With Extrapolations (streaming now Apple TV+) creator and writer Scott Z. Burns aims to do for climate change what he did for pandemics in Contagion.
Beyond that, this show promises to take audiences by the lapels and submerge them in some top-notch drama, which will actively explore the people on a planet heading towards environmental disaster.
With an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Edward Norton, Marion Cotillard, and Forest Whitaker – Extrapolations is burdened with glorious purpose. Set fifteen years in the future, Burns immediately begins bombarding audiences with facts and figures, instantly grounding a drama which wastes no time in establishing its manifesto.
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With forest fires raging due to rising temperatures, glaciers melting for the self-same reason, and the emergence of hybrid diseases specifically linked to these environmental factors – Extrapolations feels as much like an educational exercise as it does a grounded human drama.
Fluctuating as it does between various characters; each one of which has an important role to play when it comes to telling this tale.
Watch a trailer for Extrapolations
In one corner there is Marshall Zucker (Daveed Diggs), a Rabbi in training, who is desperately trying to reconcile his faith alongside the mounting crisis. Elsewhere, environmental activist Rebecca (Sienna Miller) is fleeing through Colombian woodlands, experiencing similar moral quandaries, while her husband Omar (Tahar Rahim) attends climate change summit COP 37.
Yet another element in this equation comes in the form of Junior (Matthew Rhys), a repulsive corporate leach who is looking to build casinos in the Arctic.
Sporting a protruding pair of pearly whites, he jets around the world oblivious to his carbon footprint, while popstar partner Hannah (Heather Graham) vacuously engages in social media.
That each of the characters in this opening episode represent archetypes — shaped intentionally to illustrate different perspectives — is obvious, but what some people might find more surprising is how grounded each viewpoint feels. Junior might be a caricature, but he mirrors the behaviour many viewers might consider in keeping with that one per cent who treat this world as their own personal playground to be plundered.
In amongst these layered character introductions, this Apple TV+ original also begins gaining dramatic traction, when certain characters re-appear over time. As the years pass by in ever-increasing increments, some evolve from environmental activists to archive specialists. Some experience personal loss as a direct result of global factors, while remnants of those relationships which so defined them are treasured above all things.
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As heat related deaths continue to rise in conjunction with gradually rising temperatures, which in turn sees all forms of wildlife perish, Extrapolations goes deeper into the science of climate change. It moves beyond a theological discussion about Gods of every denomination abandoning humanity, and instead focuses on long term solutions.
That these all stem from a company called Alpha Industries, itself the brainchild of reclusive billionaire Nick Bilton (Kit Harington), demonstrates how corporations are seen as both saint and sinner here. As an overarching organisation which holds the solutions to droughts in one hand, yet actively seeks to influence populations through media manipulation, illustrates the contradiction at play.
Carbon neutral transportation might be mooted as the cure all for decades of jet set decadence, but humanity still seems quite content to do the damage and then reach for a band aid. Even when this hypothetical Amazon clone seeks to be philanthropic in its actions, there is still the mild stink of big business dollar signs glowing in the rear-view mirror.
As for the performances in this A-list anthology show there is an embarrassment of riches on display. Some of which will catch audiences unawares, while the truly great star turns feel effortless in their emotional impact: neither seeking the spotlight to unconsciously overshadow or draw attention away from the importance of what Scott Z. Burns is trying to convey.
Chief amongst them is Meryl Streep, who only compounds her reputation in this very rare small screen appearance, offering up a compelling performance which works on multiple levels. Similarly, Sienna Miller gets to embrace a truly rich character in Rebecca Shearer, who gives Extrapolations a real sense of emotional honesty in those first two episodes.
Elsewhere, Judd Hirsch (The Fabelmans) taps into a little science fiction nostalgia, as he mirrors his turn in Independence Day as the overly concerned father figure – this time opposite David Schwimmer (Friends). Who again, makes a surprise appearance and will have some people wondering why the actor chooses to do so little.
What other critics thought of Extrapolations
Digital Spy: "It feels very real, even if the people are a little 2D" (4 min read)
Guardian: "Even Meryl Streep can’t save this convoluted eco drama" (3 min read)
Independent: "Star-studded climate change drama is both patronising and predictable" (4 min read)
The Hollywood Reporter: "Starry but stodgy Apple TV+ climate change drama" (5 min read)
Beyond that, it is fair to say that Extrapolations seeks to entertainment more than educate, even if some audiences might prefer their climate change entertainment more The Day After Tomorrow, than sobering and solemn on occasion.
Either way, this is a show which has the time and backbone to ask some difficult questions, while trying hard to reach mainstream audiences.
The first three episodes of Extrapolations are available to stream on Apple TV+ with new episodes weekly.