We should start off by admitting that, when a new Halle Berry Revlon commercial is unveiled, we take great glee in skewering the fact that, for the most part, all she ever has to do is turn to the camera and say “Revlon” – and even then, her line readings are usually flat. We were never enthralled with her acting style, to put it kindly. We don’t think she’s a bad actress particularly, but she comes off as a lazy one at times. In recent years, it seems to have become difficult for her to turn the dials up to eleven when a scene called for it. She seemed content to turn herself into a beautiful cipher onscreen; demanding that you look at her, but not offering much else.
We say this not to be nasty, but to point out that she may have found her niche with CBS’ new Extant. What comes across as monotone and bored on a big screen (or in a 15-second cosmetic ad) seems to fit perfectly within the parameters of a TV show. As Molly, a recently returned-to-earth astronaut in the near future, she brings an intensity to the role we haven’t seen since Monster’s Ball. There’s a scene in this episode where she – for reasons unknown to us – frantically tries to erase some security footage before anyone can discover it and even though we can’t tell what’s going on or why she’s doing what she’s doing, her panic and fear come pouring out of the screen, elevating the material and forcing you to wonder what’s going on. We don’t want to overstate things here. This is not likely to be an Emmy-nominated role for her (although it’s not impossible, if the material gives her something to work with down the line); just that she’s more watchable and interesting in this story than in anything we’ve seen her do for over a decade. And we give both her and the show a lot of credit because when you cast world famous beauty Halle Berry in your TV show, there’s an expectation that she’s going to look stunning in every scene. Instead, her introduction to the audience is a close-up on her face, post-vomiting, with a string of snot hanging off her mouth. Way to subvert expectations there.
Unfortunately, that’s probably the only time the show subverts expectations. The story has a pretty intriguing hook, but we sense the unpacking of a lot of cliches down the line. Having spent thirteen months alone on a space station, Molly is shocked to find, upon coming back to earth, that she somehow managed to get pregnant. That’s not a bad way to start off a sci-fi mystery show, especially when you’ve got an actress willing to make the material work. But let’s face it: the mysterious pregnancy is a pretty huge cliche in science fiction. It’s not helped by the fact that the secondary plot is another huge cliche in science fiction: the creepy, dangerous, robot child. The show is working hard to keep both of these elements aloft and tied together, mostly by offering us a lot of mysterious, shadowy people who know more than they’re letting on and have secret agendas (which is a third cliche). That’s a lot of plates for the story to be spinning and we suspect they’ll come crashing down eventually, but for now, we’re interested enough to see where things are going.
But the real problem here is in the show’s style. The production design is mostly pretty great; futuristic without being off-putting. But the directing left a lot to be desired. Lots of silly transitions, an overuse of a circle motif and some really clunky exposition scenes all serve to remind us that, as much star power as the lead has, and as interesting as the story might become, it still reads like a CBS summer series in a lot of way. Which is a shame, because we think they have an opportunity here to be more than that. There are some genuinely creepy scenes and a juicy mystery to bite into. We’d hate to see it all devolve into another “Under the Dome” or “Falling Skies;” largely disposable shows that you wind up forgetting ten minutes after an episode ends.
We don’t normally give grades in our reviews, but we’d call this one a solid B, with the potential to go either way. We’re interested enough to keep watching, but there are an awful lot of red flags.
[Photo Credit: CBS]