Extrapolations Premiere Review – Episodes 1-3

Extrapolations premieres on AppleTV+ on March 17.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns, the 2011 pandemic thriller Contagion surged in popularity on streaming services in the early days of COVID-19 as viewers looked to fiction to make sense of their grim new reality. Burns has now turned his predictive prowess to climate change as the showrunner of the AppleTV+ anthology series Extrapolations, though while this show may eventually prove to be just as prophetic when we look back in a decade or two, its three-episode premiere is a far weaker story that utterly squanders its talented cast.

Starting in the year 2037, each of the first three episodes of Extrapolations moves forward in time to follow different protagonists in stories devoted to a different component of the environmental crisis: temperature increases, mass extinction, and sea level rise, respectively. The first episode is unsurprisingly the weakest, since it has the burden of introducing all the characters who will have important roles to play in the story – though a chunk of that time will feel wasted when several of them are out of the picture by the second episode, set in and titled 2046.

“Are we bad people?” animal preservation field researcher Rebecca Shearer (Sienna Miller) asks her husband, Algerian UN Climate Change Conference negotiator Omar Haddad (Tahar Rahim), as they consider the implications of having a child when the world seems on the brink of collapse. It’s certainly a dilemma many new and prospective parents are wrangling with today, but one that would have been far more relatable coming from people who weren’t otherwise devoting every moment of their lives to fighting to make the world a better and more habitable place.

Characters are all drawn starkly in black and white.

One of the biggest problems of Extrapolations is that its characters are all drawn starkly in black and white: saints working to save the world, innocent children meant to symbolize what’s at stake, and greedy bastards who don’t care about the future because they’ll be dead anyways. Contagion also had its heroes and villains, but it was anchored by Matt Damon’s everyman. A similar perspective is sorely missed in the show, especially given that one of the biggest questions of climate change is how a typical person can make any difference.

Unable to provide any nuanced message of personal empowerment, Extrapolations instead goes all in on self-righteous grandstanding speeches and ludicrously unrealistic karmic justice for the wicked. Extrapolations’ premiere is at times relentlessly bleak, presenting a world afflicted by relentless smog, floods, and forest fires, but its efforts to show all is not lost feel utterly cloying. It does far better when leaning into a bit of gallows humor or absurdism, like a dog racing track being one of the few structures Miami deems worth saving from the rising tides.

It ends up just coming across as saccharine and self righteous.

It’s certainly fun to see Matthew Rys chew scenery as the casino developer and hunting enthusiast Junior, and David Schwimmer (laying on the same sleaze he brought to lawyer Robert Kardashian in The People v. O.J. Simpson) as Miami mogul Harris Goldblatt, but their characters are entirely one dimensional. Maybe watching these villains face nature’s wrath or the long arm of the law is meant to be a sort of wish fulfillment, but it feels as cartoonish as the idea that Captain Planet will come and clean up our collective mess.

Clumsy resolutions undermine what could otherwise be compelling plots, like Junior finding himself tied up in a land grab involving the Chinese government and shady futurist Nicholas Bilton (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington) or Goldblatt tempting Rabbi Marshall Zucker (Daveed Diggs) to put the needs of his congregation first, even if it involves a bit of corruption. “2046” even tries to offer up a moody tale of interspecies communication in the vein of Arrival, with Rebecca working to preserve the knowledge of the last living humpback whale (voiced by Meryl Streep), but it ends up just coming across as saccharine and self righteous.

The third episode, “2047,” deals with the same subject of the second season of climate technology podcast “How We Survive,” using Miami as a microcosm for how the world will need to adapt to melting ice caps and more vicious storms. The episode delivers some striking looks at a gutted version of the city’s skyline and tries to ground the story in the perseverance of its Jewish community. Yet while it spends a lot of time talking about the Torah, it changes up the order of the Bible’s stories just so that it can mash together the most obvious possible metaphors of the plagues of Egypt, Noah’s Ark, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

There are a lot of fascinating ideas at the fringes of Extrapolations, like a congenital condition known as summer heart afflicting children who experienced extreme heat in utero, or the rich becoming addicted to gene-altering CRISPR treatments. Maybe more of them will come into focus as the series ventures further into the realm of science fiction, but it doesn’t seem worth spending another five hours just to see Burns’ vision of the future unfold.

Source link