Halle Berry returns to TV in Extant, produced by Spielberg

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jul 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-09 18:37:18-04

And lately — especially amid the rise of streaming original series and creatively compelling cable dramas — an actress looking for strong material looks to TV just as often as she looks to the silver screen.

In the past, an Oscar winner trading in a movie script for something airing on a broadcast network might have signaled a dwindling career.

Now, “the lines are blurring,” Berry said. “I have never looked at TV as a negative. As I was doing well in my movie career, I always came back to do television movies. I go where the work is. I go where the characters are. And I’m happy that other people are starting to do the same thing.”

“Extant,” created by Mickey Fisher and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, is set in the near future and stars Berry as Molly Woods, an astronaut who’s returning home after a 13-month solo mission. As Molly tries to readjust to her terrestrial family — which includes a husband (Goran Visnjic) and an android son (Pierce Gagnon) — she’s hit with the news that she’s somehow pregnant. (In case you were wondering, Spielberg says he “read the script long before I knew about [2013’s] ‘Gravity’ or had ever seen ‘Gravity.’ “)

Already picked up for 13 episodes, “Extant” sets itself up to ponder how Molly got pregnant if she was on a mission by herself, especially with a history of fertility issues.

“You find out but slowly,” Berry told CBS. “It’s very mysterious, it’s very suspenseful, and there are many twists and turns along the way getting to that resolve.”

After viewing the pilot episode, critics are cautiously optimistic. (Many, it seems, still have bitter feelings toward CBS for the bait-and-switch of “Under the Dome.”)

“A movie star has descended to television — network television no less — and she is not putting on airs,” says Slate’s Willa Paskin. ” ‘Extant’ … tosses sci-fi films from ‘2001’ to ‘A.I.’ to ‘Sunshine’ in a blender, and serves up a psychologically minded speculative smoothie, complete with impregnating aliens, emotional robots, and vast conspiracies. No one element of this show feels original, and yet I would totally watch more, even if just to peep at the sleek futuristic garbage cans again.”

Variety too thought that “Extant” “feels a bit like a Steven Spielberg greatest (and not-so-greatest) hits album” but doesn’t view that as “an indictment so much as a road map to this CBS summer drama. … It’s certainly an intriguing launch; but then again, so was ‘Under the Dome’ before that narratively ran into a brick wall.”

HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall found “a genuine sense of tension to the first episode,” adding that “it feels like the characters live in a fully-realized science fiction world. … Berry provides (pardon the pun) enough gravity to make ‘Extant’ feel like a genuine work of science fiction, rather than a soap opera dressed up in sci-fi drag, which happens too often on the broadcast networks. It’s a good start, at least.”

Not everyone sees “Extant’s” potential. The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley thinks “the creators deserve credit for trying to revive this kind of classic science-fiction mystery,” yet she found that “the premiere, while entertaining and expertly produced, doesn’t hold out a lot of promise.”

For USA Today’s Robert Bianco, Berry herself is “Extant’s” trump card.

“She brings a dignity and gravity to Molly, a projected intelligence that allows you to buy her as an astronaut and to see what has happened to her as frightening rather than ridiculous,” Bianco observes. “Berry’s all in, and you float along. … (L)et’s hope ‘Extant’ doesn’t let her, and us, down.”

CBS’s two hour-long “Extant” premieres at 9 p.m. ET/PT today.

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