It feels like there’s almost two shows struggling for superiority within the Extant pilot that airs tonight at 9pm on CBS.
One wants to hit some familiar beats from the movie A.I., but in ways that are vastly more compelling (at least to this reviewer). The other, however, is retreading elements from Alien 3, but perhaps with quite a bit less menace.
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(Minor spoilers ahead for the series premiere)
Extant is about private astronaut Molly Woods (Halle Berry) returning home after a year-plus long mission alone in space. She hasn’t come back alone, though — she’s pregnant, even though she and her husband struggled for years to have a baby, and even though, as I said, she was alone in space. At least, there were no other humans there…
The show takes place in the near future. It’s a very realistic near future with things you would expect to be commonplace 20 years from now, like interactive widgets on the bathroom mirror. What is maybe a bit more ambitious? A humanic (basically robot) son for Molly and her husband John (Goran Visnijic) named Ethan.
Maybe it’s because Pierce Gagnon, who plays Ethan, is so incredibly good at going from someone who instantly charms you to someone who is downright terrifying with ease, but it’s Ethan and other humanics’ roles in society that has me fascinated by Extant.
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I’m fascinated by John’s driven speech to investors early in the episode about how we need to stop looking at human/humanic relationships as that of a master and a slave. Instead, the way to a happy co-existence is one that tries to teach humanics the human condition and form true, emotional connections.
And I love the idea that we’re still not sure if Ethan is the benevolent humanic that John thinks/hopes he is.
While what happens to Molly in space — and I won’t spoil that for anyone in this review — is engaging in the moment, especially as you can understand her freak-out that leads to a rash decision, I’m kind of over the whole government/corporate conspiracy kind of stories that come with Molly’s boss, Alan Sparks (Michael O’Neill).
That said, there’s still a lot to enjoy about the pilot, besides my fascination with Ethan’s storyline. For instance, I’m beyond excited to see Hiroyuki Sanada on the show playing Hideki Yasumoto. Sanada was literally the only reason I watched the full season of Helix on Syfy. I can’t wait to see more of him on this show.
(That said, I’m sad Camryn Manheim is back to playing a “good guy” on this show since, wow, was she good on Person of Interest this season.)
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I also love the way Extant is using science fiction as an excuse to tell a story about parenting, as much as The Americans used its spy games to tell us a story about marriage (and, later this past season, parenting). So I’m less interested in this idea of Extinct/Extant that the show is playing with or at least seems to be hinting at with the person that visits Molly in space, as well as the old friend who visits her at the end of the episode.
But compared against CBS’ other big summer show, Under the Dome, I can’t recommend Extant enough. It could fall apart under the weight of all the plotlines set in motion tonight, but I plan to be watching the remaining 12 episodes this summer.
Extant premieres tonight at 9pm on CBS.
(Image courtesy of CBS)