Netflix's gripping dystopian drama 3% is worth catching up with

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Of all of Netflix's exclusive, original dramas, 3% is arguably one of the most criminally overlooked and underrated.

Originally landing in 2016, its first season picked up a positive critical response but seemed to pass the vast majority of viewers by. A shame, as this dystopian Brazilian series is a riveting watch.

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With season two almost upon us, it's the perfect time to take the plunge and catch up. This is a sci-fi thriller with real intrigue.

More than meets the eye

3% takes place in a literally divided society, where the vast majority of the population live in poverty-stricken slums on the mainland, while the titular 3% - judged to be the elite - live in a glittering, futuristic utopia known as the Offshore.

The rub here, however, is that everyone residing in the Offshore has allegedly gained access on merit. Every 20-year-old on the mainland has the opportunity to win their place and attain a better life via the 'Process', a mental, physical and psychological ordeal designed to discover the few judged worthy of entry.

Those who succeed can look forward to a previously unthinkable level of luxury. Those who fail are never eligible to try again.

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The characters of 3% are put through their paces as they try to qualify for a "better side" of society (Photo: Netflix)

3% follows a new batch of hopefuls as they embark on the Process, encountering a series of challenges designed to test the candidates to breaking point.

The main protagonist is resourceful orphan Michele, whose brother apparently died while going through the Process.

Other key competitors include the sensitive, wheelchair bound Fernando, the streetwise Joana and the underhand Rafael.

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But while some of these people seem almost cliched in their personas to begin with, there is far more to them than meets the eye.

Brazil's answer to The Hunger Games

If that sounds a little Hunger Games esque, then rest-assured 3% certainly takes a leaf out of the recent trend for cinematic 'Young Adult' sci-fi.

It's definitely at the higher end of the pack in that regard though. Over the course of its initial eight episodes, there are copious surprises and revelations.

The Process's taxing, unpredictable nature is riveting throughout. It starts with simple Krypton Factor esque puzzle-solving, and ends with psychological warfare and nightmarish tunnel-runs. Not to mention one especially tense Lord Of The Flies style segment, where the youngsters are stuck in a confined space together with limited supplies, and the veneer of civilisation collapses altogether.

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It's fascinating to get to know the characters as they plough through the various tasks (or don't), forging friendships and making enemies as they go. Along the way, flashbacks fill in often surprising and usually fascinating gaps, giving greater insight into each of the main players, and why they feel and act the way they do.

Because of this, even the most selfish or flawed individuals get a significant level of context, and the glimpses into their pasts are often as compelling as the ordeals that are taking place in the present.

To make matters even more engaging, an underground terrorist movement is seeking to sabotage the established order; and any of this year's crop of hopefuls might be an infiltrating agent.

Moral complexity, and a great villain

There are moments of genuine shock and despair along the way, as well as genuine warmth and tenderness too.

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The Process's overseer Ezequiel, meanwhile, makes for a delicious villain.

For much of the first season he is tantalisingly ambiguous - capable of sadistic manipulation and cruelty, but also as willing to drag down arrogant bullies as he is to back the underdogs he sees potential in, despite remaining underhand and ruthless throughout.

Added to that, his own personal and professional life turn out to have a lot of interesting things going on. He definitely has his own demons to contend with.

Ezequiel is a thoroughly detestable yet consistently fascinating antagonist (Photo: Netflix)

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3% frequently revels in ethical questions and moral complexity. For example, in theory the Process does not discriminate at all based on class, gender or race - and no one has a birth-right to live in the Offshore. Is it not then the ultimate form of meritocracy?

Its Brazilian roots also lend an additional level of cultural significance and weight to the proceedings, from its diverse cast to the vibrant score, to the distinctly favela-like aesthetic of the mainland society. Never mind the biting social commentary.

There's just over two weeks to go until it returns - plenty of time to binge the excellent first season before it does.

3% season one is available to watch on Netflix now. Season two is released in full on Friday April 27.

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