BINGE-R #19: 3% + Fleabag
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
At a certain point last year – I don’t know, maybe 4pm AEST on Wednesday 9 November – a lot of us started entertaining dystopic fantasies. If you’ve run out of your own visions of a failed future but need more, the timely Brazilian drama 3% might prove satisfying. Set in an unspecified age where the divide between the haves and have nots is fiscally and physically complete, the series is a set of interlocking mysteries that span the intentions of individuals and an unknown society.
The haves live in “the Offshore”, separated from a collapsed mainstream world, but once a year they allow every rag-clad 20-year-old have not to apply for residence in the ultimate job interview; three out of every 100 applicants succeed, never to return. If you’re looking for despairingly detailed world-building, 3% has neither the inclination nor the budget. Like the applicants in “the Process”, you never see what lies beyond their gleaming, anonymous facility, while those doing the testing suggest technocrats instead of soldiers – Gattaca is as influential as the The Hunger Games.
Prodded and punished, the entrants are a typical cross-section that includes the wheelchair-bound Fernando (Michel Gomes), the righteous Michele (Bianca Comparato), and the fierce loner Joana (Vaneza Oliveira). They’re mice in the maze run by the head of the Process, Ezequiel (Joao Miguel), whose inscrutable techniques are being undermined by political infighting, a terrorist group seeking to infiltrate the Offshore, and an internal investigator, Aline (Viviane Porto).
Inequality is engrained in this world, with the drama stemming from what the 20-year-olds will do to leave their impoverished lives behind, while the mystery resides in their slowly revealed motivations and the selection criteria. The tightly plotted episodes keep changing your perspective on the slowly shrinking pool of hopefuls while offering intriguing clarification. “The Offshore offers salvation,” a priest declares during one character’s flashback, and where some want to destroy the Process others worship it.
This is a small, smart show that’s the opposite of a blockbuster – a lot happens in bare rooms and corridors. It doesn’t go full dystopian nightmare, but after several episodes it starts to accrue details and deviations that cleverly tie together like one of Ezequiel’s tests. There’s a second season on the way and I’d recommend trying the first.
Note: 3% screens in dubbed English, which can be distracting. Putting it back to the original Portuguese with English subtitles via the Audio menu may help.
>> Bonus Binge: If you do need the full dystopian movie nightmare try Netflix’s The Road, John Hillcoat’s harrowing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic road journey. If you want a little more momentum and metaphor, Stan has the brilliant Snowpiercer from Bong Joon-ho, where humanity’s remnants survive on a divided train.
Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
A savage comedy of self-loathing scrambling atop melancholy, the British sitcom Fleabag is full of offbeat innovation, scabrous humour and daring technique. It’s a very funny but also frightening show, because you can never quite get a definitive read on its protagonist, a middle-class Londoner nicknamed Fleabag (the show’s creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge), whose life has either imploded or is in the process of doing so. From the first scene she crassly talks to the camera, making you a confessor figure. It makes sense once you realise that her flailing friends and family, barely afloat themselves, aren’t clamouring to offer support.
Fleabag, whose relationships with men are a procession of failings that she endures or sometimes even provokes, doesn’t care for sex, but loves being wanted. The show has the same disregard for convention: it will jump cut to an awkward realisation or edge towards a moment of redemption and then nuke it. The café she started with her late friend, Boo (Jenny Rainsford, in flashbacks), is also failing, so Fleabag rips off customers or triumphantly pilfers from her family. The show is cruelly cathartic: the scenes between Fleabag and her American brother-in-law, Martin (Brett Gelman), in the third episode are comically tense because you don’t know what they might do together, or to each other.
The quirks of these people don’t feel like storyboarded material, instead they’re part of peculiarly deep lives. The head shaking moments, such as Fleabag breaking up again with her boyfriend, Harry (Hugh Skinner), when he catches her masturbating to a Barack Obama speech, connects to how she deals with her successful sister, Elaine (Sian Clifford), or perceives herself. This intrinsically female production, which is part of a rush of new material from Amazon, even has a secret weapon: the great Olivia Colman twisting the knife as Fleabag’s smiling assassin stepmother. What a thrilling series.
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