San Francisco Chronicle
Series makes good show of climate change
“Extrapolations” will be called a lot of things: anthology, speculative fiction, climate change propaganda, orgy of star turns. But one thing’s for sure: The Apple TV+ limited series does not easily fit into any reductive box.
Created by Scott Z. Burns — screenwriter of such noteworthy movies as “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Informant!” and “Contagion,” producer of the global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and director of the government cover-up docudrama “The Report” — its eight interlocking but discrete stories form a kaleidoscope of human frailty in the face of selfmade calamity.
Each episode takes place at a different time over a 33-year period from 2037 to 2070, as Earth’s temperature and sea levels rise, forests burn, crops fail and species die out. While these and other big-scale disruptions unfold through persuasive, special effects-enhanced visuals, Burns, his other writers (Bay Area literary lion Dave Eggers worked on one segment) and directors (indie queen Nicole Holofcener among them) keep the focus on individuals, their relationships and traumas. Shrewdly designed future tech helps people cope with loss while often contributing to environmental collapse.
The show’s unifying theme is that our wants and needs make us all culpable.
The first three episodes premiere Friday, March 17. Burns directed the “2037” kickoff, built around an international climate change conference in Tel Aviv that will ultimately be compromised by the series’ looming villain, Elonish business mogul Nicholas Bilton (Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones”). His Alpha conglomerate operates everything from smart homes to newly accessible Arctic mineral mines.
We also meet Rebecca Shearer (Sienna Miller), a pregnant researcher barely airlifted out of the burning Adirondacks in time to deliver her son Ezra ( Joaopaulo Malheiro in the next episode, Tahar Rahim as an adult in the especially moving “2066” entry). Back in also-on-fire Israel, rabbinical graduate Marshall Zucker (Oakland’s Daveed Diggs) is pressured by his father (Peter Riegert) to move home to Florida while Holy Land smoke almost kills his mother (Leslie Uggams).
Speaking of moms, none other than Meryl Streep plays Rebecca’s digitized parent in the next episode, “2046,” and provides the translated voice of the last gray whale the daughter communicates with off the coast of Colombia. In the best human-cetacean interaction since “Star Trek IV,” Rebecca bonds with the poetic, poignant creature while her sponsor, another Alpha subsidiary, has more exploitative plans for such disappearing animals.
Rabbi Zucker resurfaces next in “2047.” He’s indeed in Miami, struggling to keep floodwaters out of Temple Israel. As might be expected, this episode is rich in Jewish humor, spiritual questioning and ethical conundrums, as well as noteworthy guest stars:
David Schwimmer, Judd Hirsch and Neska Rose, as a pessimistic bat mitzvah student. There’s even a tribute to “Singin’ in the Rain,” an idea that may have worked better on paper.
Later installments unfold in a variety of locations and genres — political thriller, Indian crime tale, tragic romance, a San Franciscoset infidelity comedy, courtroom drama — that incorporate the worldbuilding/-wrecking details of previous episodes while, for the most part, maintaining distinctive tones and satisfying their own narrative demands.
Also making multiepisode appearances are Edward Norton as a concerned scientist and Diane Lane as Alpha’s conflicted second-incommand. The ridiculously glittering cast includes Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (though not together for an “Americans” reunion), Gemma Chan, Tobey Maguire, Marion Cotillard, Forest Whitaker, Cherry Jones, Murray Bartlett and many more.
Even more impressive is the way “Extrapolations” balances macro and intimate data. That keeps the show fresh and persuasive, with a constant flow of intriguing issues and perspectives. Sometimes the scripts get didactic; the final episode, in which Nicholas is tried at The Hague for “ecocide,” unavoidably lays out the preservationists’ and profiteers’ arguments, with an emphasis on the bad guys’ underhandedness.
But “Extrapolations” generally prioritizes compelling characters in heartrending situations over messages. Burns may preach to the savethe-planet choir here, but he knows that the only way to make a lasting impression is to put on a good show.