Teasers for CBS’s new sci-fi series Extant have been running for a very long time. Since the beginning of the year, if not before. During that time, my interest level in it has gone from “eh, maybe” to “yay awesome!” With an Almost Human-sized hole in my sci-fi viewing arena, I’ve since been looking forward to the show in the hopes that it might not only be something fun to watch, but also join the rare air of successful network sci-fi shows. After watching Extant‘s first episode a couple days ago, it’s too early to call foul or fair, but here are my initial impressions.
Extant stars Halle Berry as astronaut Molly Woods (formerly Watts), a woman who has just returned home after a 13-month solo stint on board a space station. She lives with her husband John (Goran Visnjic) and their young son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon). But all is not what it seems to be. Molly is battling sickness that she attributes to “readjustment” after being in spaced for so long. And the son is a “Humanich,” an emotive robot developed by John.
During the course of the episode we discover that something supernatural occurred to Molly while she was in space. While she’s staying mum, all the while keeping some startling news in check, her company wants to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, her husband is attempting to get funding for his Humanichs, which come under your standard ethical fire. (i.e. how do we know we can control them?) As for Ethan, he’s doing his best(?) to follow his humanistic programming, but something about him is not quite right — a fact that, as Molly points out, goes beyond her long absence.
Though the episode had a lot going on, it was pretty balanced and well-paced. Key players were immediately introduced as were some highly relevant plot points (no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plodding here). I don’t have any qualms about the casting; in fact, both Berry and Visnjic fit their roles quite well. She was good at being concerned and confused, Vinjsic was great at being both commanding and doting. Whether or not their characterizations hold up throughout the series has yet to manifest. The kid remains a question mark, though he is quite good at towing the line between delightful human and uncanny robot.
For me, the big question about this series is will it choke on convoluted plots? The “this season on Extant” blast that was showed near the end of the episode, incited its mystery/conspiracy aura while covering what appeared to be a huge swath of storytelling. I like the X-Files vibe of Extant, but even Mulder and Scully almost drowned in nonsense in later seasons. With a high concept show like Extant, my fear is that its plots will become so twisty and ungrounded that it’ll be impossible for it to find a solid audience. Plus, it’s already established that it’ll be running two complex storylines: one revolving around Molly’s world and her dealings with her mysterious company as well as family and friends, and one revolving around John and his Humanichs. (And it’s quite possible that a third could involve Ethan alone, but that’s just speculation.) Either of these storylines could fill up a series on its own, so it’ll be interesting to see if/how how they marry (or muddle) and develop.
Extant could be beautiful music or a train wreck. I’m going to stick with it through the summer and hope for the best.