Unlike CBS’s recent “Reckless,” which was ordered last May and made it to air only in recent weeks, CBS always targeted “Extant” (9 p.m. Wednesday, KDKA-TV) for summer as a companion to last year’s successful “Under the Dome.”
CBS doesn’t have much of a recent track record with serialized fantasy or sci-fi shows, but summer seems to be the one time of year that the network and its viewers are willing to take a leap.
And based on the first episode, “Extant” may or may not be worth a try. It’s an entertaining pilot, full of surprises that should hook viewers and get them engaged for the subsequent 12 episodes. But there’s also the question of whether the show sets about spinning too many mysteries at once.
Will viewers get answers or will the show drag viewers along only to end in a frustrating season finale as “Under the Dome” did last summer?
Halle Berry is the latest big-screen star to make the shift to TV, starring in “Extant” as Molly Woods, an astronaut with the International Space Exploration Agency. “Extant” is set in the future, although a year is not specified, when robots are life-like, trash cans look different and there’s once again an ambitious U.S. space program, albeit one that appears to be privatized.
Molly returns to Earth after a year in space on a solo mission, and her ISEA doctor friend Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim, “The Practice”) shares some shocking news: Molly is pregnant.
How is Molly going to break this news to her husband, John (Goran Visnjic, “ER”), with whom she shares a son (Pierce Gagnon)?
Writer Mickey Fisher wisely gives viewers a hint about the answer to the how-did-Molly-get-pregnant-alone-in-space question by the end of the pilot, although it requires a leap of faith on the part of viewers.
“Extant” does not shy away from out-there possibilities in any of its plots, which also include John’s work in robotics. He tries to get funding from a company headed by Hideki Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada), who is kept in some sort of stasis chamber until he’s brought out by an ISEA boss who doesn’t believe Molly’s explanation for missing security footage during a solar flare while aboard an ISEA space station.
The pilot also introduces an ISEA astronaut who had a difficult time on his mission – like Molly’s solar flare-induced blackout period, perhaps? – and killed himself upon his return to Earth. Or did he?
And then there’s a conspiracy element as Molly receives a note that reads, “I know what happened to you. Contact soon.”
Not only is this a lot for one show to juggle, it’s also asking a lot of an audience that’s been burned before by serialized, mystery-filled shows that didn’t deliver answers quickly enough.
This makes “Extant” a risky proposition, although its matter-of-fact depiction of the near future is entertaining and the space scenes are rendered with decent special effects – the space station appears to have gravity in some areas but not in others.
Ms. Berry makes for a sympathetic series lead, but her character is burdened with a lot of potential issues, including a robot son who may or may not be a sociopath.
From watching only the pilot, it’s difficult to predict what “Extant” will become: Will it be routinely exciting or exasperating? Viewers who stick with it will figure that out soon enough.
A version of this review first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.