Television Man | Aidan Morgan

“They say that life is like a box of televisions. You know exactly what you’re going to get: televisions. But they’re very small, because otherwise how would you handle the box? It would be huge! Tiny televisions. Really makes you think.”
Television Gump

3 Body Problem, Netflix’s adaptation of Cixin Liu’s enormously popular novel, arrived last week like a distant signal beamed from an unimaginable distance. Depending on which critic you read or watch, the series — helmed by David Benioff, D.B. Weis (Game of Thrones) and Alexander Woo (The Terror) — is either a stunningly successful reimagining of Liu’s difficult work or the worst thing to happen to our eyeballs since the Trinity detonation.

This discourse suggests hard science fiction fans are no different than Star Wars nerds.

Quiet Tension, Acid Dialogue

Fortunately for you and your eyeballs, I have only read a few chapters of Liu’s novel and do not seem to be infected with the fervour that has reduced our greatest media critics to angry nerds. Therefore I can confidently tell you that Netflix’s 3 Body Problem, a time-bending tale of doom, mystery and messages from space, is Pretty Good and, at points, Very Good.

Unfortunately, to get to those Very Good and Even Great moments, you need to sit through multiple scenes in which characters who clearly love each other do not act on their feelings, a move that eventually curdles the dynamics into a sort of clotted Pudding Of Sadness.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a big bowl of sadness pudding, especially when it’s as tasty as this one.

3 Body Problems’ remarkable scenes and delightfully acid dialogue to help it go down. Benioff and Weiss took numerous lessons from their time on Game of Thrones (yes, the last few seasons were increasingly bad, I know) and learned how to craft a compelling mystery that balances quiet tension with enormous (and sometimes gruesome) set pieces. The dialogue is amusing and the characterization deft enough to produce a prestige TV illusion of depth, even when the stories wander into melodrama.

The cast is uniformly excellent, even if some of the actors are not particularly well served by the script. Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange, Annihilation), who plays an enigmatic security agent nicknamed Da Shi, seems to be having the most fun of anyone. Even as the world spirals further into chaos and the choices faced by characters become increasingly grotesque, he maintains the same world-weary demeanour, dealing from a deck of jaded zingers in a thick Mancunian accent. Every show needs a Tyrion Lannister, and Wong wears the role like a beloved old jacket.

AIN’T NO PARTY LIKE A SHOGUNATE PARTY ‘CAUSE A SHOGUNATE PARTY HAS MOVES, COUNTERMOVES, COUNTER-COUNTERMOVES AND WHOA SOMEONE JUST TOOK A CANNONBALL TO THE FACE

It’s a known fact that a bookshelf in a carpeted and wood-panelled basement, if kept in moist, dark conditions for a sufficient length of time, will eventually sprout a row of yellowing James Clavell novels. The most thumbed-through and water-bloated tome will be Shōgun, Clavell’s 1975 tale of English sailor John Blackthorne’s adventures in feudal Japan.

Shōgun was adapted into an NBC miniseries in 1980, part of a run of prestige historical dramas that followed the success of 1977’s Roots. The series starred Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune and Yoko Shimada, and even though the show’s production values and racial politics have aged poorly, it’s easy to see why it was a massive success. The newest adaptation, airing on Disney+, pulls the original novel’s sensibilities into the 21st century, while giving the production the sheen of modern big-budget television.

The Richard Chamberlain role has gone to Cosmo Jarvis, a British character actor who has probably found his star turn. Jarvis rejects gravitas in favour of a gently comic performance, constantly bumbling his way through the dense gardens of his host’s etiquette. His slow-burning romance with Lady Toda Mariko, played by Anna Sawai (Monarch: Legacy of Monsters), feels like a throwback to an ’80s era miniseries and is enormously fun to watch.

The show, however, belongs to Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine, Avengers: Endgame) as general Yoshii Toranaga. Sanada is one of the most charismatic actors on the planet. He’s been famous in Japan since the 1970s, but it’s a constant mystery to me that he hasn’t netted larger roles in Western film and television. With Shōgun, it feels like Hollywood is finally catching up to the rest of the world.