“Extant” has the credentials of greatness. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, starring Halle Berry and coming in the event series wake of CBS’ successful “Under the Dome,” there are big expectations for the show’s premiere Wednesday (July 9). The big question is whether “Extant” delivers.
Depending on your expectations of the show, it does. In many ways, “Extant” feels like a spiritual follow-up to “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” the 2001 Spielberg-directed film that he took over from Stanley Kubrick. In “Extant,” the exploration of artificial intelligence — which, based on the pilot, seems to be a large focus of the show — echoes the similar examination in “A.I.”
If “Extant” continues down that “A.I.” path as John Woods (Goran Visnjic) tries to create a new breed of humanoid artificial intelligence, then the CBS series could be pretty great. As with any pilot, the premiere episode sets up more questions than answers, especially about John’s work and whether it is effective on his AI son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon). The show’s writing never reaches excellence, but the ideas powering the story allows that to be overlooked.
Halle Berry’s arc as Molly Woods, an astronaut readjusting with her family Earth after a solo mission in space, is more of a straightforward mystery story that could be the biggest flaw of the show. Though Berry’s acting carries her plot, the mystery of Molly’s experience on the space station and her surprise pregnancy when she returns will likely make or break the show. If it has a good payoff, then the journey will be worth it. If she simply tries to hide and explain her pregnancy over other rich story material, episodes could fall flat.
There are plenty of conspiracy elements embedded in Molly’s story, especially as it ties back to John’s dealings with businessman Hideki Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada). But if “Extant” hinges on her mystery instead of delving into some of the larger questions the show asks relating back to artificial intelligence and what makes a family (or a human, for that matter), then it is doing itself a disservice. “Extant” is sure to be a success and a science fiction story that captures fans, but it will be disappointing if it doesn’t take advantage of its potential.
“Extant” premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.