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July 7, 2014

TV Review: 'Extant'

New York — Don't hate Halle Berry because she's beautiful.

She's certainly a welcome TV presence this summer as the star of "Extant," a 13-episode thriller on CBS where she plays Molly Woods, an unexpectedly expectant astronaut. It premieres Wednesday (9 p.m. EDT).

The premise of the show — that Molly was somehow impregnated while on a solo yearlong outer-space mission — seems on its face outrageous funny business. As in, unintentionally funny.

But "Extant" turns out to be smart and engrossing, with a meditative, gently futuristic touch (check that high-tech garbage can) that draws the viewer in.

And, of course, it boasts Berry, who is not only a delight for the eye but also a marvelous actress, with an Oscar for her 2001 film "Monster's Ball" as solid evidence.

At the start we find Molly adjusting to life back on Earth with her scientist husband, John (Goran Visnjic), and Ethan, their adorable young son (Pierce Gagnon). Ethan, as we soon find out, isn't biologically theirs, or biological at all, but, instead, a robot. Or rather, a "humanic," designed by John to satisfy their childless state (Molly had been told she couldn't conceive).

John not only loves Ethan as if he is their own flesh and blood, but also sees him as the prototype of a new class of robot that can be raised from "childhood" and instilled with human values, "programmed by a day-to-day human experience," as John tells a group of potential funders for his Humanics Project. "The humanics brain learns right from wrong, good from bad, the same way we did."

Of course, the success of this venture could lead to disaster. Were millions of humanics loosed on the planet, they just might rise up against their human masters. But that's a possibility John indignantly rejects.

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