Meryl Streep Stars in ‘Extrapolations’ on Apple TV+

Provocative new anthology series 'Extrapolations' takes viewers into the not-so-distant future, to a world ravaged by climate change

Slow road to oblivion

When the man who in 2011 wrote Contagion has something to say about the state of the planet, one listens. The new series from filmmaker Scott Z. Burns—who also produced the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth and its follow-up An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power—may feature a star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep, Edward Norton, Diane Lane and Marion Cotillard, but what keeps our eyes glued to the screen is far more impactful than these A-listers. In Extrapolations, the future of the planet plays out for the next half-century, and it’s not looking good.

ExtrapolationsAppleTV+This series, however, does not look like the Day After Tomorrow-style disaster movies audiences are used to seeing. “There’s a lot of art that seems to suggest we’re all going to die, and I don’t know if that’s true or not. I tend not to believe that,” says Burns, whose dramatic work includes The Bourne Ultimatum and The Informant!. “What I know for sure is that before we answer that question, we’re all going to live. That’s the ride that I wanted to invite everybody on. What’s it going to be like to live? What are the decisions we’re going to have to make?”

Each episode of the limited series gives the viewer a glimpse into the effects of climate change, often on an individual level. It shows the impact of a deteriorating environment on relationships, health, family and faith. In taking on this enormous subject—rather than focus on the apocalypse itself—Burns knew he wanted to show the messy middle. “We have enough science now to know that there are a lot of steps between where we are today and the end,” he says. “What I wanted to do was to tell a series of stories that allow you to go on this, hopefully, amazing thrill ride between where we are today and where we might end up, and what we can do to change any of those steps along the way.”ExtrapolationsApple TV+

The contextualizing of a complex issue is also what intrigued Hamilton and Snowpiercer actor Daveed Diggs, when he was first approached for the project. “Getting to tackle a big, important thing that’s hard to talk about, by telling stories about people living their lives, is always the kind of thing you want to be a part of. It’s a very difficult thing to do,” he says. “Once I got the scripts and saw that these are people essentially living in the times that we’re living in, that was the thrilling part to me—making something very big very personal.”

ExtrapolationsApple TV+To predict where the world is headed, the creators dug into some hardcore scientific research. “The versions that we see in Extrapolations are a set of possibilities,” says executive producer Dorothy Fortenberry. “Any time you talk to climate scientists, they always say, ‘Here’s one path, if we do this. Here’s another path, if we do that.’ We worked with scientists and experts to pick a path that seemed likely.”

Ultimately, their intent was to craft a reasonable and relatable future, setting the pilot episode in 2037. “We weren’t trying to imagine a crazy, one-in-a-million possibility,” Fortenberry explains. “We wanted it to feel like a near future. The distance between now and the first episode is the same as the distance between now and The Hangover. If you watch The Hangover, you’re not like, ‘Oh, the ancient past and their crazy old cars and clothes and technology.’ It feels like a relatable time that you remember.”

ExtrapolationsApple TV+To mount a big TV production about the effects of climate change without contributing to the problem, producers teamed up with an organization called Green Spark. “They taught us better things to eat your food off of, better things to eat, a whole gamut of things that we take for granted on set,” says Burns. “We tried to run a very green set.” The greatest carbon offset, however, came from filming the entire series, which takes place all around the world, in one location. “While we do have key photography [establishing shots] from around the world, believe it or not, we really did it in New York,” reveals exec producer Michael Ellenberg. “We travelled the globe inside of one major metropolis, for the most part.”

ExtrapolationsApple TV+Much like Contagion experienced a frightening renaissance nearly 10 years after its premiere with the onset of COVID, Extrapolations has a chance to unnerve viewers for years to come. “Here’s the big difference. If you look at pandemic illness, it seems to reoccur in the human record, so we have some understanding that these things repeat themselves. What is more frightening about this story, is we’re doing an experiment with our entire planet that we can do only once. From what I remember about science class, if it’s an experiment you can only do once, it’s not really an experiment, it’s a bad idea,” Burns muses. “But we have the ability, by the decisions we make every day, to make choices, and that’s what we imbued our characters with. We have a lot of control over what happens next.”

Extrapolations premieres Friday, March 17 on Apple TV+