Review: Extant 1×1 (CBS/Amazon Prime)

Solaris meets Rosemary's Baby


In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, CBS
In the UK: Available on Amazon Prime

Of all the many, may influences that are obvious in Extant, CBS’s new ‘limited series’ in which Halle Berry plays an astronaut who may have been impregnated by an alien pretending to be her dead former lover, Doctor Who and Sherlock are probably the hardest to spot. Solaris, yes. Gravity, yes. Moon, yes. Rosemary’s Baby, yes. AI, yes.

But Doctor Who and Sherlock? Nope. Can’t see ‘em.

Yet writer/showrunner Mickey Fisher actually had “What Would Steven Moffat Do?” stuck to his computer while writing the scripts, which is odd, because if you were going to characterise Steven Moffat’s writing, it would largely be multiple layered, complex plots, with different arcs that interact and come together at the end, filled with characters with nifty lines in dialogue.

And that’s not Extant. Clever? Ish. Complex? Not really. Good dialogue? Not even slightly. It’s more an exercise in futurology than anything that Steven Moffat would put together. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad.

Here’s a trailer.

Academy Award winner Halle Berry will star in EXTANT, a serialized drama from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television and CBS Television Studios. In August, the CBS Television Network announced a straight-to-series order for EXTANT, to be broadcast in summer 2014.

In a thrilling drama, Berry will play an astronaut who returns home from a year-long solo mission in space and tries to reconnect with her husband and son in their everyday life. Her experiences in space and home lead to events that ultimately will change the course of human history.

“There’s only one Halle Berry and we are incredibly honored that she has chosen EXTANT to expand her illustrious career,” said Steven Spielberg. “As she does with everything she touches, she will bring a deep authenticity to her role and I very much look forward to working with her.”

“Halle is the type of award-winning actress you dream of collaborating with for an event project such as EXTANT,” said Nina Tassler, President, CBS Entertainment. “Her talent and ability to immerse herself into every performance has created memorable roles that have resonated with audiences everywhere. It’s a big coup for CBS to have Halle star in her first television series, especially with such an exciting original concept and a role layered with mystery and humanity.”

“I’m always on the lookout for amazing roles and when you see material that contains this strong of auspices, nuance and complexity it compels me to run toward it no matter the medium. For five months a year I’ll get to live with and play this incredibly intelligent and vulnerable woman, and for the remainder of the year I’ll continue to look for other roles that move me as deeply as this one,” said Halle Berry. “I’ve found amazing partners in CBS’s Nina Tassler and Les Moonves, and the incredible Steven Spielberg, along with his Amblin production team, whose vision and creativity in storytelling is unparalleled.”

In addition to EXTANT, Berry and her producing partner, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, have entered into a two-year, first look production deal with CBS Television Studios.

Berry won an Oscar in 2002 for her starring role in “Monster’s Ball.” Her additional feature film credits include playing Storm in the “X-Men” franchise, including the seventh installment, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” to be released in 2014 and she also starred in the James Bond film “Die Another Day,” as Jinx. Berry started this year starring in the successful feature film thriller, “The Call,” for Sony/Screen Gems. Berry’s successes on television include her critically acclaimed and award winning role in HBO’s movie, “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” which earned her an Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award and her critically praised performance starring in the Oprah Winfrey produced “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” which earned her both an Emmy and Golden Globe Award nomination.

EXTANT is a co-production of CBS Television Studios and Amblin Television. Steven Spielberg, Greg Walker, Mickey Fisher, who wrote the script, Brooklyn Weaver, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank will serve as executive producers. Halle Berry will serve as co-executive producer. The series will be distributed domestically by CBS Television Distribution and worldwide by CBS Studios International.

Is it any good?
It’s ambitious, well made and touches on interesting concepts, but you’ll have seen pretty much everything in this before and done better.

The show revolves around Berry, who’s just returned from a solo space mission, and her scientist husband, Goran Visnjic, who’s built them a robot son and is trying to get funding from Annie Wersching (24) and Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai, Helix) to build a load more for other childless couples. Berry and Visnjic can’t have children, but despite having been up alone in space for a year, Berry is now apparently pregnant. How? Well, only she might know how, since she only went and deleted all the camera footage from just after a solar flare knocked out her space station’s electronics – just like the one that apparently killed her predecessor on the space station.

Rather than eking out this minor mystery for too long, the show thankfully reveals in its first episode that it was an apparent hallucination of her ex-lover, Marcus, although not one that acts like him. Are aliens responsible? That’s what we’re being led to believe and certain characters are keeping an eye on Berry because they suspect as much, too. Indeed, Visnjic can’t get funding from Sanada’s company directly, but Sanada decides to give him money himself so that he can watch him in case aliens turn up.

Now, the observant will have already spotted a few holes in this. Why on Earth (ho, ho) was Berry on a solo mission for a whole year, other than because it was necessary and a lot like Gravity? Why was she so eager to wipe those recordings (and why was that even an option open to her) after all her systems got knocked out, given that hallucinations caused by excess carbon dioxide and oxygen deprivation are well known possibilities? How did Visnjic ever get as far as he did without proper funding and what corporation in its right mind would turn down such a golden opportunity, based purely on Wersching’s worries about whether the robot has a soul or not? A Japanese corporation, at that.

And that, pretty much, is Extant’s biggest problem: despite being willing to consider SF concepts, it’s not willing to try to make the plot hang together properly, preferring to sort of shrug its shoulders and go: “Aliens – they’re kind of like magic, aren’t they?” Solaris can pull that off, because it has Stanislaw Lem driving home the idea that aliens will almost certainly be unfathomable to us and vice versa. Here, we have aliens who can write in English and implant hallucinations in humans’ minds, but who use their powers to rape people and impart cryptic messages.

But this is still episode one. By the end of the series, we may find out that aliens are just total dicks, who play with us for their sport, and the whole world is doomed. Or maybe it’ll be like 2001 and they’re going to re-engineer humanity again. But given this is from Amblin, Steven Spielberg’s company, I doubt it (although, you know, Falling Skies), and it’ll turn out to be all inspiring and fluffy.

Despite these reservations, it is a good looking show, with some intelligence, that’s thought about the future – although it’s sidestepped global warming, overpopulation and any other future problem you care to think of. It has a quality cast and Sanada doesn’t even have to amp up his Japanese accent. It needs to be a bit more exciting, a bit less reminiscent of just about every science fiction film you’ve ever thought of, and come up with some more intriguing mysteries. But I’ll stick around for a bit to see if it manages to do that.

It’s what Steven Moffat would do*.

*Warning: this might not be what Steven Moffat would do


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.