I didn't mean to watch the first four episodes back-to-back. Honest. In fact, what I meant to do was watch the first five minutes, just stick my nose in and see what this weird-looking new show was all about, then do something else. This is always how it happens.

The show was called 3%. The latest addition to Netflix's growing list of original programming, it is a low-budget (by Netflix standards at least) dystopian sci-fi series from Brazil, and it is dangerously binge-watchable.

The truth is I probably would have binged the whole thing in one go if I hadn't left it so late. At eight episodes, each around 45 minutes long, better-prepared viewers could certainly knock the bastard off in a day.

The show is set in a grim, not entirely unimaginable future. The world has gone completely to the dogs, and the only escape from the squalor and misery is an idyllic, mysterious island called "the Offshore". But you only have one shot of getting there.


Every year all the 20-year-olds kicking about in "the Inland" leave their crumbling homes and converge on a sleek, modernist fortress perched at the top of a steep cliff. They get changed out of their tattered clothes and into cultish utilitarian uniforms to begin "The Process".

Over the space of a week the candidates undergo a series of mental and physical tests to determine which ones will earn entry to the Offshore. Almost all will be eliminated, sent screaming back to their desperate Inland lives; only 3 per cent every year make it to the promised land.

Like the last big Netflix binge-watch phenomenon Stranger Things, the premise has the unmistakable feel of a Young Adult novel, one of those rare page-turners you'd accidentally stay up reading until 2am on a school night. The pacing of 3% is not quite as tightly chapter-bound, but it's no less engrossing.

Of course, you could probably make comparisons with other shows, movies or books for days. But as with Stranger Things, a well-told story with interesting, fully-drawn characters is ultimately worth enjoying regardless of how many different things it may or may not be ripping off.

Bianca Comparato and Michel Gomes in the Netflix Series, 3%. Photo / Netflix
Bianca Comparato and Michel Gomes in the Netflix Series, 3%. Photo / Netflix

Certain stylistic differences also set 3% apart from its peers - the unusual score and slightly unconventional camerawork ensure things are never at risk of getting boring, while the relatively low-budget set and costume design prove you can still make a little go a long way, even in the age of Ultra HD.

The characters are the show's strongest point, though, and it skilfully introduces the six core candidates throughout The Process' preliminary challenges in the first episode. While their interactions with each other begin all poker-faced, flashbacks to their old lives gradually fill in the blanks and reveal their motives - not all of which are necessarily good.

Meanwhile their every move is being overseen by Ezequiel, the mysterious "Process Leader" who watches intently from a giant brain-powered tablet in the operation's nerve centre. He, in turn, is being monitored by a representative sent from the Offshore council - under intense scrutiny after the island experienced its first ever murder on his watch.

The unprecedented violence is attributed to a rebel group of Inlanders called "The Cause", who have been sending increasingly savvy and highly-trained moles through The Process. One of the central mysteries of the show is whether The Cause are actually bad, or, in fact, good.

The first Brazilian Netflix production, 3% is just one of a growing number of foreign-language shows to appear on the platform this year, a positive trend towards greater options and diversity and all that.

Whatever the language, the same temporal laws of Netflix still apply: if you're not careful, five minutes will suddenly turn into four hours.