Last summer, I fell down the rabbit hole of the science-fiction drama Extant starring Halle Berry because, to me, being black means I must give black actors and shows a chance. (I can quit later, but only after I’ve supported.) Extant is the blackest mainstream sci-fi show I’ve ever seen.
When it premiered on CBS in 2014, the storyline was already a long shot. Berry played Molly Woods, a Mae Jemison-like astronaut genius who travels through space alone for 13 months to research organisms, only to return pregnant with an alien baby—by her dead ex-husband Marcus. It sounds crazy, but once I suspended reality, I let the storyline pull me in; woman returns from space pregnant to befuddled husband and robot son and trouble ensues? Totally.
When Extant begins, Molly is married to John Woods, played by Goran Visnjic, a scientist who created a human-like robot son called a humanix which he named Ethan. In the first season, the character arcs were par for the course in sci-fi as tensions between man, machine and alien drive the show. By the first season’s end, Molly’s alien son Adhu is taken from her by the government for research but he escapes and John dies mysteriously.
In season two of Extant, the stakes are higher—though the writing and dialogue unfortunately become cheesier. With independent detective JD Richter, played by the hot and scruffy Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Molly tries to find Adhu, Ethan, who’s been taken away from her, and solve her husband’s murder. When Molly locates Adhu, he is methodically sleeping with every human woman he can find to spread his alien seed and make human-alien hybrids, which happen to be a race of mocha-colored black people because their lineage begins with Molly’s immaculate space conception. As the series continues, the people of color on this show multiply like rabbits.
Molly learns that John created another humanix in her loose image named Lucy, a soldier played by Dope actress Keirsey Clemons. Later, Molly has a fever dream where she sees her father Quinn, played by Lou Gossett Jr., who also appeared in the first season. Are you keeping a diversity count? That’s three main characters of color and two tertiary; Molly, Lucy, Adhu as well as Marcus and Quinn. Outside of shows like Black-ish, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, all of which are dramas or comedies, Extant is a rarity and not just because it’s science-fiction. Rather, it’s a science-fiction show on a major network starring a black actor, flanked by black supporting characters. Extant’s only company in terms of diverse casting is Sleepy Hollow, followed by cancelled shows like The Event, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and, dare I even bring it up, Homeboys in Outer Space.
As the show progresses, the black people keep coming. Richard T. Jones joins as JD’s friend along with Cleo Anthony as Ares, Adhu’s angry hybrid brother, and Terra, another one of Molly’s “children.” By the end of the second season, there are 10 black main and tertiary characters moving through the storyline, playing good, evil, human, alien and humanix. No one is held to any stereotype; instead, every character is fighting for freedom, whatever that means for themselves. As Zoe Saldana once said “I like being in space because there are better parts for women in space” and Extant proves that sci-fi isn’t just a great place for women, but for minorities in general, if given a chance.
Extant’s two-hour finale aired on Wednesday with Molly and the hybrids fighting a supercomputer named Taalr created by another black person, a computer genius named Nicholas Calderone, played by Keith David, who also had a black humanix wife. Black people are everywhere on this show.
Still, for all its diversity gains, Extant isn’t perfect. Halle’s shortcomings as an actress, or maybe the director’s faults, are evident in emotional moments that fall short. In one scene, she sees a vision that she’ll kill JD and attempts to throw the key to saving the world into a field, like that would stop anything. In others, Dean is forced to deliver eye-rolling lines like “What’s up doc?” with sincerity. Overall, The Hollywood Reporter’s description of the show as “modestly” successful is tied to these issues.
But for all it’s not, Extant gives viewers a promising sci-fi show starring a black lead. It’s unclear whether CBS will renew Extant for a third season, but they should. As ABC aims to trounce its competitors once again with Shonda Rhimes’ diverse casts and ratings juggernauts in Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, CBS bringing back Berry’s Extant with better writing and sharper direction is a no-brainer.
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Image via CBS.