In the opening minutes of Apple TV+ Extrapolations, a young environmental activist (Yara Shahidi) prepares to give a speech about the need for action on climate change. While waiting for the cameras to go live, an employee casually asks if she needs anything. Her not-at-all-casual response: “To get people to listen.”
This sets the tone for the rest of the series: serious, heavy and often without nuance. The urgency of the message is obviously so important that no expense has been spared in getting it across. The cast is star-studded and the production design lavish. But all this gravitas comes at the expense of the human characters that should be central to the stories, making the series a well-intentioned but mostly dry series of threads.
It comes down to
Good intentions, poor execution.
Frankly, if there’s a writer who’s earned the right to expect people to heed his predictions about the future, it’s creator Scott Z. Burns, whose script for Infection turned out to be an eerie prescient of the COVID-19 pandemic. Extrapolations goes even further into the realm of theory, unfolding over eight loosely connected episodes from the year 2037 to 2070. Each episode is preceded in the credits by another harrowing (estimated) statistic: the number of lost species in 2046, for example , or the number of deaths from extreme heat in 2059.
A handful of main characters reappear in the plots, the most prominent of which is Nick Bilton (Kit Harington) – a billionaire CEO who has seemingly combined all Big Tech, Big Pharma and Big Ag into one ubiquitous company called Alpha. However, most fly in and out for just an episode or two, usually in the guise of an instantly recognizable star or another: a dying grandmother played by Meryl Streep, a government official played by Edward Norton, a bribe businessman played by Matthew Rhys. If the goal is to get people to pay attention, there are worse ways to do it than by trotting high-wattage celebrities.
But Extrapolations’ the sense of its own importance works more against it than for it, producing characters less human-like than mouthpieces for political debates or mournful speeches. A storyline about Marshall, a rabbi (Daveed Diggs) trying to save his temple in Miami from rising water levels, plays as an excuse for Marshall and an angry young congregation member (Neska Rose) to engage in long philosophical discussions about the sins of Human. Another, about a scientist (Sienna Miller) trying to save what could be the last humpback whale on Earth, is in danger of collapsing under the weight of his own metaphors – though that one at least mentions the incredible detail that we will apparently have at our disposal. the technology to talk casually to whales by the year 2046.
The series’ more successful episodes tend to be the ones that allow climate change to serve as the backdrop for more human-scale dramas. “2059 pt 2” is about a pair of smugglers, Neel (Gaz Choudhry) and Gaurav (Adarsh Gourav), who seem to have barely any control over their own destiny – let alone that of the world’s population – as they make their way jobs due to India’s drought. scorched landscape. But precisely because they’re nobody, they can provide a ground-up perspective of the show’s not-so-implausible scenarios. Unlike the relatively privileged, sheltered characters that make up so many of the series’ other protagonists — like the government officials and billionaires who debate geoengineering from comfortable, air-conditioned offices in “2059 pt 1” — Neel and Gaurav have few other choice then confront the elements head on.
The pair travel at night to avoid the perilous daytime heat, zip themselves into special protective sleeping bags to rest, and meet kids who challenge each other to sneak out during the day. Along the way, they discuss the state of the planet, but they also squabble over women, fantasize about how to spend their wages, and develop the kind of bond you only form after enduring a desperate situation together. In other words, they act like humans and thereby serve as a better reminder of what’s at stake than any barrage of statistics ever could.
I also really enjoyed “2068,” a darkly funny chamber piece that goes off the rails when a man (Forest Whitaker) informs his wife (Marion Cotillard) and friends (Tobey Maguire and Eiza Gonzalez) that he will be leaving tomorrow morning. to digitize himself so that his consciousness can be awakened in a brighter future. The picture this chapter paints is undeniably bleak: The air is so polluted that San Franciscans don oxygen tanks to go outside, and most human food is some version of kelp. Still, there’s something relatable, even a little reassuring, about the husband’s statement that he’s more optimistic about the Earth’s ability to heal than that of his marriage. Whatever happens, our species shall find ways to torment each other via Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-like meals.
Both episodes benefit from a curiosity about human nature beyond hand-wringing monologues about our capacity for greed or complacency, and an affection for humans in all our absurd and messy glory. More often, Extrapolations seems to be working backwards, starting with a development it wants us to see or a technology it wants to consider or a conversation it wants to have, and piecing thinly conceived characters together to portray them. “The problem is us. Always has been,’ a character muses in the finale. “We did this to the planet, to ourselves and each other.” Extrapolations perfectly understands the mechanics of how a world decays. It has a harder time understanding the souls that are still attached to it.