September 18, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Extant”


It’s a mystery how some network messes ever get on the air, but that wasn’t the case with CBS’s EXTANT.  On the contrary, its path was completely clear.  After the network had a surprise smash hit last summer with Under the Dome, one that came with hardly any risk because of a co-financing deal with Amazon (which got accelerated digital rights in exchange), naturally it wanted to expand its grasp of the summer sci-fi serial market.  So it was receptive when the same Steven Spielberg-led group of producers came in with another thriller to pitch, this one about a female astronaut who returned from a long solo voyage in space inexplicably pregnant–and with a bona fide star at the top this time in the person of Halle Berry, who was ready to call it a day on the big screen after years without a decent leading role.

All of it was perfectly logical, but quality TV shows aren’t assembled out of their deal terms, and Extant never worked as a drama.  Creator Mickey Fisher and showrunner Greg Walker had nowhere to take it after the opening episode, and opted for a mash-up of cliches from other sci-fi and horror stories, including Rosemary’s Baby, Spielberg’s own A.I., and any number of alien mind control tropes.  Evidently, there wasn’t much of a budget, so aside from the opening and closing episodes, little of the season was set in space, and the superpowers of the eventual alien spawn were limited to putting characters into virtual reality worlds that looked just like this one.  (Things were so cheap that the production couldn’t afford futuristic cars, and had to dub whooshing noises under shots of ordinary ones.)  Combine that with a lackluster leading performance from Berry, and it was enough to make one appreciate Dome, which has gone increasingly bonkers, but at least has some scale and ingenuity.

The season finale, written by Fisher and directed by Miguel Sapochnik, did manage to send things off on a relative high note.  It made zero sense that Molly Woods (Berry) was the only person on Earth who could be launched into space on a moment’s notice to blow up her old space station, which was infected with alien somethings (we got the briefest glimpse of a CG gizmo wriggling around Berry’s arm, otherwise we only saw the aliens in their guise as humans–presumably again a budget issue), especially since her own glowing-eyed alien monster child was wandering around and killing people.  But fine:  send her into space, at least it was a change from her running around trying to convince people first that she was pregnant, then that her baby was alive, and then that only she could save people from it/him.

When the space station computer refused to let her return to Earth because she might be infected herself with the alien–which apparently she was, but she fought it off through sheer force of will (?)–it set the stage for that plotline to interplay with the other major story of the series, which was the humanity of her A.I. son Ethan (the creepy Pierce Gagnon).  He was able to override the computer and send her home, and then sacrifice himself by allowing the bomb that had been planted in him by an anti-high-tech terrorist to go off, which was supposed to kill both him and the alien kid.  Except that, in fact, neither of those things happened, because the alien was hitching rides on the freeway at the end of the episode, and Ethan had infected himself into the entire computer system at least of Molly’s home and workplace, which was the same thing that evil Johnny Depp did in the recent flop Transcendence when he tried to take over the world, but somehow was here portrayed as good news.  Whatever, but at least things happened during the final hour.

There were good actors trapped in all this besides Berry.  Goran Visnjic spent the entire season with his brow furrowed as Molly’s husband and Ethan’s inventor, who was constantly worried about one if not both of them.  Mamie Gummer, as his chief assistant, looked disgusted at everyone who didn’t adore Ethan as much as she did, and of course eventually fell for the terrorist who wanted to destroy Ethan.  Michael O’Neill was patently untrustworthy as Molly’s boss, and Hiroyuki Sanada even more blatantly villainous as the industrialist backing the show’s NASA equivalent for his own nefarious reasons.  Camryn Manheim did very little as Molly’s doctor friend.

Extant is likely extinct, with ratings that never came close to Under the Dome‘s (this year’s subdued numbers, let alone last year’s hit), but considering how favorable its economics are to CBS, its fate isn’t certain.  If the network determines in its ledger-book that the show is worth renewing, perhaps more thought can go into its plotting  next time around rather than its profit.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."