Television fans who are bemoaning the fact that their favorites shows are now on summer hiatus would do well to consult the program listings because more new series are popping up each week, and for the most part they have been quite promising. One of the most recent of these is a sci-fi thriller titled “Extant” starring Academy Award-winner Halle Berry, and the outstanding pilot left me eagerly awaiting the next episode.
Berry plays Molly Woods, an American astronaut who has recently returned home after spending 13 months alone on space station Seraphim. The story begins after she already has returned from her mission, but we learn of her experiences in outer space via flashbacks. When Molly comes back, she reunites with her husband, John (Goran Visnjic), and their son, Ethan (Pierce Gagnon). Just a typical American family, right? Wrong!
Here are a few things you need to know about the Woods family. First, Molly is infertile, and because she can’t have children, John has solved that problem. He is a scientist who is the head of something called the Humanichs Project, which manufactures humanoid robots. Now it just so happens that Ethan is the model for the project, and he looks and pretty much acts like a human being. He is so real in fact that both Molly and John love him as if he were their real son.
After Molly returns to earth, she must undergo an extensive debriefing, including a complete medical exam, and this is where the kicker comes in. When Molly meets with Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim), her friend and the doctor who gave her the physical, she learns the incredibly impossible news that she is pregnant. How can it be? This is one of the many questions we hope to have answered during the show’s scheduled 13-episode run.
The pilot is sufficiently tantalizing and succeeds in raising a lot more questions than it answers. If you are a faithful reader of this blog or if you have heard me on WKKX radio, you know I’m not a big fan of films and TV shows dealing with aliens, but this one has me hooked so far. Why is it different? The biggest thing it has going for it is the presence of Berry, whose acting ability is surpassed only by her stunning beauty. The part of Molly allows her to display her marvelous range as an actress, and she obviously relishes the role. In a recent online interview with Liane Bonin Starr of HitFixLiane, she explained what attracted her to the series.
“There are so many elements that drew me to it, but probably the first one was being a mother. It was just in my DNA. I had a fundamental understanding of her. While I’m not an astronaut or a scientist — far, far from it — I had an understanding of this woman, Molly. She’s dealing with the struggle to be a good mother. She’s strong; she’s complicated. I’m complicated, but she has a will to survive and win. I love playing strong and complicated women who refuse to be victimized. And when Steven Spielberg came along, that’s a name you don’t really sneeze at, and the best writing is on television. There was always a stigma with going to television, and that line has become very grey. If you’re an artist, you just want to do good work.”
Berry’s point about Spielberg is well taken. His name is iconic, and anytime he’s associated with a project, you can be certain it will be a class act. Berry recently told Lynette Rice of Entertainment Weekly why Spielberg’s involvement as an executive producer was so special.
“I love the kind of sci-fi that Steven does. It’s more supernatural. This is more E.T.-ish, more of that end of supernatural and sci-fi. And I love that the core of it is the family and the relationship, but you also go into this world that’s new in a magical way. There will be enough sci-fi and future stuff to satisfy fans. But for the people, especially women, who like it to be rooted in something real and true and emotional, they’ll have that too. Because at the core of this is this family, and they’re struggling to stay a family while dealing with what just happened to them, something they have no control over.”
At the heart of the show, obviously, is the relationship between John and Molly. Even though she hasn’t been back from her mission very long when the show begins, it is already evident that there are storm clouds on the horizon for them. Now that Molly has a live being growing in her womb, she obviously will be experiencing an entirely new set of emotions. And John is so caught up in his work that he can think of little else. Then there’s the question of Ethan. How will a robotic humanoid feel about a new brother or sister? Watching the family dynamics shakedown in the coming weeks will be intriguing. In an interview with Huff Post TV Canada, Visnjic was asked about John and Molly’s marriage.
“They’re two people connected through their original jobs. They met while working on the space station. John was one of the creators of Ben, the artificial intelligence on the Seraphim, and Molly was one of the first astronauts on the Seraphim, helping create the space station. So that’s how the two of them met. I heard a lot of questions: ‘How would you be able to allow your wife to go up there for 13 months on her own while you stay down there?’ It’s like, look, he knows that she worked all her life to become an astronaut, to do this; that’s her life, and those are her dreams. So you don’t go and mess with that and say, ‘Look, Honey, come back in 15 days. Don’t go up there for 13 months.’ They’re very respectful of each other’s wishes. In a marriage that works and functions there’s still a lot of passion, a lot of love, and a lot of problems, especially from the moment she comes back. They become exposed to certain problems that are literally out of this world, and their marriage is going to be on a lot of strain.”
Certainly one of the big moments to come in the series will occur when John learns of Molly’s immaculate conception in space. There was no indication in the first episode when it might happen, but of course it’s inevitable.
“Extant” has many things to recommend it, not the least of which is its overall look. Like many of the excellent television productions these days, this one has a big-screen appearance. For example, the scenes aboard the space station are every bit as effective as similar segments in “Gravity,” last year’s big-budget, Oscar-nominated space adventure starring Sandra Bullock.
The first episode also succeeded in establishing and maintaining an effective aura of mystery concerning what happened to Molly in outer space. Although we get a brief hint about the cause of the mysterious impregnation, we still want to know much more.
“Extant” has the potential for an exceptionally good network series. The acting is excellent, the sets (especially in the spacecraft) are wonderful, and the special effects are superior. Surprisingly, I’m really hooked on the series, which earns the final score of a spaced out eight. I just hope the show doesn’t ultimately do something to alienate me.