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Extant’s slippery title confuses even the cast members

With the debut of the Steven Spielberg-produced Halle Berry vehicle Extant, one question has been on a lot of people’s minds: what does the title mean? Following the show’s premiere on July 9, Oxford Dictionaries saw a noticeable increase in the number of searches for the definition of extant. But it wasn’t only the Internet wondering what the word meant; even members of the show’s cast have expressed their doubts. (For those racking their brains, extant means “still in existence” or “surviving”.)

The American show, slated for a single 13-episode season on CBS, is a sci-fi thriller with a plot revolving around astronaut Molly Woods, who returns to earth inexplicably pregnant after a year-long solo mission in space. Molly’s survival, along with her subsequent pregnancy, might be characterized as “extant”.

A confusing name

The odd choice in show name, coupled with the widespread definitions of the word cropping up in reviews of the show’s debut, has opened the door for quips of all sorts. For instance, The Guardian’s Brian Moylan begins a Q&A format article with the question (and answer): “What’s the name of the show? Extant. No, that is not a spelling error. No, we do not know what it means.” On the other hand, The Daily Beast’s Jason Lynch plays the word’s meaning reflexively back onto Halle Berry, noting that the word “could also refer to [her] career, which seemed to have flatlined in recent years.”

But jokes aside, many people — including members of the show’s cast — remain confused as to the word’s meaning. In an overview of the show in The Hollywood Reporter last month, cast members Annie Wersching (Femi Dodd on the show) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Quinn) both admitted that they were not sure what the word meant. “Extant is the creation of a new being,” Gossett Jr. offered. “[Molly] goes to space and comes back pregnant. She’s an extant.”

In the world of television, though, Extant offers puzzlement where show names have typically been transparent. Most major series offer obvious titles (think Lost or Sherlock or Downton Abbey), usually referring to the central character or premise of the show in an overt way. Twin Peaks is the name of the town where most of the show takes place. The Brady Bunch is, you know, the family!

The consternation caused by Extant calls to mind the confusion recently wrought by AMC’s award-winning drama Breaking Bad, whose titular phrase creator Vince Gilligan took to be more widespread than it actually was. A regionalism in the southern U.S. (Gilligan grew up in Virginia), to break bad is typically understood to mean “to raise hell”. But given how many people watched the first episode of Extant — 9.6 million tuned in for the debut — it doesn’t seem that the word is throwing very many viewers for a loop.

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