‘Extant’ Season 2: Showrunners Talk New Direction, Cast Changes

Extant TV Review CBS
Courtesy of CBS

It’s not unusual for a show to make tweaks between seasons, but CBS’ summer sci-fi series “Extant” underwent an extreme makeover for Wednesday’s second season premiere.

Only three of last season’s seven full-time regulars are still with the show (leading lady Halle Berry as astronaut Molly Woods, Pierce Gagnon as her robo-son, Ethan, and Grace Gummer as partially robotic scientist Julie Gelineau), while season one’s male lead, Goran Visnjic, has been replaced by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Entire subplots have been dropped, and the show’s perspective is shifting away from the realm of science, to a pulpier, more action-driven, vibe.

There’s no doubt many of these changes are the result of underwhelming ratings — after bowing to 9.6 million viewers and a 1.6 rating in the 18-49 demo, the first season averaged 6.2 million viewers and a 1.1 in 18-49.

They’re also the vision of new showrunners Elizabeth Kruger and Craig Shapiro (“Necessary Roughness”), who now steer the ship along with series creator Mickey Fisher. All three EPs are open in hoping their changes will attract a larger audience to the show, which has completed production on all 13 episodes for season two. Variety spoke with the trio about the creative reboot.

What expectations do you hope audiences will have for the season after watching the premiere?
Mickey Fisher: We drop right into the middle of Molly’s story and then leap back. I hope audiences pick up that this is a mystery in high gear. In the first season, it took time to lay the foundation and build the story and the characters. I felt like in the (season two premiere) we were able to hit the ground running and reestablish Molly in a new light.
Craig Shapiro: Last season explored Molly as a scientist and astronaut and mom. This season is much more Molly as a warrior.
Elizabeth Kruger: Molly’s gone rogue.
CS: The fate of the human race hangs in the balance and she’s the focal point. We’re counting on her.

Was it a goal for season two to get Molly more involved in the action on a physical level?
It’s not just about the physical moments, it’s more about an attitude for her. Her entire energy is being transformed in the first few episodes, and for lack of a better word it’s much more badass than last season.

We know Goran Visnjic is no longer a series regular. Does that mean John is definitely dead?
I would say, never assume anything.
MF: But exactly what happened to him is a major part of the mystery that goes through the spine of the season. It doesn’t just go away. It informs everything that happens. There will be answers, but it’s going to take a little while to get to the bottom of it.
EK: And there will be blood.

Julie (Grace Gummer) appears to have taken a turn toward the dark side. Should the audience see her as a villain now?
Let’s just say she’s not a mustache-twirling villain. She’s a misguided young woman, who is going to probably get her ass handed to her at some point.
MF: Julie is handed the reins of the Humanitics program and she has a lot of ambition and great intentions, but like Liz said she’s misguided and is going to make a lot of mistakes. Those mistakes are going to have terrible consequences down the line. She’s got an interesting arc throughout the season. She has to deal with selling out all the principles of that program and what they were trying to do with Ethan.
EK: There are consequences to everybody’s actions in this story.

It was pretty funny to hear that Molly went after Julie with a shovel at John’s funeral. Did you film that? Can we hope for a flashback?
MF: We should’ve done that as a webisode.
EK: We’ll have to leave it to the imagination.
CS: You’re right though, we all want to see that.

Sam (Camryn Manheim) is referenced in the premiere, but not seen. Will she be back at all this season?

And have we seen the end of the anti-technology rebel group from season one?
Yes, in this season they do not play a part in the story.
CS: We sort of said the whole world of what let’s call the ISDA, the space program, that world was wrapped up with the explosion of the space station. We’re moving to the world of the global security commission headed up by General Shepherd, David Morrissey’s character.
EK: It’s more of a combination between the NSA, threat assessment, homeland security — like a combo platter.

And Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada)?
He was also part of that world that really feels like it reached its conclusion in season one. We’re moving into the new world where the threat Molly thought was contained in space is now earthbound and she’s on the trail to figure out how to stop it. She has new allies and enemies.

What was your inspiration for General Shepherd?
We talked about General Petraeus as an interesting idea; what those people have to carry with them every day and all the stuff they know about what’s out there.
CS: The responsibility that’s put on them.
EK: How do they lead any semblance of a normal life when they’re carrying all that knowledge of all the things that could kill us in an instant? We liked the story from that idea. And playing with the idea of what does it mean to be working for the greater good? Putting people in morally ambiguous situations and asking the question, “How would you handle it if you were in that situation?” As we know, when you’re the one having to make those decisions there are so many grey areas.

