Looking for a delightful streaming show to chase those post-holiday blues away? Netflix has you covered, and no, it isn't a sequel/mashup called Bird Box Bandersnatch 2: The College Years. Guillermo del Toro's next installment in the animated Tales of Arcadia saga is here— what he and his companions began in Trollhunters (one of the most underrated shows around) he continues in 3Below: Tales of Arcadia.
The show takes us across the stars to the planet Arkaridion-5, where Princess Aja (Tatiana Maslany) and Prince Krel (Diego Luna) are forced to flee after an intergalactic dictator stages a coup. They escape aboard a sentient mothership (voiced by Glenn Close) along with their guardian, Varvatos Vex (Nick Offerman), and their alien dog, Luug. They have to hide, so the mothership (or "Mother") chooses a planet that is so out of the way (and awful) that they will never be found. Lo and behold, Mother chooses a "mudball" called Earth, a place literally "named after dirt."
So to Earth they go, and in order to to blend in when going outside (and not appear like the shimmery, four-armed aliens they really are), Mother disguises them as three Earth beings that no one will notice — Aja as a girl, Krel as a Latino boy, and Vex as a senior citizen.
Of course they land in the town of Arcadia, and as we know from Trollhunters, the place already sees its fair share of crazy stuff. The show has everything you'd expect from a del Toro project: humor, heart, great action, subversion, and a huge amount of fun. One moment it's stating a double message about our heroes being illegal aliens, and the next moment Luug is farting laser beams. With a lesser team in place, such tonal shifts might give you some serious whiplash, but with del Toro, Rodrigo Blaas, Marc Guggenheim, and Chad Hammes at the helm, the ship always flies like a dream.
There's a lot (seriously, a lot) of new programming that is being offered right now, so here's why 3Below: Tales of Arcadia deserves to be at the top of your queue... just in case the alien dog farting laser beams didn't get it there already.
When the show held its panel at New York Comic Con 2018, del Toro said that Maslany, Emmy-winning star of the fantastic, clone-filled Orphan Black, is "one of the best actresses working." He was absolutely right about this. Maslany's Aja Tarron (don't call her a Princess, call her a Queen-in-waiting) is the shining spirit of the series, providing laughs, cries, cheers, and whimsical quirks by the shipload.
If you've seen Orphan Black, then you've witnessed Maslany's ability to master every accent and embody almost every kind of character... often in scenes opposite herself, too. Aja doesn't feel like any of them; in fact, she sounds so unique that you don't recognize that it's Maslany behind the character at all.
It's not a case of the performance being a little Helena with a touch of Katja (like she would ever do that), it's all just pure Aja. Maslany also voices Aja's mother (something I had no idea about until I looked at the credits), and yes, there's at least one scene in which Aja talks to her mother, and once again Maslany is in a scene with herself, fully disappearing into both roles. I don't care if I'm gushing — attention must be paid.
Of the two Tarron siblings, Aja is the warrior. She doesn't fit in on her home planet, and she doesn't fit in on Earth. Throughout the series she learns that this doesn't matter, Aja's just gonna do Aja, and Maslany instantly charms you to such a degree that we wouldn't want to change a digital hair on Aja's head. The show is lucky to have Maslany (any show/film/play would be), who makes Aja a smart, butt-kicking, kooky-as-hell fish out of water that I will never stop rooting for. Aja Tarron isn't just an ideal role model for young girls — she's an ideal role model for everyone.
NICK OFFERMAN AND THE GLORIOUS ARC OF VEX
Thankfully this show doesn't need to coast on Maslany's perfection — very far from it. Nick Offerman's Varvatos Vex is the stuff of dreams: a space warrior full of blood and bluster, whether or not he's in the body of an old man with a cane taken right out of Up. Vex kind of tries to get accustomed to Earth culture, but has far less respect for it than his charges do. Whether he's fighting off bounty hunters or playing chess with some "geezers" in the park, Offerman offers up almost every line like a Klingon who's had one too many speedballs.
I say almost because the over-the-top warrior act is not all there is to Vex. His story arc takes him to some unexpected places as details about him get uncovered as the series progresses. His moments in the finale of this first season are some of the best in the show, and they provide a tremendous payoff for Vex as well as the season as a whole. Offerman fans will be in heaven, and Ron Swanson-specific fans will be there too. If Vex doesn't make you crack even the smallest smile, check yourself for a pulse. He is, to use his own word, "GLORIOUS!!!!!"
