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Extant’ is a bold first step in summer sci-fi TV

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Halle Berry may have gotten a headache from her astronaut ice cream.

Three stars

Extant Wednesdays, 9 p.m., CBS.

With star Halle Berry, executive producer Steven Spielberg and a sci-fi high concept, Extant is the TV equivalent of a summer blockbuster—or at least that’s the way CBS hopes audiences will see it. Like Under the Dome, CBS’ summer hit of last year (which has returned with a second season), Extant is being touted as an event, and it certainly has the star power and production values to warrant it.

At some vague point in the future (signposts: talking computers, driverless cars, lots of touchscreens), astronaut Molly Woods (Berry) has returned to Earth after a year on a solo space mission, and something is definitely amiss. As is typical for the first episodes of serialized dramas, Extant’s pilot offers mostly setup, teasing various mysteries (Molly is inexplicably pregnant; she sees what appears to be the ghost of her dead first husband) that will be explored over the course of the series. It’s impossible to say at this point whether Extant will resolve its mysteries in a satisfying fashion, but the first episode at least offers up some intriguing possibilities.

Extant has been billed as a family drama, and its main sci-fi plot points are centered around the themes of motherhood and parental responsibility. The first episode focuses primarily on Molly, her husband John (Goran Visnjic) and their android “son” Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), who is alternately loving and creepy. Add in Molly’s and John’s fertility issues (complicated by her mysterious, possibly alien pregnancy), and you have plenty of potential for domestic drama. But the promotional materials also promise that Molly’s experiences in space “will ultimately change the course of human history,” so Extant is clearly shooting for something more grandiose than just the futuristic version of Parenthood.

Whether it will get there is another question, although the premiere has enough promising characters played by dependable actors (including Camryn Manheim and Hiroyuki Sanada) to suggest multiple avenues for exploration. It also has an impressively detailed look, even if some of that is in service to sci-fi clichés (the dangers of robots overtaking humanity, the sinister corporation that monitors employees’ every move, the helpful but sarcastic computer assistant). Berry anchors the show in a strong performance that makes Molly’s struggles feel real, which will be important if the show branches out into increasingly outlandish sci-fi territory. Wherever the show goes, the first episode makes the journey look like it’s worth taking.

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