And you have a new male lead in Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Where did the idea for his character come from?
When we first sat down with Mickey, we were talking about what we thought would make season two really fun — to have somebody who was the outsider. Last season everybody was in the know about aliens, so nobody was acting freaked out. Jeffrey gets to be the Everyman, the guy along for the ride. It’s very Spielbergian to have a character like that, the person who acts as the audience point of view. He’s also a real contrast to Shepherd — the ultimate outsider versus the ultimate insider. That relationship is going to play out in very interesting ways both with Molly and with each other.
MF: He’s also a great contrast to Molly Woods. She’s an astronaut, a scientist, a woman with two PhDs, and he’s a blue collar cop who operates on instinct. People lie to him all day long and he has a highly attuned bulls— meter. At first glance they’re polar opposites, but he needs her to solve this case and she needs him to get on her side to stop this thing from happening to the human race. We talked about it like Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway in “Three Days of the Condor.”
EK: What we like also is he kind of dirties up the show. I don’t mean in the not showering way, but he’s rough around the edges. He kind of slaps the show around.
CS: He has an energy and a charm, and when [Halle and Jeffrey] get together, the two of them are just electric. We’re having a ball writing for them.

Halle became an executive producer this year. Does she have more creative input?
Absolutely. Craig and I spoke with Halle and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, her producing partner, when we came on board and had extensive conversations about what she wanted to be doing this season. They gave us thoughts about what they wanted Molly to do and what they didn’t want her to do, and then gave us the creative room to find the story.

Was Molly’s new attitude something Halle was looking for as well?
Yeah, I think so. I think she was looking for a shift in the storytelling and where she’s going. She’s been in a certain place with the robot offspring and wanted to make sure we ventured out into new territory. We basically blew it up. There were so many breadcrumbs that Mickey and the writers room from last year left for us.
CS: We pulled out ideas to really explore.
EK: The key was to build on what they had and find the mysterious story of season two. We wanted to explore more completely Molly’s mythology and her character — who she is and why she is the way she is. We saw some of it last year when we met Lou Gossett [as Molly’s father], but we dig deep into Molly this year. We find out things about her we didn’t know.

Mickey, how much has the game plan changed from what you originally thought would happen after season one for things like Molly’s alien baby?
In terms of the big overall idea, it was always the same. In season two, the threat that we thought was contained in space is now earthbound and spreading and becomes a major problem here on Earth. The details and the way we go about it have changed, but I think that was inevitable once you get into it and start breaking down the story. Liz and Craig bring their energy to it and their ideas. It naturally evolves into its own thing. But when I pitched the show originally it was always my idea that this was the origin of a sci-fi world, and it was going to grow and adapt as humans had to grow and adapt when faced with first contact and the emergence of this super-powerful intelligence. In that way, the overall concept is the same.

Have you received any advice from (executive producer) Steven Spielberg about the new season?
Yeah … make it good. [laughs] He’s been directing two movies back-to-back, but we deal with his company Amblin quite a bit. Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank run the television division and we deal with them on a daily basis. Steven did give us notes on cuts through Darryl and Justin, and he seemed very pleased with the way the season is going.
MF: His fingerprints and DNA are all over the show. Liz mentioned there’s something Spielbergian about Jeffrey’s character. It’s something we bring up all the time in the writers room. You almost can’t help but reference [his movies] because he’s made so many of the great works of the genre in the last 30-40 years.
CS: It’s his spirit that keeps the storytelling grounded. It exists as much as it can in the real world. How people would really respond to these situations. In that sense, I feel like we’ve got him with us all the time.

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  1. M Vassor says:

    Big disappointment….

  2. Jacob Kurtzberg says:

    This show is a major disappointment. Like most of network programming this show is boring blah, blah, blah. The only entertainment these days is off broadcast network in my opinion. Doesn’t anyone vet these showrunners anymore?

    • Susan Schlenger says:

      New Directions??! Cast changes??! This show, like many others now, began with great promise and has already been “fixed” until it began to break apart. There was a lot of unexplored turf which was ignored in favor of spinning from one direction to another.

