance is distinctive and convincing as Ezequiel, The Process’ leader, as he copes with the past and struggles to maintain the integrity of the competition.

Bianca Comparato delivers an impressive, complex performance as Michele, a young woman unsure of where her loyalties lie. Michel Gomes is also astonishing as Fernando, a genius who happens to be confined to a wheelchair.

Another highlight of the series is the crisp pacing from start to finish, and the well-timed twists that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The solid storytelling from Charlone and his team of writers maintains the show’s intrigue, as they never seem to dwell too long on its numerous subplots.

A strength – as well as one of the show’s biggest weaknesses – is that there appears to be a lot of mystery surrounding just about everything aside from The Process itself. In other words, we are never given a larger picture of the world that “3%” takes place in. Perhaps it is another setback caused by the budget issues, but the world-building that is normally quite vital to these series leaves something to be desired.

“3%” deserves to be seen not only because it is the first Netflix original series to be produced in Brazil, but also because it is one of the best shows on television right now. A terrific cast and well-rounded story more than make up for even the show’s most obvious flaws. The show has a lot of promise, and hopefully can continue with the momentum it currently possesses in its second season.

Daniel Monahan can be reached at dmonahan@umass.edu.

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