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What to Know About Three-Body, the Acclaimed Chinese Adaptation of The Three-Body Problem

Peacock's latest sci-fi addition is an adaptation of a modern classic.

By Matthew Jackson
The cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.

Peacock has long been a place where viewers can find sci-fi movies and TV shows of all kinds, but this February, a particularly exciting new addition dropped on the service, and we're not just talking about all those Christopher Nolan movies. Just days ago, a series called Three-Body landed all 30 of its episodes on Peacock, marking the American streaming debut of a celebrated Chinese sci-fi drama with roots in a modern classic of the genre. So, what is Three-Body, and why should you check it out? Let's take a closer look.

What Is Three-Body Based On?

Released on Chinese television in 2023, Three-Body is the first released live-action adaptation of The Three-Body Problem, an acclaimed sci-fi novel by Chinese writer Liu Cixin. The first book in his Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, it was originally published as a serialized novel in 2006, and was later collected and released as a single book in China. In 2014, sci-fi novelist Ken Liu translated the book into English, and it was celebrated all over again, winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015. The book was so successful that Liu's two sequels, The Dark Forest and Death's End, were released in English in 2015 and 2016, respectively. 

Set across decades and following a cast of Chinese characters with various backgrounds, concerns, and allegiances, The Three-Body Problem is a complex web of secrets and revelations all revolving around the discovery of an alien civilization just a few light years away from Earth, in a system featuring three suns (hence the "three-body problem" of the title). The chronological narrative begins during China's Cultural Revolution in the mid-20th Century and continues through the present-day, eventually roping in everything from a secret government project to a floating colony with its own army to a virtual reality game with a surprising purpose. It's complicated, to say the least, and Three-Body aims to convey that complexity as faithfully as possible.

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What Is Three-Body?

At 30 episodes, Three-Body represents a very thorough adaptation of Liu's novel, delving deep into the detailed world of the novelist and conveying its broad scope, ambitious storytelling, and wide range of characters. 

The series begins in the present day, where a series of suicides by scientists has investigators concerned. Together, a nanotech expert and a detective aim to figure out what's behind these suicides, and what they have to do with, among other things, a popular video game called Three-Body, which transports players into an alien landscape via virtual reality. What they eventually find is a connection to a decades-old Chinese government project known as Red Coast, which investigated extraterrestrial life and, in the process, discovered an actual alien civilization. 

What this civilization wants and how it relates to humanity is something that's perhaps better left to be discovered while watching the show or reading the book, but suffice to say it has ripple effects down the decades from the point of discovery, and the video game is part of the key to understanding those effects. The very fate of humanity hangs in the balance when it comes to this mystery, and it's possible that a single human holds the key to it all. 

Three-Body is now streaming in its entirety on Peacock.