      Who IS Molly? Whenever it seems that we have some knowledge about her, she morphs into someone else. And plugging in flashback/dream sequences each time she needs to fit a plot is about as successful as the “Who killed Patrick” season of “Dallas” which informed viewers that they had wasted an entire season; “nevermind,it was all a dream”. In other words, the plot never advanced – fooled you!

      Writers seem to start out with a vision, and just when the audience begins to invest in it, the vision blurs. Cast changes, format changes, even day of showing changes effect the audience in ways that seem not to be perceived by producers. Popular shows used to remain popular longer, as the viewer could invest time and interest without feeling jerked around by cute devices like killing all the darlings. Viewers like to depend on an evening of television watching which is relatively predictable. Viewers like me want to invest in and follow characters through their journeys. Hopefully, good or bad, their journey will be interesting enough to suspend disbelief. And, once that magic has worked (Grey’s Anatomy ) writers torment the audience at their peril.

      Perhaps, late in a well developed long running show we might forgive the loss of a favorite character, but even that holds risks.

      Otherwise, the retained audience is the same viewers who would watch no matter how badly plotted and executed is the show.

      And, with few exceptions (Last Week, Tonight) intelligent viewers turn to older Netflix/Amazon-preserved shows or read a good book.

    • M Vassot says:

      What a big disappointment . Season 1 was going well — human survival vs alien. Great. But, but, but… Season 2, the machine became the threat of survival. Very bad idea….. I like the idea, human created the machine to help fight the alien invaders. I believe the alien invaders are the real threat of our survival. Their advances of control or read your thought is agains everything we believe. Watching Extant, is a waste of my time. Especially season 1. WHO EVER READING THE SCRIPTS, please stick with the first plan. We notice the changes. We don’t like that. Pure trash…!

  3. dont want to se says:

    SCIENCE. where is the science, this crap is none but a reflection of halle berrys real life and her sick problems, no get this witch off TV DONT want to see halle in any of her stupid old fashon movies either and stop riuining other actors careers by placing halle in a movie with tom hanks, if you had not placed halle in the movie the wacklowski film would have never failed dont you producers know that we are all done with halle berry and her sick trick that she pulls in her personal life we are all done, like Empire said get rid of halle berry, this creep cannot act

    • Dwayne says:

      You need to stop hating on halle berry. Seems like you are very jealous of her . obviously she can act look at all the movies she has been in. And showed that she’s a very good actress. So get a life looser.

  4. guest says:

    extant with all its changes still is a train wreck going to where because halle berry is in it and halle has no acting skills, cancecel this show or replace halle berry, no body is watching her, we dont watch anything halle is in, Her oscar was just a LIE

  5. C Bradford Baer says:

    I had no idea that Extant was such a letdown. I was too busy enjoying the show to notice. Personally, I think Season 2 is better than Season 1. It seems more focused. And since Season 1 ended with a rapidly aging alien child milling around, it makes sense to follow his story in Season 2.

    Maybe the show won’t make it to season 3, but try to remember, not every hit show started as a hit. (Seinfeld, Star Trek for example) I think, more than anything, reality shows are hurting Extant and every other scripted show. The networks don’t mind, because reality shows are huge money makers. (no paid actors) But as a viewer, enough is enough with the reality shows. Focus more on good scripted shows.

  6. Aerin says:

    I loved the first season, and I’m loving season 2, so far, despite the rather bumpy transition, so I guess I’m in the minority. Much as I love Goran Visnjic as an actor, I never actually bought him as Molly’s husband — there was zero chemistry. Yes, it was a very awkwardly handled exit, but good for the show. I’m liking the David Morrissey character, the Julie-Charlie conflict, and especially Julie’s struggles to deal with Ethan, now that she’s got her wish to be his “mom.” The kid who plays Ethan is absolutely amazing!

  7. John O'Neill says:

    Well, they lost me completely. I LOVED the first season. The changes made it another stupid 24 style wannabe. They jumped the shark in season two…good for you. I won’t be back.

  8. Llawen says:

    Please don’t dumb it down! There are so many robotics and interesting science which could imbue episodes with clarity. “Attend/befriend” vs “fight or flight”, Asimov’s three laws of robotics (and their echo in modern A I.); I sure don’t want this promising show to become another soap in pseudo science clothing. Writers-there IS mystery in this; better to find and learn it than to try and invent it.

