TV Review: Extant Is A Fresh Start For A Summer Sci-Fi Series

Extant is the new interesting and cautious science fiction/thriller series from CBS. Halle Berry stars as Molly Woods, an astronaut who returns home from a 13 month solo mission in space, discovering she is somehow pregnant. Although Molly has no idea how she can be pregnant, since she was on a SOLO mission and has infertility issues, she manages to persuade Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim), to keep the pregnancy under wraps while she tries to find an explanation.

Of course, it turns out Molly wasn’t exactly alone out there. During an incident with. Solar flare that throws the space station into auxiliary power, she is visited by presence that resembles her old flame. However, the only record of that time is in Molly’s head, since she deletes the footage from the official record, claiming it was an accident. So, she’s keeping many secrets from her superiors in the ISEA (International Space Exploration Agency), which is fine, really, because through the course of “Re-Entry,” the series pilot, we learn her immediate boss, Alvin Sparks (Michael O’Neill) has some secrets of his own. Sparks’ involvement with industrial Yasumoto is the only undeveloped moments in the pilot, but we’ll undoubtedly learn more about what they’re up to as the series progresses.

At home, Molly’s struggling to reconnect to her family after more than a year away in space. Her husband, John (ER’s Goran Visnjic) is vigilantly seeking funding for his Humanics project. He describes Humanics as a new form of artificial intelligence designed to learn and develop like a child in order to foster a human connection long missing in our interactions with robots. He believes so much in his project that he and Molly and been raising his prototype, Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), as their own son after learning they would never have children. John has little patience for those who question his omit trance of any controls or restrictions in the Humanics, balking at a question about the possibility of shutting them down if necessary, likening it to killing his son. Meanwhile, Molly thinks there’s something wrong with Ethan, and he is creepy, possibly dangerous like a robotic Joffrey, so there may just be something to the idea of needing to shut them down.

Premise wise there is some familiarity about Extant, but that never works against the pilot. Halle Berry brings a grounding to Molly, despite her sometimes distracting Justin Bieber haircut. Molly is a strong, intelligent character, and it’s refreshing not to see her struggle with the same identity issues we normally see on network television. Her chemistry with Visnjic doesn’t feel quite gelled yet, but I’m hoping this I’m hoping this improves with time.

Extant is a cautious sci-fi show for a few reasons. Extant feels committed to providing that futuristic experience without being overwhelming in its presentation. We’re given a world that looks very much like our own to spend time in, and the technological leaps made here feel very organic and possible, such as self driving cars or bathroom mirrors that double as computer screens. There’s a subtlety at play that should appeal to viewers that are not normally fans of sci-fi shows.

Extant is also hands down the best looking sci-fi on network television right now. You can tell CBS has spared no expense in creating the effects and settings in the pilot. The scenes in outer space have a Gravity style aesthetic to them, and the Earth bound scenes are filled with curious gadgets and flair in an eye popping way. You get a real sense that the network is really committed to Extant succeeding, and it shows onscreen.

Finally, it’d be a shame not to mention the story of Extant’s arrival on television as it’s just as interesting a story. First time series creator Mickey Fisher had been writing and directing theater in NYC, until deciding to sell off some stuff and head for California and, hopefully, television writing. Fisher entered his Extant script in a pilot screenwriting contest. Obviously, it won and was plucked up by none other than Steven Speilberg’s Amblin TV banner, which also brought us Under the Dome.

Extant’s pilot, “Re-Entry,” is a focused start, full of promise. Now let’s see where this is headed.

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