Extrapolations TV Review

Scott Z. Burns’ climate change series boasts an all-star cast amidst a heavy-handed plot about the future.


Plot: Eight interwoven stories about love, work, faith and family from across the globe will explore the intimate, life-altering choices that must be made when the planet is changing faster than the population. Every story is different, but the fight for our future is universal. And when the fate of humanity is up against a ticking clock, the battle between courage and complacency has never been more urgent. Are we brave enough to become the solution to our own undoing before it’s too late?

Review: Extrapolations is a sprawling, star-studded project that could only come from AppleTV+. Back in the day, a project with a cast this size would only be a big-screen spectacle like Earthquake or The Towering Inferno or possibly a marquee mini-series airing on a major television network. Now, streaming services have deep enough pockets to recruit global movie stars to regularly make projects like Extrapolations a reality. With a socially conscious message at the forefront of the plot, Extrapolations is an anthology that delivers a mixed bag of interconnected chapters that drive home the potential reality of climate change over the next fifty years. Some episodes hit dramatic highs while others are heavy-handed and do not click, but the overall production values and talent involved at least make Extrapolations a uniquely flawed experiment.

The brainchild of screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Report), Extrapolations boasts a cast that would make any filmmaker drool. While most of the screen time falls on a key group of actors, most of the big names in the cast are relegated to single scenes or brief appearances in the overarching project. That means that while Sienna Miller and Daveed Diggs take the lead in the second and third episodes, respectively, the subsequent three episodes feature supporting performances from Yara Shahidi, Gemma Chan, Tobery Maguire, Eiza Gonzalez, Marion Cotillard, Forest Whitaker, Edward Norton, Keri Russell, David Schwimmer, Matthew Rhys, Diane Lane, Indira Varma, and a primarily voice only role from Meryl Streep. Despite some actors appearing in multiple episodes, the lone character who factors into the entirety of Extrapolations is Kit Harington’s Nicholas Bilton, an Elon Musk/Jeff Bezos surrogate who is both the series’ primary antagonist and protagonist.

Starting in 2037, each episode is set during a specific day in each decade leading up to 2070. Using a specific temperature benchmark of two degrees Celsius as the point of no return for our planet, Burns chronicles the tumultuous political and societal brink our planet is really on. Unlike Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, which satirized the perception of climate change, Extrapolations looks devastatingly at what Earth could look like if we do not immediately change our global mindset. This narrative has a heavy dose of hard science fiction, which some will consider impossible. Still, it is delivered in an eerily realistic manner that echoes the uncomfortable worlds presented in Black Mirror. That being said, Extrapolations sometimes feels like it wants to emulate Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed anthology but instead opts for a series that connect all eight of its episodes into a story that can be enjoyed as standalone episodes or a sprawling epic about the fate of mankind and our planet.

There is a weight to the subject matter that does not invite levity into the proceedings. The opening episode covers the planet in raging forest fires, violent protests, and melting glaciers. The characters seen early are shown across the globe as they contend with the new world order as we see greedy politicians dealing with dastardly CEOs. At the same time, the average person suffers from the impending collapse of our ecosystem. From there, the episodes shift to the disappearance of animal species across the planet, children born with the inability to live in sunlight, the purchase of oxygen and seeds like we buy illicit drugs today, and advancements in technology that allow the world to hide from the reality of what is coming. That sounds like a blast, right? Take all that and pepper in an episode featuring musical numbers and another that feels like an episode of 24 (right down to Cherry Jones playing the President of the United States). It is difficult to make much sense of the tone and approach of these stories.

While Scott Z. Burns wrote and directed more than half of Extrapolations, he partnered with talented directors and writers, including acclaimed novelist Dave Eggers, Rajiv Joseph, Ron Currie, and Sarah Nolen. Keeping these stories organized across not just global locations but through the half-century, the timeline must have been a daunting exercise. Still, the tone and approach of each story are far more depressing than hopeful. Few of the episodes end with a positive outlook, even though they pepper in glimmers of hope. Like our real global climate change perspective, many unanswered questions are left through each chapter, few of which pose anything but a dystopian future if we keep on our current trajectory. Everyone involved in the cast has been a vocal proponent of climate change awareness. They bring that passion to these performances, even if they sometimes sacrifice coherence or natural drama to push the thematic agenda forward. While some episodes are devastating and haunting to watch, others feature little to no subtlety and fail to stick the landing.

What Extrapolations succeeds in driving home about the devastating consequences of not addressing the threat of climate change, it fails to address equally with deft dialogue and creative screenwriting. Half of this series is engagingly written and well-acted, whereas the other half is far too on the nose and bluntly delivered to be taken seriously. There are many good performances here but no great ones. I applaud the effort put into making Extrapolations a reality, but there is far too much time spent on the less interesting storylines and too much on elements that do not work. After watching all eight chapters of this story, I felt depressed and haunted in thinking about what if this all ends up really happening. As the title states, this tale is an extrapolation of where we could be by the end of this century if we do not change. As a cautionary tale, it definitely has my attention. Extrapolations is a dramatic series that does not work as well as it should with the caliber of talent involved.

Extrapolations premieres on March 17th on AppleTV+.




About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.