The 100 and Extant

July 27, 2014

The excitement, or at least the interest, of The 100 (E4) did indeed increase at an admirable rate over the second and third episodes. Luminous butterflies, deadly dust storms, some sort of panther on steroids – what more could one want? Alcohol and casual sex, you say? Well, you’re in luck there also; and how fortuitous that a bottle of whisky survived for all those many years. As for the (implied) sex, Octavia (played by the delightful, and delightfully named, Marie Avgeropoulos) is giving her brother Bellamy (Bobby Morley) more headaches than trying to run his own Lord of the Flies-esque dominion.

I could do without all the preschool anarchic social Darwinism – what a change it would be if a group of people in any fictional future could try to help each other. But I suppose human nature is unlikely to change that radically.

There are plenty of questions I’m eager to discover the answers to: Will the space station run out of air? Who are these Grounders? How did they instantly gain the sobriquet ‘Grounders’? How did Clarke’s top suddenly become lower cut? The script is no better than mediocre but it’s only a short season so what’s thirteen hours of my life? Of course, as it has been renewed for a second season, my investment of time could be almost doubled next year (or later this year, depending on just how slow E4 have been).

It seems a shame that we live in a world where the likes of The 100 and Marvel’s Agents of Shield can keep coming back with all their high-budget, yet oddly low-spec, effects; and yet Matthew Perry, to take a random example, can’t keep his charming brand of sitcom on the air (Mr Sunshine, we hardly knew ye; Go On, didn’t). I suppose the lesson is this (and has always been): don’t worry about the writing, just have a bouncy girl in fairly close proximity to violence.

The formula even works for period dramas: how else could the awful The Mill get a second series, granted neither the girls or the violence is glamorous – but what else is the appeal? Other than the opportunity to spend an hour laughing about just how far Channel 4 have succeeded in drifting away from a proposition that could’ve been that rare thing, a period drama with balls.

But enough of wishful extinction, my membership to Amazon Prime has yielded the pleasure of being able to watch Extant, a classy sci-fi number starring Halle Berry as troubled space-explorer and scientist Molly Green. The script is smarter here and the ideas are compelling. I won’t be giving anything more away than the previews if I say she returns from a year-long solo mission only to be told she’s pregnant – a condition all the more surprising given her inability to conceive with her husband, John Green – a roboticist played by Goran Visnjic (ER) and if you can’t mate with that particular Croat, then who can you mate with?

Apparently, some sort of space apparition that takes the form of your deceased loved ones. We don’t know what the apparition is yet but Mr Yasumoto does – yes, there’s a Sinister Asian Businessman pulling the strings here, but who can blame him with just over 100 days to live? The Greens also have a Weird Kid – another sci-fi staple – but, and this was a real surprise, this one’s made even more weird due to the fact that he’s actually a very unstable android. Ethan is just another piece of near-future technology that has seamlessly interwoven itself in the glossy world of Extant – and we’re not that far off, either: touchscreen technology waits behind every flat surface to relay information to, and on, anyone.

I have but a few quibbles: first, the title – Extant? It’s not the most common word and it hardly rolls off the tongue; I can’t imagine the AMC man throatily announcing it as he world Maaad Mehn or Breaking Baahd. Also, I can’t quite suspend my disbelief about the circumstances of the conception: you see your dead lover in the airlock of a space station, hands up all those who’s first response would be to sleep with them. Finally, has anyone ever really considered the motive behind robots’ desire to conquer humans? It always seems illogical to me.

I wonder if they will have live webcasts of funerals in the near future. I can only assume they will, because present-day certainly California does. This was one of the many interesting, not to mention mildly disturbing, nuggets I gleaned from Rich Hall’s California Stars (BBC Four). Apparently these webcasts are produced in chapters (because, of course, it’s vital to have a well-structured funeral) at $38 each; Jessica Mitford would’ve delighted in this had it been around at the time she was writing The American Way of Death and Evelyn Waugh could never’ve imagined anything as obscene for his novel The Loved One. With his opinionated, piquant rants Rich Hall is becoming one of the great documentary makers and, with mild irony, his films about his native America could only be made for the BBC. And possibly only BBC Four. Nevertheless, they are all available for the entire world to watch on YouTube.

Thank the sky god that Steven has finally been booted from Big Brother (Channel 5) – the man is demented and I was growing concerned for him. They say he’s good-looking, I disagree but I suppose I wouldn’t listen if someone tried to tell me Ashleigh isn’t. However, they say he’s charming, and here I know they are wrong for the truth is he possesses the same charm of Chance the Gardener in the film Being There. We must revive Peter Sellers for Big Brother the movie!

Jacob Knowles-Smith

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