“Extant” feels a bit like a Steven Spielberg greatest (and not-so-greatest) hits album, from “A.I.” to, in this case, a close encounter of the reproductive kind. That’s not an indictment so much as a road map to this CBS summer drama, which brings the star power of Halle Berry to the screen as an astronaut who returns to Earth after an extended mission only to discover — after an “anomaly” — that she’s pregnant, however impossible that seems. Throw in assorted subplots, and it’s certainly an intriguing launch; but then again, so was “Under the Dome” before that narratively ran into a brick wall.
Berry’s Molly is back home when the story begins, reunited with her husband, John (Goran Visnjic), and artificially intelligent son (Pierce Gagnon), which John has not only built but is seeking funding to market. (His expression of contempt for religion when pressed about the boy is one of the more bracing signals that this is a futuristic science-fiction piece.)
When Molly’s doctor (Camryn Manheim) delivers the news about her condition, that invites all manner of questions about what happened up there — dealt with, only partially, via sporadic flashbacks. Yet that’s only one of the mysteries built into the show, including the mogul (Hiroyuki Sanada) who might invest in John’s enterprise, a Nixon-like gap in the taped record of the mission, and what really caused the death of the astronaut who preceded Molly into space.
Aside from the coup of landing Berry — a woman, apparently, irresistible to sentient life throughout the galaxy — the show’s strong cast hints at more promise than the premiere ultimately exhibits, racing as it does to establish a foundation for what’s to come in the pilot written by first-time series creator Mickey Fisher and directed by Allen Coulter.
Being more pragmatic about it, if to paraphrase “Alien’s” famous ad line that in space no one can hear you scream, “Extant” looks well suited to making some noise, despite a pilot that’s heavy on tantalizing threads and not much else. Of course, the disclaimer would be that the same Amblin-CBS collaboration birthed “Under the Dome,” which proved a summer hit in 2013 but left a bad taste behind for many by playing too many “No, honest, you’ll get an idea what’s going on next week” games.
“Extant” is certainly awash in Spielbergian themes, starting with the prospect of alien visitation, whether friend or foe. And not afraid to risk overselling matters, the PR materials promise Molly’s experiences will “ultimately change the course of human history.”
Perhaps they will; still, if recent history is any guide, the gestation period for gaining true clarity regarding precisely how will probably be uncomfortably drawn out.