CBS is setting off some post-Independence Day fireworks with “Extant” (9 p.m. Wednesday, July 9), a splashy 13-episode sci-fi thriller starring Halle Berry.
The Academy Award winner plays an astronaut who is having adjustment problems after returning from 13 months alone on a space station. Her chief hurdle: accepting the fact that at some point on her solo mission, she got pregnant.
Extant is executive produced by Steven Spielberg, who has a rather checkered TV résumé: Fox’s “Terra Nova,” ABC’s “The River,” TNT’s “Falling Skies,” NBC’s “Smash,” among others. This summer series will go down on the positive side of his ledger.
Obviously, Berry’s character has some ’splainin to do, both to her superiors at the Interplanetary Space Exploration Agency (who want to know about those crucial few hours of videotape she deleted from the station’s log) and to her husband (“E.R.’s” Goran Visnjic), who wants to know … well, he has a number of questions, including how his wife, previously diagnosed as infertile, is suddenly expecting.
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By the way, although the futuristic gadgetry sprinkled through the series is nicely designed and executed, the real tip-off that we’re in the science fiction realm is the premise that we still have a thriving space program.
Despite Berry and Visnjic’s history of being unable to conceive, the couple do already have a child. Of a sort. Visnjic is a brilliant robotics scientist who has assembled for them the very convincing Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) as a surrogate son.
Visnjic is campaigning to get major funding for his next generation of “humanics,” robots with empathy and intelligence. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when his display model, Ethan, is acting increasingly rebellious and even violent.
Fortunately, a wealthy but mysterious industrialist (Hiroyuki Sanada) is willing to open his checkbook. Turns out he’s less interested in Visnjic’s inventions than he is in Berry’s delicate condition.
Meanwhile and perhaps most important, why are the ghosts of deceased astronauts loitering around, including the spitting image of Berry’s old lover (newcomer Sergio Harford)?
At least, I think they’re ghosts. In the pilot, directed by “Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire” veteran Allen Coulter, the spirits looked pretty real.
Series creator — and TV tyro — Mickey Fisher brings some smart, suspenseful storytelling to this mystery, which is wrapped in a vast conspiracy.
“Extant” has a clever concept that would probably work better on a bigger screen (especially the orbital scenes). But it’s thoroughly entertaining — even if you wind up watching it on your shrinky-dink cellphone.