  9. A. Schröder says:

    No… Not ‘Extant’… Please… This is worst than what happened to ‘Firefly’. With ‘Firefly’, they killed an awesome and intelligent sci-fi show. But it ended without denaturing itself, and they even got to do a movie. What’s sad about ‘Extant’ is there will be a second season out there… It will be like watching ‘American Psycho 2’… I would have prefered if they just canceled it.

    This article summarizes well what has happened : ‘Entire subplots have been dropped, and the show’s perspective is shifting away from the realm of science, to a pulpier, more action-driven, vibe.’. That ammounts to not giving a sh– about the nature of the show you people had created. You had an intelligent, beautiful, immersive and rapturing science-fiction show. It was like ‘A.I.’ meets ‘The Invasion’ meets ‘Moon’ meets ‘Sunshine’ meets ‘Event Horizon’ meets ‘Solaris’ meets ‘Sphere’ meets the paintings of John Berkey meets Asimov, etc. Seriously, the first season is a chef d’oeuvre in the science-fiction genre. And it was also about a child growing up, and a family, and strongly interconnected characters. If I had a child the age of Ethan, I would like him to see the first season. The scene where Ethan wants to take the broken robot home to repare him made me cry.

    You made the characters do things that just don’t fit with who they had become in season one. Then you killed the father (and seriously, the scene he dies… that is disrespectful to the actor, and to your audience). You destroyed the family. And we, as audience, don’t even get the opportunity to care for this, to ‘mourn’ for John. I just felt like you fired an actor. And you abandonned the scientific/futuristic vibe, to replace it with another CSI recipe. Now I’m not sure if I would still show the first season to my fictional son, because I would feel bad knowing the second season is such a deception.

    When I say “you” I mean Craig Shapiro and Elizabeth Kruger (and whoever sent you to do that job). I understand that this is about money, and the 9.6 to 6.2 million viewers drop. You will give people what they wanna see (a little bit like the alien did in season one). People wanna see ‘action-driven’ predictable detective stories. But people desire this because you make them used to it. You create the need. Theodor W. Adorno (sociologist and philosopher) called this the ‘conformist’ dimension of the cultural industry : you study what people desire to offer them products designed to feed that desire. What you create is conformity. Instead, you could be creative people (like Mickey Fisher seems to be) and offer to the world a new product, hoping that people will educate themselves into new desires, new experiences.

    To Mickey Fisher : I read the other article in Variety about how you ended up in the good circumstances to be able to turn this idea you had into reality. That is awesome ! I am happy for you, wish you the best, and I wanna thank you for sharing those ideas with other people ! I enjoyed the first season like you have no idea (actually I’m sure you have an idea, and I’m also sure you have severe doubts about the new direction for season two). I hope you get the chance to do other projects like this one.

    I will buy the bluray of season one right away, and this is something I will watch from time to time, like I do with my favorite sci-fi movies and shows. But I won’t be watching another episode of season two.

  10. Jan Jacoby says:

    I really like the new direction of the show and am very glad that there is a new male lead and the strength he displays in his character; I always thought her husband was too much of a “wuss” to handle Molly. She now has someone to play off of; someone who can stand up for her and to her.

  11. LadyDay64 says:

    I hate this new direction. I liked the old characters and the science theme. I could have accepted these changes slowly where they helped the audience get to know new characters and accept the loss of the characters. Already I hate the storyline. It’s stupid. I hate when executives make these changes its only business related not about the character or audience, not really.

  12. Deb says:

    How willy was this new episode! Just like that, the husband is dead and had been having an affair with the assistant??!! I call BS on the whole thing! It was just silly and insults our intelligence as viewers! C’mon!

  13. guest says:

    Halle Berrys best bet would be to do cartoon voiceovers, that weak; insecure voice with actually no sex appeal has no inflection and we are tired of your pity parties, You are not Maggie Gyllenhaal , OR thandie Newto, or Zoe Zaldana or Paula Patton or Taraji Henson or octavia spencer now shes should be noticed by the queen of England, even whoopie goldberg can be recognized as a great artist and actor but you need to go somewhere and hide

  14. TC says:

    “Halle became an executive producer this year…..and had extensive conversations about what she wanted to be doing this season.”

