In the first minutes of Apple TV+ Extrapolations, a young environmental activist (Yara Shahidi) is about to give a speech on the need to act against climate change. As she waits for the cameras to come online, an associate casually asks if she needs anything. His not at all flippant response: “So people will listen.”
Thus the tone is set for the rest of the series: serious, heavy and above all without nuances. The urgency of his message is obviously great enough that no expense has been spared in delivering it. The cast is starry and the production design lavish. But all that gravitas comes at the expense of the human characters who should be at the center of its stories, turning the show into a series of well-meaning but mostly dry talk.
Good intentions, heavy execution.
In all honesty, if there’s one writer who’s earned the right to expect people to heed his predictions about the future, it might be creator Scott Z. Burns, whose scenario for Contagion turned out to be an eerily prescient insight into the COVID-19 pandemic. Extrapolations pushes even further into the realm of theory, unfolding across eight loosely interconnected episodes spanning the year 2037 to 2070. Each is preceded in the opening credits by a different (estimated) heartbreaking statistic: the number of species lost by 2046, for example, or the number of extreme heat deaths in 2059.
A handful of major characters return throughout the storylines, the most prominent of which is Nick Bilton (Kit Harington) – a trillionaire CEO who seemingly combined all of Big Tech, Big Pharma and Big Ag into one ubiquitous corporation called Alpha. Most, however, come and go for an episode or two, usually in the guise of one instantly recognizable star or another: a dying grandmother played by Meryl Streep, a civil servant played by Edward Norton, a venal businessman played by Matthew Rhys. If the goal is to get people’s attention, there are worse ways to do that than showing off high-powered celebrities.
But Extrapolations’ awareness of his own significance works more against him than for him, producing characters who look less like human beings than like mouthpieces for political debates or gloomy speeches. A story about Marshall, a rabbi (Daveed Diggs) trying to save his Miami temple from rising waters, plays as an excuse for Marshall and an angry young worshiper (Neska Rose) to engage in lengthy philosophical arguments about the sins of man. Another, about a scientist (Sienna Miller) trying to save what could be the last humpback whale on Earth, threatens to cave in under the weight of her own metaphors – though this one goes into great detail at least. amazing that apparently we’re going to have the technology to chat with whales by 2046.
The show’s most successful episodes tend to be ones that let climate change serve as the backdrop for larger-scale dramas. “2059 pt 2” centers on a pair of smugglers, Neel (Gaz Choudhry) and Gaurav (Adarsh Gourav), who seem to barely have control of their own destinies – let alone that of the world’s population – as they cross India’s drought -scorched landscape. But it’s precisely because they’re nothing that they’re able to offer a ground-level perspective of the show’s not-so-implausible storylines. Unlike the relatively privileged and sheltered characters that make up so many other tracks in the series – like government officials and billionaires debating geoengineering in comfortable air-conditioned offices in “2059 pt 1” – Neel and Gaurav have no d no choice but to confront the elements head-on.
The couple travel at night to avoid the dangerous heat of the day, slip into special protective sleeping bags to rest, and meet children who defy themselves to sneak in during the curfew during the day. Along the way, they discuss the state of the planet but also bicker about women, fantasize about how to spend their paychecks, and develop the kind of bond you only form after enduring a desperate situation together. . In other words, they act like people, and in doing so they are a better reminder of what is at stake than any barrage of statistics.
I also really liked “2068”, a dark and funny chamber piece that goes off the rails when a man (Forest Whitaker) informs his wife (Marion Cotillard) and his friends (Tobey Maguire and Eiza Gonzalez) that he will be leaving in the morning. to digitize itself, so that its consciousness can awaken in a better future. The picture this chapter paints is undeniably grim – the air has become so polluted that San Franciscans are donning oxygen tanks to get out, and most human food is some version of kelp. Still, there’s something relatable, even heartwarming, about the husband’s statement that he’s more optimistic about the Earth’s ability to heal than that of his marriage. Come what may, our species will be find ways to torment themselves via Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque dinners.
Both episodes benefit from a curiosity about human nature that goes beyond wry monologues about our capacity for greed or complacency, and an affection for people in all our absurd, messy glory. More often, however, Extrapolations seems to work backwards, starting with a development it wants to show us or a technology it wants to consider or a conversation it wants to have, and slapping poorly designed characters to bring them into play. “The problem is us. It always has been,” a character reflects in the finale. “We did this to the planet, to ourselves, to each other.” Extrapolations perfectly captures the mechanics of how a world falls apart. He finds it harder to understand the souls still stuck on it.