One of the first things you see in the premiere episode of the new sci-fi drama
“Extant,” airing Wednesday at
9 p.m. on CBS, is Halle Berry throwing up.
This would seem inauspicious. (Not least because it means in the semi-distant future we still haven’t perfected a cure for nausea.)
Fortunately, things begin looking up from there for viewers, if not for Berry’s character, astronaut Molly Woods.
The cause of Molly’s eruption is morning sickness from a pregnancy later confirmed by her doctor and friend, Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim, “The Practice”). The problem with this diagnosis is that Molly has just returned from a 13-month solo space mission.
(The year is not specified on “Extant” but presumably it’s far enough into the future that such a mission would seem like a good idea, but not so far that today’s clothing fashions are out of style.)
So now, not only is Molly having trouble readjusting to life on Earth with her hot, genius scientist husband, John (Goran Visnjic of “ER” fame), and her (obligatorily) creepy son, Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) — an advanced humanoid robot conceived by John since he and Molly suffered infertility issues — she’s got a baby of unknown origin on board.
While Molly’s trying to figure out how this happened as well as make sense of visions she’s been having, nefarious moves are being made by her bosses at the International Space Exploration Agency.
The more interesting plot, in the pilot, anyway, is John showing off Ethan to potential investors for his Humanichs project, which aims to create robots that can, hopefully, be nurtured into something resembling real people.
The best moments occur when a potential investor asks what fail-safe method would be installed to stop these androids from rising up and conquering their masters, and a smug John essentially responds that none would, that good parenting would stave off a rebellion. Clearly, this will not end well given the malevolent malfunctions Ethan is already exhibiting.
Obviously, “Extant” is exploring territory — artificial intelligence, alien life forms, the longing for connection in an increasingly mechanized world — that has been fodder for the genre for years, including several films by “Extant” executive producer Steven Spielberg. And thus “Extant” has echoes — both distant and close range — of a host of previous works, from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Alien” to “Firefly” to the recent “Gravity.”
One of the central conflicts over the course of the 13 episodes will be the differing views regarding Ethan of his “parents.” John is Gepetto-like, seeing him not just as a creation but as a child. Molly cares for Ethan but logically points out, “He doesn’t love me, he executes a series of commands that you’ve programmed into him. He approximates a behavior that resembles love.”
Oscar winner Berry and the dependable Visnjic, as well as familiar supporting faces, all do a good enough job in the first episode with a tantalizing premise — and lot of grade A special effects — to make “Extant” worth checking out before it becomes extinct.