Not many TV shows would get the royal treatment American sci-fi TV drama series “Extant” did.
Created by Mickey Fisher and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, “Extant” is the result of a screenwriting entry that hit Hollywood jackpot in 2013. It was so promising that in August 2013, CBS announced that it had placed a 13-episode straight-to-series order, bypassing the traditional pilot stage. Filming began in Los Angeles on 10th February 2014 and is a production of Amblin Entertainment. The first episode of “Extant” aired on 9th July 2014.
The plot is as follows:
After spending a year living in space, conducting experiments intended for a lone astronaut, Molly Watts (Academy Award-winner Halle Berry) returns to Earth and begins to reconnect with her husband, John (critically acclaimed actor Goran Visnjic), who is a gifted scientist, and her unique son, Ethan. Molly finds that her experiences in space — and in her personal life back at home – lead to events that will, in time, change the course of human history.
Needless to say, it’s our new sci-fi favourite ;)
Not convinced? Here are 7 things you need to know about the Spielberg co-produced thrilling drama:
1. “Extant” marks Oscar award-winning actress Halle Berry’s return to TV
We all know who Halle Berry is, but did you know that she actually started her acting career in the short-lived TV series “Living Dolls”, a spin-off of “Who’s the Boss”? Her other TV credits included a recurring role on Knot’s Landing and TV movies “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. “Extant” marks her return to the small screen. What made her go back? She told ET Canada:
I just find that there are some great roles on TV right now for women. The divide between film and TV is getting smaller and smaller. It’s becoming more gray. It’s not so black and white where you have film stars and TV stars. I think they’re actors just looking to find good work.
Halle Berry, who is known for her dynamic roles, also explained why she decided to take up the role of Molly Woods, an astronaut and scientist in “Extant”:
When I read it, I thought, wow, what an amazing character. That’s what I’m looking for: a new challenge. Something I hadn’t done before. This sci-fi was so rooted in family and grounded, and the characters were complicated indeed. I thought hmm, this could be really wonderful.
2. Two words: Steven Spielberg
For “Extant”, having Steven Spielberg (whose TV series in production include CBS’ “Under the Dome” and TNT’s “Falling Skies”) on board means more than just adding his name to the bill. He holds an executive producer credit and believe it or not, he reads every script and brainstorms ideas with the writers. How did it end up with Steven Spielberg? It was all because show creator Mickey Fisher joined a screenwriting contest – the TrackingB TV Pilot Contest.
His script earned a finalist slot and garnered the attention from Allysa Bauer, a young assistant at the William Morris Endeavor (WME) agency. She and her WME coordinator Solco Schuit pushed for their bosses to look at the script, and it eventually landed at Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV. Fisher got the official word from Spielberg himself on 7th August 2013, which happened to be his 40th birthday.
3. Still water runs deep
The show gives 2 definitions for the word “extant”: to still be in existence or the opposite of extinct. Steven Spielberg thinks CBS was “very brave” to not ask the show to “come up with a less esoteric title.” The Hollywood Reporter challenged the show’s stars to come up with their best definition for the term. Louis Gossett Jr., who plays Halle Berry’s father, said it was the “creation of a new being” while Michael O’Neill, who plays Halle Berry’s boss, said the word had to do with survival. Halle Berry, on the other hand, gave it a more befitting definition:
It means to be in existence. The name is great because that’s what our show is about is fighting to stay alive. At the end of the day, we are going to be fighting for humanity to exist. I don’t think there could be a better title actually.
Ah, still water runs deep!
4. Malia Obama worked on the set as a production assistant
President Barack Obama’s oldest daughter Malia worked as a production assistant. Yes, it’s true – then 15-year-old Malia working as a runner on the set of the sci-fi series and according to sources on set, she received no special treatment and carried out the kinds of menial tasks that anyone who wants to make it behind the cameras in Hollywood has to endure. According to Entertainment Tonight, Halle Berry’s co-star Manheim confirmed, “I can tell you that’s true. I can tell you that she’s graceful and lovely and just charming and delightful… She’s pretty remarkable.”
In 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama also previously spoke of her daughter’s affinity for the entertainment industry to People Magazine, saying, “Malia has expressed some interest in filmmaking. Just like her father, she is an avid reader and she enjoys movies.”
5. Halle Berry has a robot son on the show
When Molly Woods (played by Halle Berry) believed that she couldn’t conceive, it prompted her inventor husband Dr. John Woods (played by Goran Visnjic) to invent a robot that acted like a human child named Ethan (played by Pierce Gagnon). Ethan was also part of John’s humanics project. However, Visnjic told HitFix:
John created Ethan, and when Molly left in space, she left with the relationship with Ethan being unresolved. It’s difficult (enough) to deal with a 10-year-old when he’s yours from birth on. In the pilot, John is very comfortable with this little robot, but Molly, who has been away so long, will have issues reconnecting with him.
On top of that, Molly will also struggle reconnecting with her family when she has a mysterious being growing inside of her. When the astronaut returns home after her year-long solo mission in space, her best friend and doctor Sam Barton (played by Camryn Manheim) informs her that she’s pregnant.
6. The series is set 20 – 30 years from now
If you’ve at least seen the pilot episode, you would’ve been impressed by all the technology in it. We’re talking about the likes of moving photographs, touchscreen mirrors, PowerPoint presentations in 3D, computerised cars, floating games, and the works. This is because “Extant” is set in a time 20 – 30 years from now. The time is so advanced that in the show, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) doesn’t exist.
In the show creators’ vision, the agency that sends Molly to space for a solo scientific mission is the International Space Exploration Agency (ISAE), and it is not run by the government. Instead, the agency is run by private businessmen who were so successful, they got involved with space exploration and now fund and operate space missions. Fisher explained:
We started off thinking about a world in our story where space exploration had been privatised. NASA wouldn’t necessarily exist.
7. It explores artificial intelligence (AI), aliens, and conspiracy theories
It’s near impossible for Halle Berry’s character to end up pregnant after her missions in space, considering that no one else was on the space ship with her for 13 months. But a strange encounter with an alien entity that appeared in the form of her dead boyfriend could explain what put her in that condition, spurring conspiracy theories that aliens may have used her body as a host. Also, Halle Berry’s on-screen son, Ethan, raised a lot of interesting questions about artificial intelligence (AI) and how we might be able to develop relationships with our robot buddies in the future.
Hey, anything’s possible, right?
To date, “Extant” has received generally favourable reviews and on 9th October 2014, CBS announced that the series has been renewed for a 2nd season, which premiered on 1st July 2015. Catch “Extant” on first and exclusively via RTL CBS Entertainment, HyppTV Channel 616, every Tuesday at 9:55pm.