Art can be a great teacher. However, art is often most educational when it doesn’t have a specific, heavy-handed lesson plan in mind. Extrapolations, a new piece of television speculative fiction from Apple+, explores the global climate crisis. But it’s the sort of art that fails to make you feel – or truly learn anything new – because it is so intent on telling you exactly what to think.
Created by Scott Z. Burns, Extrapolations is an anthology series where each episode explores how the effects of unchecked climate change could manifest in the near future. The drama definitely has a plethora of dystopian scenerios to work with. But if you’ve even passively engaged with the news in the last five years, the series doesn’t have anything particularly new to say.
Sure, the speculations embedded in this piece of speculative fiction feel plausible. For example, the series depicts a world where (even more) forest fires are engulfing the planet, there’s a lack of drinkable water, Texas has left America to become an independent nation, and elephants have gone extinct. That all checks out, making Extrapolations an exceptionally realistic piece of science fiction. But an A+ for accuracy alone doesn’t make a series compelling.
A point in its favour is the show’s star-studded cast, featuring talented actors like Sienna Miller. She portrays the mother of a boy with a counterintuitively named health condition called “Summer Heart”. A warm summer day could literally kill her son, which is terrifying! In her professional life, she’s a scientist who uses futuristic technology to have conversations with endangered animals. This includes a whale who is voiced by none other than Meryl Streep!
Details like the iconic Meryl Streep playing a sea creature make Extrapolations memorable, if not well done. Other big names featured in Extrapolations include Yara Shahidi, Kit Harrington, David Schwimmer, Heather Graham (I’ve missed her!), Matthew Rhys, Forest Whitaker, and Marion Cotillard. That’s an impressive parade of acclaimed, award-winning people. And yet, the first few episodes of Extrapolitions are decidedly less than the sum of their parts. Sadly, the dialogue often feels stagey and we rarely receive more than a superficial look at the characters.
Where the new drama actually does have something to offer is its depiction of an earnest, Miami-based rabi named Marshall Zucker (Daveed Diggs). When he isn’t leading religious services, Marshall is working with refugees displaced by Climate Change. The moral centre of the series is the rabbi. And he finds himself wading into the waters of corruption as he desperately works to save his temple from literal flood waters. A young congregant preparing for her Bat Mitzvah asks Marshall, “Why is God doing this”? Answering this, Marshall points out humans have caused the extreme weather conditions that are destroying Miami. He posits the better question might be this: “Why isn’t God stopping it”? It’s an excellent query. But even the wise Marshall doesn’t have the answer…
Ultimately, Extrapolations needs a refresher in the basics of middle school creative writing lessons: show, don’t tell. Climate Change is a serious problem – arguably the most serious problem facing humanity. But even when it’s about serious subjects, art is more effective if it embraces some degree of ambiguity and, therefore, leaves room for interpretation from the viewer. Instead, Extrapolations has all the subtlety of a polemical documentary by Michael Moore.
- Rated: 18+, TV-MA
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
- Release Date: 3/17/2023
- Directed by: Michael Morris, Scott Z Burns
- Starring: Daveed Diggs, David Schwimmer, Forest Whitaker, Heather Graham, Marion Cotillard, Matthew Rhys, Meryl Streep, Sienna Miller, Yara Shahidi
- Produced by: Alan McAlex, David Kirchner, Greg O'Bryant, Jamie Crowell, Kerry Orent, Sara Miller, Scott Z. Burns
- Written by: Bess Wohl, Dave Eggers, Diane Ademu-John, Dorothy Fortenberry, Rajiv Joseph, Ron Currie, Sarah Nolen, Scott Z Burns
- Studio: Apple, Media Res
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