Friday 6 December 2019

When 'event TV' is a non-event - Pat Stacey on Halle Berry's TV series 'Extant'

Halle Berry in 'Extant'
Halle Berry in 'Extant'

Halle Berry is a member of that select brand of unfortunate actors for whom winning prestigious awards seems to have done more harm than good. The most notorious example is probably Cuba Gooding Mr.

Having bagged the Best Supporting Actor  Oscar for Jerry Maguire, Gooding embarked on a string of disastrous career choices, the worst of which was probably the execrable comedy Banana Boat.

Running him a close second is Burt Reynolds.  After a decade or more in the doldrums, his 70s and 80s reign as one of the top box-office draws in the world a faded memory, Reynolds was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe for his performance as a patriarchal porn movie producer in 1997's Boogie Nights.

So how did Reynolds build upon this spectacular comeback?  By immediately signing up for Universal Soldier III.

Berry's career trajectory hasn't been anywhere near that disastrous, yet her best-known parts since winning an Oscar for Monster's all in 2001 are a dwindling role in the X-Men franchise and a bikini-filling turn in Die Another Day, the silliest Bond movie ever.

It's probably no surprise, then, that she's now turned to television.  The sci-fi drama Extant, which debuted on CBS in the US last night,s tars Berry as an infertile astronaut who returns from a year-long solo space mission and discovers she's pregnant.

It's available in the UK, but not in Ireland, on Amazon Prime's streaming service from today.

In America, Extant was preceded by a massive publicity push.  Aside from featuring Berry, it's produced by Steven Spielberg and features sci-fi tropes familiar from his movies Minority Report and AI.

There are futuristic cars, translucent computer screens that float in the air, mirrors that turn into TV screens at the tap of a finger, bins that vapourise refuse and a creepy robot baby created by Berry's scientist husband, played by Goran Visjnic from ER.

Despite Extant's glittering pedigree, the response from US reviewers who saw some of the 13 episodes in advance was lukewarm.

The broad opinion was that the concept is derivative of too many other sci-fi stories, the plot dull and the acting uninspired.  Not a good start for a big budget series.  Perhaps the bigness is part of the problem.

Extant is being sold as "event TV", a term that's become so wearingly familiar and over-used, people immediately steel themselves in expectation of disappointment.  If you label everything "evetn TV", you're bound to end up with a fair number of non-events.

True Detective and Fargo were both billed as "event TV" and both lived up to the billing.  Under the Dome, on the other hand, which returns to RTE 2 tonight, has proved to be awful guff.  Interestingly, Under the Dome was also produced by Spielberg, whose Midas' touch with movies hasn't always been mirrored by his lengthy but chequered record as a television producer.

For every Band of Brothers there's a Taken, the ponderous, would-be-epic mini-series spanning several decades of alien abductions.  For every ER there's a Terra Nova, whose premise of a time-travelling family battling dinosaurs on a parallel Earth failed to travel beyond a single series.

It remains to be seen in which Spielbergian camp Extant ends up - event or non-event.


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