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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mysterious pregnancy sets new sci-fi series on far-out course

Posted: 07/3/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 07/4/2014 10:55 AM | Updates

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What happens on the road stays on the road.

And what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But can what happens in space really stay in space?

That seems to be what astronaut Molly Woods (played by Halle Berry) is hoping in CBS's new sci-fi summer drama Extant, which touches down in prime time on Wednesday, July 9, at 9 p.m.. But as time passes and nature -- or, perhaps, something beyond natural -- begins to take its course, it seems unlikely her wish will come true.

Given the massive promotional push Extant has been given by CBS (and, in Canada, Global) in recent weeks, there's no significant spoiler risk in discussing what Molly wishes she could have left behind in space. Recently returned from a 13-month solo mission aboard an Earth-orbiting international space station, Molly is undergoing the usual sort of post-re-entry tests when her physician and friend Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim) begins asking a few unusual questions about whether she really was alone the whole time she was out there.

No unexpected visits from space-roaming cosmonauts? No secret sleepovers with spacemen who just happened to be in the neighbourhood? Molly answers no, of course, so Dr. Sam is left scrambling for another explanation for the fact her friend, after 13 months alone in space, is pregnant.

It's only one of the big mysteries explored in Extant's densely packed première episode, which poses some pretty out-there questions for viewers to ponder.

In the near-future world in which the series is set, robotics have advanced to the point that some can hardly be distinguished from humans. Molly's husband, John (Goran Visnjic), is a scientist who specializes in developing robots with enhanced artificial intelligence.

During a pitch to shareholders of a multinational company that might become a research funder, John declares that he has developed technology that will allow the newest androids to "learn" human emotions, making them virtually indistinguishable from the people with whom they interact.

As evidence, he brings his son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) onstage. He's a very cute little boy, and John seems very proud to be his dad, but in fact, John is the guy who built Ethan. It turns out that John's work in the robotics field coincided with a period during which he and Molly were trying to become parents but struggling with fertility issues. The new technology arrived just in time to allow for creation of the child they otherwise could not have had.

Like Molly's mother-to-be plight (of which John has not yet been apprised), John's relationship with Ethan as both a parent and a patent-holder creates some interesting notions about what constitutes life.

The series, which has Steven Spielberg among its executive producers, opens with a considerable amount of promise. The three-layered storyline -- otherworldly pregnancy, automated offspring and the complex politics of the couple's relationship after Molly's return to Earth -- gives Extant's characters lots of (pun intended) fertile ground to explore during its 13-episode run.

And there's no denying the star power Berry brings to the mix -- she's a real attention-grabber in the pilot, and one can't help thinking that there had to be something special about Extant's scripts in order to get an Academy Award winner who's still got plenty of big-screen appeal to agree to a TV gig.

For their part, Visnjic, Manheim and the rest of the supporting cast deliver solid work alongside their A-list co-star.

Is it out-of-this-world excellent? Well, not quite, but there's more than enough in Extant's opening instalment to keep viewers gazing screenward for a few more summer nights.

 

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2014 C6

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Updated on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 10:55 AM CDT: Adds video

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