Review New TV Sci-Fi/Thrillers

Extant Review
By Johnny Beaver

P14ReviewAh, Spielberg, you sneaky little todger. By now everyone knows that he’s brought us everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (what a terrible name) and had his hand in more cinematic cookies jars than perhaps anyone else. There’s not a movie-goer on Earth who has remained untouched, and while Spielberg has been also working in television since the 70s, it wasn’t until 2011’s Falling Skies that sci-fi junkies like me started paying attention to anything beyond Band of Brothers. I mean, there was Terra Nova and then Under the Dome… but those were obviously practical jokes, right? Fast forward to this summer’s Extant.

Simply put, this is about as good as it gets. Even despite the obvious red flag: Halle the “Catwoman is the worst movie of all time” Berry is the star. You won’t care, I promise. Feeling a bit like a stylistic merger between any number of Philip K. Dick joints with some genuinely creepy horror thrown in, Extant shows immense promise. Multiple plot lines that seem destined to crash together and an attention to detail that has nerds like me falling in love with things as simple as the thoughtful design of a future trash can, at its core Extant is simply refreshingly intelligent, modern sci-fi that feels a lot less like episodic television and a lot more like a film.

Oh, you’d like to know the plot? Woman astronaut comes back from a long solo space mission, during which she was impregnated by an invisible alien specter (or something)… to her husband and first-of-his-kind robot child, which the world isn’t any more willing to accept than it would be now. And there’s a mysterious corporate guy with an appropriately mysterious illness that likes to eat by taking one bite out of each plate of food, because he’s awesome at being rich.

Anyway, just go watch it.

Extant airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

The Strain Review
By Ygal Kaufman

Frequently you’ll hear the words “genre” and “reinvented” get tossed around when people talk about Guillermo del Toro. That was never truer than with his dark, action-packed, and constantly underrated early films like Cronos, Mimic, Devil’s Backbone, and Blade II. Then he even flirted with greatness with Pan’s Labyrinth. Since then he’s been, to put it mildly, coasting on his rep. Hellboy II was a big letdown, and Pacific Rim was just the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen.

Nowadays, the words “genre” and “reinvented” should only be used with his name in the sentence “Guillermo del Toro has reinvented the way people ruin a genre…”

His new offering, The Strain, co-written with famed novelist Chuck Hogan, is a mess. Transparent, boring, filled with clichés and motifs lifted off other directors, and unexciting to the point of catatonia; it’s a complete waste of time.

The genre that’s supposedly being invigorated this time is vampires. And thank God someone was willing to experiment in this pool. It’s been a while since someone has really gone out on a limb with a vampire project. And by “a while,” I mean almost literally about 15 minutes.

The lead is played by the empirically obnoxious Corey Stoll, whose fake hair is only out-ridiculoused by his fake acting. And he plays—wait for the ground-breakiness—an alcoholic, overworking scientist with a heart of gold who constantly disappoints his son with his absence. The only way that plot line could be any more rote is if the son ends up making a wish while blowing out candles at his birthday party that his dad can’t lie for 24 hours… or they have to switch bodies or something.

There’s almost nothing commendable about this show, other than the always enjoyable David Bradley in the part of, you’ll never guess, an old and spooky vampire hunter (where does this del Toro wunderkind come up with this stuff?).

Skip this clunker and give Extant a shot…

The Strain airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.