July 17, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Extant”


EXTANT:  Wednesday 9PM on CBS

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on EXTANT:  Astronaut Molly Woods (Halle Berry) returns from a 13 month-long solo mission in space with a surprise–she’s pregnant.  Although come to think of it, she did have that odd encounter with her dead first husband Marcus (Sergio Harford)–or at least with someone or something making use of Marcus’s form…  Back on Earth, Molly’s current husband John (Goran Visnjic) is raising their son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), which is to say the robot boy John has invented to have the ability to feel genuine human emotions, and to learn from experience.  John’s business receives a financial shot in the arm from mysterious industrialist Hideki Yasumoto (Hiruyuki Sanada), who is involved in an as-yet unexplained conspiracy with Alan Sparks (Michael O’Neill), one of the senior officials at the privately-owned, quasi-NASA organization that sent Molly into space.  Also, the astronaut who preceded Molly, Harmon Kryger (Brad Beyer), who supposedly committed suicide after his mission, is actually very much alive (if extremely paranoid), and he appears to warn Molly against just about everyone.

Episode 2:  Things remained cryptic yet bland in the second hour of Extant.  The episode, written by Consulting Producer Leslie Bohem and directed by Matt Earl Beasley, didn’t push the narrative forward very much.  Molly’s friend and doctor Sam (Camryn Manheim) conducted a secret ultra-sound examination and confirmed that Molly is indeed pregnant, but that was hardly news.  Yasumoto and Sparks continued to hover together and murmur vaguely about whatever nefarious thing they’ve been doing.  John took umbrage whenever anyone suggested that his little robot was in any way less than fully human.  Creepy little Ethan, in the meantime, went to the natural history museum and absorbed a pointed lesson about species on earth becoming extinct when newer, stronger species came to power.  Molly had another brief encounter with whatever is taking on Marcus’s identity, and briefly passed out.  About the only news passed on was that almost the same thing had happened to Kryger during his space voyage as Molly had experienced–except the “person” he saw was in the form of his mother, and thankfully he didn’t return pregnant (although when “she” touched him, he did get the same geometric design on his belly that Molly has had).

Extant is slickly made, but so far it’s not developing much tension or unearthing a particularly engrossing story.  In a TV era where science fiction series are thick with mythology, Extant is just a bare-bones premise, and not a terribly thrilling one.  What little plot there is has been borrowed from better sources like Rosemary’s Baby and AI, while the conspiracy angle is so by-the-numbers that it barely even qualifies as a mystery.  Berry, of course, is a performer who holds the attention, but she’s no more successful in singlehandedly carrying this sparse yarn than she’s been in the many mediocre movies she’s made over the last several years.

Extant had an OK but disappointing start in the ratings last week, and although it’s unlikely to crater entirely with Big Brother as its lead-in, there’s little to suggest it has any prospect of building.  Tame and a little bit dull, it’s “CBS sci-fi” with all the pejorative meaning that term implies.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Utterly Earth-Bound

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."