Extant - The First Season

by Mahalel Kilian Melloy

Tuesday December 16, 2014

The story behind the CBS sci-fi drama "Extant" is almost more fitting for the spate of fantasy / fairy tale shows that litter prime time elsewhere. Series creator Mickey Fisher headed to L.A. with a background in musical theater and some ideas for screenplays. He entered a TV pilot contest, got the attention of the right people, and, in due course, was hammering out ideas for his show with Steven Spielberg, who was attracted to the script because it managed to combine two of Spielberg's enduring interests: Artificial intelligence and aliens.

Jump cut to the present, where the thirteen episodes of "Extant - The First Season"arrives in a four-disc set, packaged in a slim gatefold box. This show is an example of a major network trying hard to capture some of the creative energy of cable television, to the point of hiring directors like Alan Coulter ("The Sopranos," "Boardwalk Empire") and Dan Attias ("Six Feet Under," "The Wire," "True Blood") and, in the acting department, scoring the Oscar-winning Halle Berry (the "X Men" films, "Monster's Ball").

Berry plays main character Molly Woods, a female astronaut whose year-long mission aboard a space station in high Earth orbit has resulted in a surprise pregnancy... all the more surprising given that her year in space was solitary, except for a hallucination in which her dead lover pays call.

Now on Earth and reunited with her family -- husband John (Goran Visnjic, "ER"), a robotics engineer, and adopted son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), a prototype of a new kind of AI called a "humanich" -- Molly finds herself embroiled in a mystery in which powerful corporate interests, public safety, anti-technology terrorists, and her own family situation are set to collide. A the heart of the drama is the pairing mentioned above, of artificial and extraterrestrial intelligences: Molly is, after all, the mother to both an advanced android and an alien entity bent on taking human form.

It all sounds twisty, frothy, and a little silly when described in thumbnail; that's inevitable, because the story and plotting really are foamy and silly, with plenty of familiar sci-fi tropes crowding the narrative (human bodies possessed by alien minds, as in everything from "Star Trek" to "The X Files" to... well, you name it), strange geometric patterns appearing here and there (like in the short-lived sci-fi drama "Surface"), and complicated family dynamics that tie directly into the show's core mythology (as in "Invasion" and the single-season flop "The Event"). But the show's production is carefully and deliberately rooted in a realistic near-future, the look of which is grounded in the familiar and contemporary. We have smart phones; the people of the mid-21st century have smart homes that put schematics, video calls, and other graphics on the bathroom mirror. (They also have cars that look identical to 2014 models, but emit a cheesy, hydraulic sound effect, a rare misstep in an otherwise well-imagined world.)

"Extant," already renewed for a second season, may have a crunchy shell and a corny, chewy center, but it's fast-paced, fun, and eminently watchable. This season set includes a full slate of extras -- most of which look like promos, but they are pretty substantial, covering everything from the show's inception, story, and mythology, to the nuts and bolts of its production design and visual effects work. Adding to the fun are deleted scenes and a gag reel.

"Extant -- The First Season"