Bob’s Burgers’ Three-Body Problem parody makes the Netflix show better


The shiny new adaptation of The Three-Body Problem, from the guys who did Game of Thrones, may be the biggest show on Netflix right now, but it’s not the only adaptation that’s worth watching. Sure, there’s also the longer, more thorough and faithful Chinese version of the series, but that’s not the one we mean, either. Nope, instead, the best adaptation of this story comes straight from the animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers.

Season 9, episode 9 of Bob’s Burgers is called “UFO No You Didn’t,” and while the name doesn’t offer any such clues, it’s actually more or less an adaptation/parody of Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series.

The episode starts with Tina getting paired with her classmate Susmita for a science fair project. Despite Tina’s best efforts to do nothing, Susmita insists they try sending a radio signal into space to contact aliens. When their classmate Henry hears this plan, he immediately says that’s a bad idea, then proceeds to concisely explain a slightly altered version of the Dark Forest theory. That theory, which derives its name from the second book of Liu’s series, posits that we haven’t discovered aliens because they’re all hiding from something stronger than them. Of course, that doesn’t stop Tina and Susmita from sending the message anyway. But, anticipating their brazen lack of fear over the potential of more advanced alien races, Henry intercepts their signal and sends them a similar, if funnier, version of the message that Ye gets in The Three-Body Problem, starting with “Dear idiots of Earth,” followed by a warning not to transmit more messages.

Photo: Ed Miller/Netflix

It’s a great premise for an episode, and an even better stealthy parody. It stands on its own just fine, with enough internal logic to make it all believable, but if you know Liu’s series, you’ll catch on to the game right away. And by the time you get to the fact that the “alien message” in Bob’s Burgers was sent by Gene, it’s a fantastic punchline that actually falls hilariously in line with its Three-Body Problem counterpart.

In other words, Bob’s Burgers basically manages to condense the broad points of the series’ first two books into one entertaining 23-minute chunk. It’s far from the most entertaining episode of the show, but its clarity in elucidating some of the novel’s complex ideas and theories, like the Dark Forest or extraterrestrial communication and translation, is genuinely impressive and actually makes it a fun companion to both the book and the Netflix series.

Of course, in keeping with Bob’s Burgers’ usual tone and relentless optimism, the ending of the episode is a little different from the books. Rather than the impending death of humanity via extraterrestrials, everyone is won over by Tina’s speech about love and the hope that aliens would be friendly rather than paranoid world-destroyers. It’s a funny little speech, but it also serves as a stark contrast to the book, in a way that makes both versions of the story more effective. Everyone’s agreement with Tina’s blind optimism is cute in a way that underlines how and why the threat in Liu’s novels is so terrifying: Tina plays it as a metaphor for dating, where the risk is getting rejected, not eradicated. The reality of the books is much more severe, positing that helping another civilization only runs the risk they overpower you down the road, so to help at all would be a major risk on its own. Plus, perhaps even more dangerously, if Tina Belcher is convinced of something, that’s probably a good indication that no other intelligent being in any galaxy came to the same conclusion. And that’s why she’s one of a kind.

Bob’s Burgers is streaming on Hulu.


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