After the success of Lost, American networks have shown a commitment to serialised sci-fi shows that is at odds with their recent success rate. Extant doesn’t yet look like bucking the trend.
Set in the near future, the premise is a promising mix of Rosemary’s Baby and Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence. Astronaut Molly Woods (Halle Berry) returns to Earth after a 13-month solo space mission to discover she’s pregnant. Keeping that secret while she investigates complicates her struggle to reconnect with her husband, John (Goran Visnjic), and Ethan(Pierce Gagnon), a prototype android the couple raise as their son so he can experience human development.
This blend of domestic drama and alien conspiracy thriller feels as much like Solaris as like The X-Files. Unfortunately, the result is too sterile and disjointed to be thoroughly involving. Moreover, like Falling Skies, Extant champions family values to an extent that undermines logic and emotional power.
Early episodes allude to ethical dilemmas we’ll face if we bond with sentient machines. Yet, this isn’t developed into a thought-provoking dimension of Ethan’s character. Instead, he’s readily accepted into school even though society’s most vulnerable citizens will be guinea pigs in what amounts to a de facto test of his social conditioning.
When the conspiracy behind Molly’s pregnancy unfolds, it’s not compelling. The conspirators seem amoral, so it’s hard to relate to their aims. Only the Woods show passion for their cause. Given that preserving humanity is among the show’s themes, it is a missed opportunity.
Where Extant does benefit from Spielberg’s influence is its attempt to balance fear with wonder. Berry’s ability to play mum also makes her a sympathetic heroine. Unless other elements come alive in Season Two, Extant could go down as an example of a failure to get Lost.