    So, I bet she wanted to get rid of Goran Visnjic and other changes that will totally kill the show…..all in an effort to give herself more screen time. Most likely we can all blame her and not see a season 3.

  15. Cancel it says:

    The script was bad from the start. How it fooled so many people into thinking there was something great there is a mystery to me.

  16. JD says:

    Extant has lost me as a viewer with the loss of Goran Visnjic, he was my sole reason for tuning into the series in the first place. With his exit, and the change in the storyline, the show becomes just another cookie cutter chase series (ie: revamped Fugitive)…boring.

  17. lazarus102 says:

    I think it’s too bad that the husband was killed off, he was a great actor and brought a lot to the show. Without him the connection between the wife and humanix is pretty much gone. I mean she still has a personal connection to Ethan but his creator is gone. That aside the show is still pretty damn good/interesting. I kinda hope they bring the husband back in some way, like it turns out he escaped last minute and his death was faked while he went into hiding(wouldn’t be the first time that scenario played out in a show/movie).

  18. Cath says:

    What was disturbing was the shift of the husband into a philandering jerk. At this point it doesn’t seem necessary to the plot. Julie was always suspect throughout all of last season. Her personal choices were not good. You weren’t expected to like her since she was extremely possessive concerning Ethan. Except for the weird vibe about the husband’s loyalties the rest of the show was fine.

    • LadyDay64 says:

      Cath that through me off too. Her husband loved her and was loyal many times before and they worked through her still seeing her first husband and then boom he’s a lying cheate wow, couldn’t they cause the car accident without disparaging the character’s character and then try to keep the family together. How is it that you can just forget you’re a mom to a real boy or not it’s an instinct I your core that doesn’t just go away. Stop trying to make this show a Species duplicate for television.

  19. Hopefully they don’t break the tone of the show

  20. Bob Price says:

    The first season was good, but slooow, and boooring. Watched S2/E1 tonight. Great show!

  21. buffalobilly says:

    can they replace diva Berry?

  22. bob says:

    The same old PR speak and pretentious BS from the creators, trying to excuse a show that`s already dead but doesn`t quite know it yet.

  23. Troubadour Russ says:

    Blah, blah , blah . No streaming deal ..no show. The end.

    • AmyDeAl says:

      Well, they just totally destroyed a fantastic show my family is done!!!! They destroyed a marriage in 15 mins, then made Molly single by death in a car accident… AGAIN. The show was wonderfully fresh and different with a Black women, wife, mother, astronaut no less. trying to balance a career and a family. Yes it would put stress on a marriage, her being gone for a year but to think that John loved her so much he wouldn’t touch other woman, was so inspiring. Showing them fighting for their marriage and working on rebuilding intimacy was so exciting to see. Now we are back to tired CSI, Criminal minds, Cold Case, Law and Order, cops show warmed over garbage. Then have this Julie person sex up Molly’s husband and stealing her son so that she can run around playing cop with some man in which his first scene is him in bed with a woman is just too much gutter for me. I’m done. Good luck with the show.

      • LadyDay64 says:

        Amy you nailed it. The shows values have changed for a darker sex driven show from a scientific familyest type show. I loved the family balance and strength against all odds. This show is about individualism and has a silimarity to that 80’s or 90’s movie Species with Natasha Hendridge. Hollywood always tries to fix what’s not broken when they see dollars in their eyes. They did that to Smash and countless other solid first season shows. They typically fizzle in second season be a use the make major changes director, writer, actress, editor or producer. Unless they come back strong I see this series ending after season 2. Goodbye potential.

      • Cath says:

        I had forgotten about that previous car accident that killed Molly’s previous love. That makes the fact that she supposedly “flipped out” have more continuity with the first season. I’m no prude but you are right, that introductory scene with the cop in bed with that woman was also as jarring as the infidelity reveal. It just didn’t seem to fit with the show we watched last year.

      • Wow!! I haven’t seen the new episode yet, and now I don’t know if I want to!! I LOVED the first season, and I strongly disagree that it was “slooow and boooring”! I absolutely despise these super action-packed productions that move from scene to scene in a hectic, mad cap pace, as if we’re all teenagers with the attention spans of a peanut! Is there no place anymore for a mature, THINKING audience that can appreciate character development, intelligent dialogue, and a thought-provoking plot?? I’ve been waiting in anticipation for the new season, and now I hover over the dvr, wondering if I should push the button….

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