Extrapolations on AppleTV+ review: a depressingly plausible vision of the future

There’s a moment at the start of AppleTV+’s new anthology series Extrapolations that sums up the entire show rather neatly.

A rich couple are in an apartment in St. Petersburg. It’s 2037 and the city is cloaked in smoke from the forest fires taking place around the world. As a woman flicks through news channels showing climate protests, her partner tells her to “turn this shit off”.

She does, sits down on the floor and begins a yoga lesson. And as she closes her eyes, we smash cut to an image of a forest on fire.

This is the central tenet of Extrapolations: humanity is doomed by its own careless hand, and we are all in for a miserable future. Over the course of eight episodes, we follow a number of different storylines and characters over the course of fifty years, from 2037 (only fourteen years away!) to 2070, as the Earth gradually changes beyond recognition.

Developed by Scott Z. Burns – famous for the Bourne films and eerily prescient 2011 disease film Contagion – this is a depressingly plausible vision of the future. As we progress through the years, we see the world on fire, the oceans acidifying at a terrifying rate, and children being born with “summer heart”: a weakness caused by their mothers overheating during pregnancy.

Kit Harington in Extrapolations (AppleTV+)
Kit Harington in Extrapolations (AppleTV+)

It’s what you’d hope would be a wake-up call – both for us and the people living in this fictionalised future. Despite all that, the much-vaunted COP 2037 summit that takes up the majority of episode one fails to deliver any hard action because of political infighting.

In fact, once the Elon Musk-esque tech billionaire Nicholas Bilton (Kit Harington) steps in, the “strict limit” of 2 degree heating gets raised to an “upper limit” of 2.3 instead. Even better, property developers see places like the Arctic – now ice-free – as prime locations for expansion, rather than a sign of how dire the times actually are.

If it sounds sombre, it is. Make no mistake, humanity’s complacency is to blame for everything happening here and Extrapolations takes every opportunity to show us just how badly we’ve cocked things up.

Three main storylines anchor the series: Sienna Miller plays Rebecca Shearer, a mother living with the guilt of almost killing her infant son by getting caught in a wildfire while pregnant; Daveed Diggs plays optimistic rabbi Marshall Zucker (who also has a horrendous property-developer father) and Harington pops in and out of the action, inevitably making things worse for the planet when he does.

However, as the season progresses, other interesting characters emerge. David Schwimmer makes an appearance as an uptight Jewish father; Meryl Streep plays Miller’s grandmother, who only appears in the show on-screen. It’s done fairly seamlessly, with enough returning faces appearing as the episodes (and years) progress to make you feel invested in their futures.

Meryl Streep in Extrapolations (AppleTV+)
Meryl Streep in Extrapolations (AppleTV+)

There aren’t many moments of levity here, but there is a certain unevenness of tone. One moment, Harington’s Bilton watches a climate protestor set himself alight in protest at his plans to mine the Arctic for precious materials; the next, a walrus randomly attacks and kills a ruthless property magnate (Matthew Rhys). In episode two, Miller spends most of her time talking to a whale (apparently, advances in technology have made it possible for us to communicate with them).

These bizarre tonal shifts do nothing for Extrapolations – in fact, they do it a disservice, by leavening the tension and detracting from just how realistic this terrifying version of the future seems to be.

Still, as silly as the show can be at times, there’s a sincere message here. As one of the climate protesters says at the end of episode one: “We cannot give up and go home for one simple reason. We already are home. This is our only home.” Words to heed.

Extrapolations will air on AppleTV+ from March 17