In order to be a great television series, a few key components are a must in order to guarantee a hit show. Creator Mickey Fisher’s first foray into television has produced the tangled sci-fi mystery Extant, which on paper looks pretty darn fantastic, but on screen is kind of a jumbled mess, with far too many differing plots that separately are amazing but actually make little sense when forced together. Oscar winner and ageless unicorn Halle Berry is the series lead, but you get the sense that even she realises that Extant, although not terrible, isn’t terribly great either.
Set in the (near) future, scientist and astronaut Molly (Halle Berry) has just returned from a thirteen month solo mission up in space, and is re-entering home life with the help of husband and fellow scientist John (Goran Visnjic) and her robot son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon). Yep, robot son. See Ethan was created by John as a way to help families that couldn’t have children, including his. Ethan is as close to Artificial Intelligence as we could possibly get, but it does provide some setbacks. While struggling to connect with her son, Molly starts experiencing blackouts and hallucinations, and with the help of her best friend Sam (Camryn Manheim) discovers she is pregnant. Which is impossible given her difficulty in conceiving in the past and the little issue of her being alone? In space. For over a year. This of course raises some flags, and Molly understandably starts freaking out. Mainly because while on the mission she encountered her deceased ex-lover Marcus (Sergio Harford) and was unconscious for 13 hours on said mission. What begins is an investigation into her mission and that of the presumed dead Kryger (Brad Beyer), who had the same side effects when he returned from a similar operation.
In a parallel plot, John has been given a grant with which to begin creating other A.I. just like Ethan thanks to billionaire head honcho Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada), who is almost definitely immortal. Director of the International Space Exploration Agency (ISEA) Alan Sparks (Michael O’Neill) is not only Yasumoto’s right hand man, but also Molly’s boss, and is covering some shady dealings involving both characters. Throughout the season secrets are definitely uncovered, but like most sci-fi thrillers answers come with 5 more questions in toe. What follows is an exploration of what these secrets mean to the characters, but also the impact on those they love most.
I really wanted to love this show, and while I didn’t hate it, there was just a lack of too many ‘somethings’ that left me underwhelmed. Case in point, the complete lack of chemistry between supposed married couple Molly and John. Granted they only became involved following the death of Molly’s lover, but Berry and Visnjic just have zero romantic chemistry that makes you wonder how they even decided to stay together in the first place. This isn’t an issue of acting talent; because both have done phenomenal work in the past, but rather just comes down to science. Chemistry cannot be manufactured, which is evident whenever romantic scenes between the two are on screen. On all other aspects Berry and Visnjic’s acting chops are on point, so the romantic aspect is disappointingly subpar and affected the way I felt about each of their characters.
Although Berry is clearly the biggest draw for audiences, the best and most unexpected performance comes from Gagnon, whose take on A.I. Ethan is surprisingly riveting. The whole idea in itself poses a lot of questions and differing opinions, and given his age would prove to be all the harder to understand and illustrate. But Gagnon plays Ethan effortlessly, and we so readily forget he is in actual fact a robot, until a question or issue arises and he approaches it with an almost eerie consideration. This storyline was definitely the most interesting and developed in the season, made all the more so by Gagnon’s performance and the debates it will undeniably spark.
The biggest issue was the muddled plot. Extant is kind of a hybrid series, putting two ideas together and seeing what happens. Separately, each would work wonders on its’ own, but when mushed together in hour long episodes unnecessary confusion and somewhat underdeveloped storylines is left in its wake. I understand what Fisher is trying to accomplish, which of course is a well-rounded sci-fi thriller. But in fact these unmatched plot points are a detriment to the overall show, and I was left scratching my head at what one really had to do with the other.
Extant is a show that I’m not going to completely dismiss after its first outing, because there are some shining lights that can be explored come season two. First season hiccups come with the territory, especially if you’re a first time series creator such as Fisher. And some people will love this show, that’s a given. But a clearer storyline and increased focus on what makes this show unique and awesome (Gagnon!), will vastly improve the overall feel and purpose of the series.