“Just give me some time to figure it out.” That’s Molly’s reaction to her doctor in Episode 1 of Extant. It’s understandable: she’s just returned home after 13 months isolated in space. And discovered she’s with child.
It’s an intriguing starting point for this sci-fi series, which has been snapped up by Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK (a new episode is available each Thursday within 24 hours of the US broadcast). It’s also par for the course for any modern, high-concept TV show. Curious premise? Check. Questions answered? Check. That’s almost all an opening episode has to do these days: find an easy way to hook a viewer. Judging such a programme by its initial chapter, then, is an almost fruitless task.
But, as Extant shows, fruit can grow in even the most barren of gardens.
Creator Mickey Fisher makes it clear immediately that there is something more to his tale than its central mystery. Molly, we soon learn, is unable to conceive. And so she returns home to her non-biological son, Ethan (Pierce Gagnon – who gave good creepy in Looper), and her scientist husband, John (Goran Visnjic, of ER fame). He’s busy trying to develop a new strain of androids, who are indistinguishable from humans – something of which Dr. Luka Kovač would no doubt disapprove. As John pitches his AI project to a suspiciously wealthy funding board, the discussion of nature and nurture soon comes up, as does the fact that he doesn’t believe in souls. Or God, for that matter.
Religion? Mortality? Human nature? Motherhood? All these familiar heavy nouns are wrapped up in tin foil by Fisher and made to look as shiny and futuristic as possible. That’s not very futuristic, thanks to the show’s near-present vibe, but the show’s chunky, low-budget aesthetic suits the Big Themes of genre entries gone by. Extant is an old-fashioned woolly jumper of a sci-fi, in which you can see the threads of Steven Spielberg (he’s an executive producer), 2001, Blade Runner and Alien.
That chunkiness occasionally weaves its way onto the page, though, leaving the cast to deliver such awkward dialogue as “He executes a series of programmed instructions that are designed to look like love! That’s not love!”
It’s a promising, if not always immaculate, conception – and Amazon will be hoping that it delivers. It hasn’t always had the best of luck with its offspring so far. Vikings took the best part of a season to find its (very good) form, while original creations Alpha House and Creative Galaxy have both been mild disappointments.
There are signs that Extant can grow up into something impressive, though. Hiroyuki Sanada’s Mr. Yasumuto brings a sinister hint of corruption (both moral and corporate) to the table, while Halle Berry successfully spends 45 minutes looking dazed and confused with her hair slightly out of place. Regular flashbacks to her time on the space station tease out what happened to her, their eerie silence both genuinely unsettling and a well-judged balance to the cheesier moments on Earth, which even extend to a shadowy figure hiding behind Halle’s hedge and talking of conspiracies.
For the most part, Episode 1 of Extant does its job well, clicking, whirring and flying round the room like one of Ethan’s remote-controlled toys. And all those questions – Can batter-powered androids ever replace people? Why does the title change from “Extinct” to “Extant” in the credits? – linger in the mind.
Fully-formed answers, of course, will take a while to gestate.
“Just give me some time to figure it out,” says Molly. Like her doctor, you’ll be willing to give it to her. It may occasionally resemble a string of programmed parts designed to look like the Next Big TV Show, but Extant’s opener marks it out as a series pregnant with ideas.
Extant premieres on Thursday 10th July at 9pm on Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Want to watch Extant online? An Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription costs £5.99 per month – or, if you would also like unlimited UK delivery on products and 350,000 eBooks available to borrow, £79 per year for a full Amazon Prime membership.