The taxonomic term extant, used in the study of biology to indicate a species still in existence, is the opposite of extinct.
In the case of the new CBS science fiction series Extant, however, the actual species in question is not named, and, aye, there’s the rub. With a cast of characters that includes humans, robots, and (possibly) ghosts and/or aliens, the possibilities are pretty much endless.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the show centers around astronaut Molly Woods (Halle Berry). Having just returned from space, she discovers that she’s pregnant—no simple feat considering her mission had been a 13-month solo effort.
As Woods attempts to get to the bottom of things, we learn of a Watergate-like gap in her spacecraft’s interior surveillance cameras. So what’s the smoking gun? If Woods’ woozy memory is to be believed—which it probably shouldn’t—then all indications are that she was visited by a ghost.
The rest of her life, here on earth, is no great shakes either. Woods’ husband John (Goran Visnjic), a driven robotics engineer, has allied himself with a mysterious businessman, her bosses at the space agency are up to some kind of subterfuge, and, oh yeah, her son’s a robot.
Viewers will no doubt recognize many of the elements woven into the fabric of Extant. There’s a lot of A.I. (Steven Spielberg is an executive producer), Blade Runner, The Omen, Fringe, and even 2001 (the ship’s computer, Ben, could easily share the same motherboard as HAL 9000).
But of course, it’s Rosemary’s Baby, which is the primary influence. And while it may be too early to tell where they’re going with all this, it’s even money that Visnjic will be playing John Cassavetes to Berry’s Mia Farrow. He may turn out to be a stand-up guy, but his connections to the brewing shadow conspiracy suggest otherwise. If Ruth Gordon shows up, it’ll clearly be time for Woods to make tracks.
While the leads have turned in better work, the acting in the pilot is acceptable within the parameters of the network TV mystery-science fiction genre, the production values are impressive enough, and there’s enough skulduggery to keep the average X-phile interested. This isn’t groundbreaking television, but as a summer replacement series it’s creepy and intricate enough to be engaging without asking a whole lot.
The real question is: is Extant an homage to all the material it incorporates, or is it just a quick knock-off? A nod is as good as a wink, after all—if the makers of Extant are simply focused on strip-mining the genre, Molly Woods’ journey will turn out to be a short trip indeed.
Extant premieres Wednesday (July 9),at 9:00pm on CBS