Halle Berry is the latest big-screen star to make the shift to TV, starring in “Extant” as Molly Woods, an astronaut with the International Space Exploration Agency. “Extant” is set in the future, though a year is not specified, when robots are life-like, trash cans look different and there’s once again an ambitious U.S. space program, albeit one that appears to be privatized.
Molly returns to Earth after a year in space on a solo mission and her ISEA doctor friend Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim, “The Practice”) shares some shocking news: Molly is pregnant.
How is Molly going to break this news to her husband, John (Goran Visnjic, “ER”), with whom she shares a son (Pierce Gagnon)?
Writer Mickey Fisher wisely gives viewers a hint about the answer to the how-did-Molly-get-pregnant-alone-in-space question by the end of the pilot, although it requires a leap of faith on the part of viewers.
“Extant” does not shy away from out-there possibilities in any of its plots, which also include John’s work in robotics. He tries to get funding from a company headed by Hideki Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada), who is kept in some sort of stasis chamber until he’s brought out by an ISEA boss who doesn’t believe Molly’s explanation for missing security footage during a solar flare while aboard an ISEA space station.
The pilot also introduces an ISEA astronaut who had a difficult time on his mission – like Molly’s solar flare-induced blackout period, perhaps? – and killed himself upon his return to Earth. Or did he?
And then there’s a conspiracy element as Molly receives a note that reads, “I know what happened to you. Contact soon.”
Not only is this a lot for one show to juggle, it’s also asking a lot of an audience that’s been burned before by serialized, mystery-filled shows that didn’t deliver answers quickly enough.
This makes “Extant” a risky proposition, though it’s matter-of-fact depiction of the near future is entertaining and the space scenes are rendered with decent special effects – the space station appears to have gravity in some areas but not in others.
Ms. Berry makes for a sympathetic series lead but her character is burdened with a lot of potential issues, including a robot son who may or may not be a sociopath.
From watching only the pilot, it’s difficult to predict what “Extant” will become: Will it be routinely exciting or exasperating? Viewers who stick with “Extant” will figure that out soon enough.