Extant, the latest entry in Stephen Spielberg’s filmography, was delivered to critical acclaim on CBS (and on Amazon Prime for UK fans). It was clever, convoluted and, just a little, clichéd.
Too mean? I’m sorry, blame my slavish devotion to alliteration. The problem is that this is classic SF – Asimov and EE ‘Doc’ Smith having canapés in the Twilight Zone. We had the mysterious intrusion on the solo mission, the corrupt space agency, the ‘what is a soul’ thread and a detour into soap-land with the ‘he was in the shower all along’ reveal.
As a long time fan of the genre, the closest thing to new in Extant’s introductory episode was the show’s post-Gravity pretension. It isn’t that it was bad, but I was nodding along to the reveals rather than gasping in shock.
Extant stars Halle Berry and Goran Visnijic, a brittle, sort of happy couple whose peaceful lives are overturned when things start going unprecedentedly right for them. Of course, with Stephen Spieberg at the helm, these are futuristic happy lives.
Molly (Berry) is an astronaut just back from 13 months in space, where she analysed space stuff and had eerie encounters with things that make us question what it is to be human.
Oh come on, that isn’t even a spoiler. You can’t go into space and not ‘question what it is to be human’. Even the Lensmen touched on that, and they were soundly devoted to space thrills, chills and the worrying close to eugenics breeding of psionic supermen.
Meanwhile Visnijc’s husband, John Woods, is a robotics (and slightly robotic) genius who stayed on earth to play full -time dad/Frankenstein to their adorable robotic moppet of a son. Creepy? Don’t be ridiculous, I, for one, welcome our undersized robotic overlords.
A few scenes of a haggard Molly (well, as haggard as Halle Berry is capable of looking – ie. not very) horking up before a party foreshadows the main plot point of the show: turns out all those American abductees were right, aliens are date rapists and they don’t use protection.
(Considering the show specifically associates Molly’s experience with that of male astronaut Harmon Kryger (Brad Beyer)…can we say mpreg? I will. Y the way, be referring to Harmon as Bobby in future, so you know.)
Meanwhile, poor old Frankendad is stuck in the AI storyline and a rather unattractive Aran cardie. It is all souls and conscience and the seat of true sentience…think I, Robot with the creepy kid from AI. I am reluctantly more invested in this storyline, on the grounds that a: there is a chance creepy little robospawn will go evil and take over the world and b: it has Hiroyuki Sanada as Hideki Yasumoto, a creepy, Shadowrunner style Japanese cyberyuppie (like a cyberpunk, but with a hedge fund). This is a man so evil that he just hangs out in a tub of goo. It isn’t a new thing either. He just chills in the goo all the time. They even have a special vacuum to suck the goo out of his belly button and nipples. That is evil.
Um…what else. Everyone is really sad that Astronaut Bobby has killed himself. Really sad. So, of course, he isn’t dead – and therefore Bobby. In the future people take their rubbish out to big translucent bins that sit outside their house all the time. It looks like a bad idea. In summer that thing is gonna be full of maggots.
Oh, and in the future hot, clever people have sex in the shower by just sucking each other lips really slowly. It is mad erotic….or no, that isn’t the word, kinda funny.
Extant is a gorgeously lush show with lofty aspirations, a high achieving cast and a whole lot of thematic elements just wedged on in there. The problem – at least for me – is that I spent this whole review going ‘it is kinda like this show had a illegitimate baby with this show, that – like Steve Jobs kids – never quite lived up to its progenitors example’. I didn’t fall in love with the characters, I am not that interested in the storyline and I kept wondering what the hell Molly was going to do about her secret alien pregnancy (answer, nothing to date. I don’t expect her to be on top of what to do with secret alien pregnancies, but something other than drifting along like she is still mentally in an antigravity environment would have worked).
Maybe Extant will be a huge success, they are certainly pushing it with the fervour of a new convert, but it isn’t for me. It is a show singularly lacking in clarity of plot, and there is no single unique element I would cite when trying to get someone to watch it.