LITERALLY EVERY OTHER CAST MEMBER
Even without Maslany and Offerman, this show has a truly insane cast that is out of this world. Special mention has to go to Diego Luna as Krel, the scientific genius of this brother/sister duo. Close makes "Mother" another A.I. for the books, and wouldn't you know it... none other than Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) is in the mix too, playing another warrior from Aja and Krel's homeworld.
That's not all! Tom Kenny (SpongeBob himself) and Cheryl Hines are brilliant as a set of mistakenly retro robot parents right out of the 1950s, and you also have the brilliant Nick Frost (The World's End, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) on hand. Still not enough? You also get Ann Dowd, Uzo Aduba, and Chris Obi. You also have some Arcadia residents that we know from Trollhunters drop in, most notably Steven Yeun as Steve Palchuk. Aja kicks the former bully in the face, and let's just say he falls for her instantly.
If you watched Trollhunters (and seriously, you really should), then you technically already met Aja and Krel in the third season — they are the weird exchange students that Jim and his pals have to entertain for an episode. We see the same overlap happen here, but from Aja and Krel's perspective. It turns out there was a lot more going on than we had originally thought.
The entirety of 3Below's first season takes place during Season 3 of Trollhunters, and it fits in perfectly. Not only do Jim, Claire, Toby, Blinky, and AAARRRGGHH!!!! show up a few times, but plenty of references are made to their escapades. The season finale takes place at the same time as the huge Trollhunters finale, and for a moment the two shows become one... before diverging on their own paths once again. It isn't distracting in the least — it is thrilling. It is, yeah, gonna say it again, GLORIOUS!!!!
SPACE DESIGN AND ACTION TO THE MAX, JACK
I've touched on it briefly, but the action in this show is sizzling. Our heroes wield devices that can turn into a swords, spears, shields, or laser guns... that versatility alone gives every action moment a certain kinetic frenzy. From the initial mothership escape to the final moments in Arcadia, the action is fast, furious, and never confusing.
The artwork and design of the show is incredible, and it does for sci-fi what Trollhunters did for fantasy. The design of Arkaridion-5 alone is worth your streaming subscription. Since the show is very much a fusion of a sci-fi epic and a fairy tale, there is quite a lot of dueling (lively), and every single one of them is masterfully staged. When the time comes to punch up the sci-fi action with a space chase, the show perfectly captures that too. Did I mention that Aja has a holographic hoverboard? Well, she does. Again, everything is quick and merciless, but you always know who and what is where.
As del Toro once described it, it's not eye candy — it's eye protein.
THAT GUILLERMO DEL TORO FEELING
When the great del Toro isn't scaring the hell out of you, his projects have a tendency to wrap themselves around you like the warmest blanket ever created. Such is the case with this show. There is a huge sense of joy behind the creation of it, just like the joy that embodies del Toro himself. It is an infectious joy, and you can't help but be caught up in it.
If you let it, the show will wrap you in its space opera/fairy tale blanket of crazy joy and make you feel like everything's okay. Yes, it's animated, and that alone will cause a lot of people to dismiss it as "cartoon fluff" for children. While it certainly is kid-friendly, there are things here for everyone, no matter how old you are. The characters and the story transcend the animation, and in the end the entire enterprise boils down to a rather poignant story about immigration. I don't care what medium is being utilized, great storytelling is great storytelling.
Del Toro invests everything he works on with love as well as joy, and his collaborators have taken that love and crafted something gorgeous, inspirational, special and, it bears repeating, FUN. It's probably already clear that you'll be a fan of this show if you're a Trollhunters fan, but knowledge of that show isn't essential. It would certainly add to the enjoyment, but it's definitely possible to engage with this show on its own. There's nothing quite like that classic del Toro feeling (patent pending), and 3Below will pump a direct infusion of it directly into your veins.
The best thing of all— this is not the only season (or "part") of this show that we'll be getting. We thought that the team was moving on to Wizards: Tales of Arcadia next — that show will involve everything we've yet seen that is Arcadia-based — but del Toro made it clear on Twitter that the 3Below story itself is not finished. When a fan tweeted asking for more, del Toro responded with, "Second season ALMOST ready!! And then — WIZARDS!!"
Does this mean that we'll get another batch of 3Below episodes before Wizards? Will Wizards come out, be followed by more 3Below, and then even more Wizards? The timing isn't clear at the moment, and we don't know how much of each show they will be making. The only thing I know for certain is that I hope that they make as much of the Tales of Arcadia series as humanly possible. It is, as Aja of House Tarron would say, lively! It is also, uh huh, GLORIOUS!
3Below: Tales of Arcadia is streaming on Netflix right now. Do you like fun? If so, then jump on Aja's holographic hoverboard and get streaming.