Halle Berry in a scene from the series "Extant." Berry...

Halle Berry in a scene from the series "Extant." Berry plays an astronaut who returns home from a yearlong solo mission only to discover that, while in flight, she was somehow impregnated. Credit: AP / Sonja Flemming

THE SHOW "Extant"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday night at 9 on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Returning from a 13-month solo mission on a space station, astronaut Molly Watts (Halle Berry) quickly re-connects with her husband, John ("ER's" Goran Visnjic), a biomechanical engineering expert whose masterpiece is their very own "son," Ethan (Pierce Gagnon). The couple was infertile, so John -- who is attempting to sell his idea of androids that are more human than humans to major corporations -- did the next best thing: He made a kid.

After settling in, Molly checks in with space agency doctor Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim) who gives her the shock of her life. Someone -- or something -- impregnated her while she was on her voyage.

"Extant" comes from TV first-timer Mickey Fisher, who entered his idea into a screenwriting contest. It subsequently drew the interest of Steven Spielberg and Berry. They ensured that CBS would give this a straight-to-series order.

MY SAY Wednesday's pilot runs just 41 minutes, which means a lot of commercials and not enough program time to indicate how this will play out in the next 12 episodes. But what's here is easily enough to justify the excitement CBS, Spielberg and Berry must have felt upon first hearing the concept. The opener is absolutely superlative -- a thing of real beauty, even elegance.

Berry alone makes this a must-watch. She's a huge star, of course, but never crowds the screen and instead delivers a performance that's surprisingly layered and nuanced -- especially surprising given just how much screen time she's actually confined to. She doesn't come off here like an actress playing an astronaut who also just happens to be a mom, spouse and scientist, but someone who seamlessly combines elements of all four.

Meanwhile, the special effects here are Spielbergian in the best sense: exotic, sharply drawn and full of a sense of wonder. They float across the screen and straight into your imagination.

Will "Extant" be this summer's big brassy can't-miss hit? Fearless . . . no, make that obvious, prediction: Yep.

BOTTOM LINE This terrific cinematic opener promises the sun, moon and stars -- oh, and Halle Berry, too.


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