Halle Berry's space odyssey

GERALDINE CREMIN
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014
Halle Berry
ALIEN MUM: Halle Berry in new sci-fi drama Extant.

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Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry makes the move from film to television this week in Prime's new sci-fi drama Extant. She plays Molly Woods, a scientist and astronaut who returns to Earth after a 13-month solo mission.

But it seems Molly is not alone. She is inexplicably pregnant and her experiences in outer space are set to lead to events that will change the course of human history.

Scary stuff. But Molly also has to deal with life as the mother of the world's first Artificially Intelligent humanoid.
The series is produced by Steven Spielberg, and Berry cites his involvement in the project as one of the key factors in her coming on board.

"A name like that, you don't really sneeze at," she says.

"I know the quality of his work and I know that he loves this sort of genre." Berry lists Spielberg's ET as one of her favourite movies and says Extant (the word means surviving/still in existence) has a similar feel, mixing intimate and heartfelt drama into a supernatural story.

Co-executive producer Greg Walker says that at its core, the show is about family.

"Ultimately (the show) tells the story of how Molly struggles to keep this family extant," Walker explains.

Set in the not-so-distant future, the show deals with two main threats to human existence - Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the prospect of an alien invasion.

Molly's husband, John Woods (Goran Visnjic, ER's Dr Luka Kova), is also a scientist and leader in the field of AI. He is the designer of the Humanic, a ground-breaking type of realistic AI android. John created the couple's android son Ethan, who is the prototype of the  most advanced Humanic  in existence.

Walker explains the theory behind Ethan's creation. "(He is) the first robot child who will be integrated and mainstreamed into the world using the philosophy that what will make machines and robots more human, ultimately, is to give them a human experience."

When Molly left for her solo space mission, John still viewed Ethan as his creation - a machine rather than a son. She returns to find that in the 13 months that she has been away, John has grown to love Ethan as a real human child. Her interruption to the close father-son relationship changes the family dynamic. 

The existence of a highly evolved and emotionally adept android also raises the big questions that have been around since science fiction started exploring the concept of AI. What makes a human a human and a machine a machine

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Will humans become redundant onceAIs reach a certain intellectual supremacy?

While the AI debate continues through the series, the more immediate threat to humankind comes from outer space. But it is the extraterrestrial presence, in the form of Molly's baby, that is "the heavy foot on the accelerator" that drives the story forward through the season, says Walker.

Not only do Molly and her family have to deal with the unknown peril of her carrying an alien being inside her body, but they also come up against people who welcome the alien's presence on Earth.  "That's the larger story we're telling," says Walker, "this kind of larger conspiracy about people trying to foster this alien intelligence."

But do not expect intergalactic laser-blasting or apocalyptic  free-for-alls. Extant presents amuch more subtle battle for survival. Walker says that the story deals with both new and familiar sci-fi themes but is rooted in a family story.
Berry, who won an Oscar or Monster's Ball, says it is the family focus that drew her to the story and that as a mother, she has a lot in common with her character.

"This was a character that when I first read (the script) was so relatable to me.

"While I'm not an astronaut or scientist - far, far from it - I still had an understanding about the human quality of this woman and her struggle to not only find time for herself, but also to be a good mother," she says. "The fact that she's a scientist becomes a little bit irrelevant pretty fast. It becomes very human."

Extant
Prime, Thursday, 8.30pm

-TV Guide

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