Today, MostlyFilm looks at a bit of upcoming telly you may not have heard about. Christian Torres reports.
When MostlyFilm told me I was off to the premiere of ‘the next big sci-fi series’, I found it hard to get excited. Reason being, I’ve heard it all before. Over the last few years, so many shows have been heralded as the new must-see. But more often than not they’ve ended up being ‘the next big letdown’ – I’ll see you Heroes and I’ll raise you Lost. I was worried that the latest offering from across the pond, ‘EXTANT’ (what is it with these shows and capital letters?), would serve up yet another episodic body blow of disappointment.
Aware that I was going to the screening laden down with sceptical baggage, I endeavoured to focus on EXTANT’s obvious plus points. Top of the list is its Executive Producer – a certain Steven Spielberg, dontcha know?
‘At least the special effects will be halfway decent’, I thought to myself. Oh, and they were. Phew.
Next up, there’s the fact a Hollywood star tops the bill (and an Academy Award-winning one at that) in the shape of Halle Berry. Now, while I’ve rather enjoyed her cameos as Storm in the X-Men franchise, I’ve never been able to forgive her for the affront that was Catwoman. Her feline capers aside, I actually think EXTANT was rather canny move on the part of Ms. Berry. Once upon a time, appearing in a TV mini-series marked the demise of a once-bright star. It was the equivalent of committing movie hara-kiri. But not so these days. If anything, it’s rather a la mode to put your name to a tele-series. The Shield, for example, breathed new life into Glenn Close’s career. Likewise, Kevin Spacey lit up the small screen with House of Cards. If nothing else, Halle Berry’s mere association with EXTANT will ensure decent viewing figures when episode one is aired on Amazon Prime Instant Video this week.
Rounding off EXTANT’s hat-trick of brownie-points, there’s the sci-fi nature of the show itself. I feel this was quite a brave move on the part of CBS and Amblin. After all, they could have trotted out another incredibly safe but highly addictive series about shenanigans at the White House. Whereas the more geeky sci-fi genre seems to be have been sidestepped of late. In fact, the only new fantasy series that has really caught my attention was Les Revenants – a French-speaking serial about the walking dead. Oh, that, and The Walking Dead, of course. But shows like these are few and far between and tend to focus on zombies. It’s refreshing to have a programme with spaceships and androids back on our screens that doesn’t involve a police box.
Okay, so what’s EXTANT all about? In a nutshell, Berry plays Molly Woods, an astronaut trying to reconnect with her family when she returns to Earth after a year in space doing science experiments solo. During her mission, her ex-boyfriend (who happens to be her ex mainly because he’s dead) comes a-knocking on the airlock door one day – as you do. At first Molly thinks she’s hallucinating, but having pinched herself decides to let him in. She then proceeds to snog the face off this ‘dead’ guy before passing out. We’re not entirely sure what happened during her blackout but when she returns to terra firma she discovers she’s up the duff – which is odd given that she can’t have children and, as the space station’s CCTV reveals, there was actually no-one onboard with her.
Throw into the mix her rather unconventional family life (her husband, John, is a robotics boffin and has made the couple a slightly creepy android son called Ethan), a sinister Big Brother-like space agency, and a missing-in-action astronaut-cum-deep throat who seems to turn up whenever Molly’s putting out the rubbish, and you’ve got all the basic ingredients for a halfway decent sci-fi mystery thriller.
So, was my initial prejudice towards the show founded? Perhaps not. EXTANT seems to bear the hallmarks of a sci-fi show that’s been properly thought out. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that all of the key plotlines have already been laid out before us in episode one. I’d bet my bottom dollar on the fact that Molly’s pregnancy is no immaculate conception (alien, more like), that there’s clearly something unholy going down at the space agency that’s connected to the lost astronaut poking around by Molly’s bins, and you just know her C-3PO son is going turn out to be a nasty piece of clockwork while at the same time raising some moral questions about the rights of A.I. mechanoids.
I just pray that Monsieur Spielberg et al have joined up all the dots before putting pen to paper, rather than fumbling around in the dark looking for a connecting plotline as the writers on Heroes and Lost seemed to do.
But it’s not all thumbs up. EXTANT threw up some niggles that were more irritating than a case of dermatitis. Firstly, the show seems to be lacking in originality. I am bored – bored I say! – of visions of the future constantly being represented as sleek and angular with hover-cars and beige clothes. Another gripe came courtesy of Molly’s ‘moving photos’. These are nothing new – the idea was clearly swiped from Harry Potter.
The android son, meanwhile, smacked of being a carbon copy of Haley Joel Osment’s robot boy in A.I. – Spielberg’s 2001 flick. On the plus side, Pierce Gagnon, who plays the child droid, is a fantastic little actor and could well turn out to steal the series. When he runs off into the woods and is found peering over a dead pigeon, which he’s presumably killed for fun, he turns to his mother and says “it was like that when I found it” in a tone so unnerving and with a gaze so dead-on-the-inside that it genuinely sent a shiver down my spine.
The same acting prowess can’t be attributed to Goran Visnjic, however, who plays the dad. He was so awkward delivering his lines he made Hugh Grant look like Laurence Olivier. Oh, and if you’re wondering where you’ve seen Visnjic before, he’s the hot Croatian guy who played chess with Madonna in her ‘Power of Good-bye’ music video and who later turned up on the set of E.R. as the dashing Dr. Luka Kovac.
Last on my grumble list was Molly’s space-station talking computer, Ben. I mean, they may as well have called him HAL and be done with it. If Ben was supposed to be a reverential nod to the computer brain in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it failed spectacularly.
So there were elements about EXTANT that worked and others that really didn’t. I guess the real litmus test will be whether I tune in next Thursday for another fix. Truth be told, EXTANT wasn’t edge-of-your-seat stuff. I didn’t go away feeling desperate to find out what happens next. That said, I would quite happily sit down and watch the next instalment if it happened to be on the telly. Weighing it up, I think this would be a good one to download and watch in one hit – perhaps on a long haul flight.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, EXTANT means ‘still existing’ or ‘not lost’. For Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Berry let’s hope the former definition holds true. And for us, the viewing public, fingers crossed it does indeed turn out to be ‘not Lost’. Because frankly, I don’t think I could go through that all over again…
EXTANT will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK at 9pm on Thursday the 10th of July, a day after it airs on CBS in the United States.