Extant: a review

Watched the first two episodes of “Extant”, the new Spielberg-produced sci-fi show, starring Halle Berry. There are several problems with the series. It’s really a surprise having a veteran like Spielberg allowing such easy mistakes from his writers.

The biggest mistake is that the series is a localized story. No sci-fi show or movie ever survived in the long run by only telling a localized story without providing a larger “universe” for the world that the story is taking place. We don’t know what the year is, we don’t know what kind of technology is available (from one side we have high AI and interstellar space travel, but then we have old fashioned cars and button-pushing washing machines? Really?), we know nothing of how the world is organized in that time, and we know nothing about how humans got so far in space, or how far. This is a grave mistake for any sci-fi story. It shows no vision. It just shows a guy with a script getting the go-ahead to shoot the series, but that’s not the type of vision that creates cult, or successful shows.

Cult shows are cult because they make their extended universe believable by providing a lot of information about it. It’s as simple as that. People get hooked with believable detail, even if the show might even mildly suck in other perspectives. For example. Babylon 5 was a tragedy in terms of filmmaking (camera, sound work, and even dialog was the worst), but the believable “large”, epic story it told, and the detail it provided for the world it operated on, it made it a cult show. Star Trek and Star Wars owe their success to this type of “complete universe” vision too. Extant is not such a show. It’s just an idea, set in a non-descript world.

And then there’s the AI. Halle Berry and her husband in the show have adopted a child android as their son, which behaves 99% like a human. This itself is unbelievable. Having worked in AI myself for years, such type of AI won’t be developed for many hundreds of years later, *if ever*. People have talked since the ’70s that “true AI is just 10 years away”, but of course this hasn’t happened. The kind of AI that we WILL get (most likely through Google) is going to be similar to the computer on Star Trek: TNG. Smart enough to carry away complex actions, but not even close to be “human”. This whole AI subplot weakens the series as a believable sci-fi show. Of course, Spielberg himself created an “AI” movie back in the ’90s, so he’s obviously a fan of the concept. I’m willing to forget about this, since he has personal ties to the subject matter, but not insisting on universe-building from the get-go, it shows that the series is amateur hour that has come across to lots of money.

My advice: watch it for fun, but don’t invest in it, because it will disappoint.

2 Comments »

Tom wrote on July 23rd, 2014 at 8:55 PM PST:

I generally agree with you on the need for universe building, but Eureka was a pretty good localized sci-fi show IMO.

Haven’t seen Extant yet and probably won’t go out of my way too. I agree: the inconsistencies and lack of hard sci-fi “depth” you describe would bother me a lot too.


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Eugenia wrote on July 23rd, 2014 at 9:04 PM PST:

Actually, Eureka played on that smartly. You see, Eureka is a contained, closed place. We already know that the rest of the world outside of Eureka is normal, like our universe. So there was nothing to explain outside of it. They had to only describe Eureka itself, and they did that. 🙂


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