Extant (Wednesdays, 9/8C) is the new big summer series for CBS. It makes much of two unaligned ideas – astronaut Molly Woods returns to Earth after a thirteen-month solo mission, pregnant; her husband, John Woods, has developed an artificial intelligence in human form called humantics (human-robotics, get it?).
Created by first time writer Mickey Fisher, Extant strives to create drama by taking these two big ideas and taking forever to get around to them – and by throwing in backstory in exactly the wrong way: telling us instead of showing us.
Molly’s (Halle Berry) mysterious pregnancy comes about in conflict with the suicide of another astronaut some time before she began her mission. The manner in which she becomes pregnant is not recorded by the omnipresent cameras documenting every move she made during her time in space – which leads to her destroying what amounts to the absence of evidence.
John’s (Goran Visnjic) work has led to the creation of Ethan (Pierce Gagnon, Looper), the humantic that they have treated as their own son (the best way for his AIs to learn, posits John, is for them to learn the same way humans do).
Molly’s mysterious pregnancy has her involved, once she’s back on Earth, with even more mystery. It seems like every time she takes out the trash (the near future will have crazy cool trashbins), something happens. Something specific that suggests more mysterious and/or peculiar events to come. Is the fate of the world involved? Possibly.
John, meanwhile, loses funding when a presentation go awry because he doesn’t believe that people have souls – anymore than Ethan does.
The two storylines are connected by a building sense of global conspiracy – and heightened when the CEO of the company that has just refused John funding offers to provide that funding privately/personally. That he is played by Helix’s Hiroyuki Sanada probably bodes ill for the future on any number of levels – though Sanada, himself, is very good at playing his character, Hideki Yashimoto, as NOT MENACING AT ALL.
Michael O’Neill plays Molly boos, the concerned, (seemingly) caring Alan Sparks. O’Neill has played a wide enough range of characters that even if he seems to be one thing, he could wind up being the opposite. Along with Camryn Mannheim, as Dr. Sam Benton – the one who discovers Molly’s pregnancy – O’Neill provides the best acting in the premiere (most of the time, Berry looks like a deer in a set of headlamps, while Visnjic is even less animated – excepted when losing his temper during the abovementioned presentation).
Allan Coulter directs the series premiere, Re-entry, as a series of glossy photos. His pacing is a notch or two below deliberate and a notch or two above sleepwalking (compared to Extant, True Detective was on speed!) but boy, does it look pretty.
If you’re expecting the kind of fun ride CBS’ other summer series (Under the Dome) provides, you will be disappointed – though it may be usual as a sleep aid.
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Photo courtesy of CBS