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Extant Premiere Review: Surprisingly Solid Summer Sci-Fi

Dan O'Halloran | 11 Jul 2014 08:00
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In a side story, Molly's husband John, played by ER's Goran Visnjic, is an inventor on a quest to program machines with a need for connection with humans. He theorizes this is the best way for a computer to understand how to interact with people. So he built an android and put it in his own home, raising it with Molly as their own child since they can't have their own. The fact that the son is a machine isn't revealed until about 15 minutes into the show and even then it is done in a quiet and matter-of-fact way instead of an overdramatic scene which I give the show's writers a lot of credit for.

John is facing an uphill battle to get others to accept his son. He achieves certain victories -- like getting him into school -- but also some major setbacks -- like potential investors questioning if he has a kill switch in place to stop the machines from taking over humanity. Showing that he is emotionally invested perhaps a little too deeply in his project, he responds to one of the corporate suits with: "Do you have a daughter? Do you have a plan to kill her if she doesn't turn out they way you want?"

By the end of the episode, he gets the funding he needs, but doesn't know that the money is coming from the Japanese mogul that is trying to keep an eye on his wife and the effects of her extraterrestrial encounter.

This side story also sets up what is likely the major theme of the series: the need for connection. Molly feels disconnected upon her return to Earth; her husband is connected too deeply with his creation; and there was some kind of connection between Molly and...something (aliens?) on the space station that has resulted in her impossible pregnancy. There was also a great scene between Molly and John arguing about their son where Molly questions if the boy really loves them or is just cleverly programmed to say and do the things that we associate with love. It's these kind of questions that great scifi entertainment is based on. Not space ships and aliens and robots, but the questions these stories raise about ourselves as human -- Extant is doing a beautiful, subtle, mesmerizing job of bringing these questions to the fore.

The other pleasant surprise is the production quality put into the show. The special effects are as good as any film. Too often a TV show's smaller budgets and tighter schedule doesn't allow for special effects to look as good as they do in summer blockbuster movies, but the producers here clearly took the time to do it right. The technological advances on display in the daily life of this family look real and normal for the near future. And they aren't the focus like they are in other shows that rely flashy effects to gloss over poor writing and gaping plot holes.

I went in with low expectations and came out with plans to watch the rest of the series this summer -- and I recommend anyone who likes their entertainment smart as well as compelling do the same. If you missed the premiere episode, you can catch it for a limited time on or on Amazon all summer if you are a Prime Member.

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