We were able to preview the upcoming “epic” series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” We here at Kibitzers love space talk, so here is our review!
“The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
A refresh of the classic “personal voyage” that Carl Sagan took us on in the original 1980 Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey opens like it’s predecessor, with the familiar voice of the famed astronomer setting the scene for the series. Though Sagan has since passed, he has a worthy successor in astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson and co-creators Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow and co-creator of the original) and Seth MacFarlane (yes, of “Family Guy” and “Ted” fame) managed to bring modern science back to primetime in an enjoyable and entertaining way. I attended a screening of the first episode of the 13-part series and was quite impressed with the show’s production value and educational value. Spoilers beyond (can you really spoil the science of the cosmos?).
“Cosmos” is about making the current scientific understanding of universe approachable by the general public. The opening episode parallels the format of the old show and covers the basics: the Big Bang, the immensity of the universe in space and time, and a small sliver of scientific history.
The narrative is framed by a holdover from Sagan’s series, the Ship of the Imagination. Modern special effects really start to shine through here as we join Tyson on this ship, hurtling through both space and time. The ship allows us to traverse the entire history of the universe, shrink to the atomic level, and even imagine and speculate on where our universe might fit into the multiverse. I appreciate this alternative take on the typical “science” show, because it puts the host and viewer on the same level.
Tyson isn’t the disembodied voice of a narrator, nor is he a talking head. He is very much a character in the story, without overshadowing the magnitude of what he is teaching. I have always admired Tyson for his charisma and enthusiasm, and he does a fine job here as cosmic tour guide. That said, there was something about Sagan’s gravitas and the poetry with which he spoke that instantly captured the attention. I’ve heard Tyson channel Sagan before, but this first episode seemed a bit more “to-the-script.” The two have different styles, of course, and I think that Tyson (and MacFarlane) will be better at bringing out more playfulness that perhaps modern audiences need. We will see.
Visually, “Cosmos” is what we have come to expect from big budget TV shows. The shots of the Ship of the Imagination flying through space and Tiktaalik crawling out of the ocean are impressive, but the crowning scene is the formation of Earth and the moon from the swirl of the early solar system. The music and sound effects were good (though almost painfully loud at the theater I was in), but not yet matching the iconic tones of the original.
Also brought back is the discussion of historical figures and events in science to provide context to the lessons of the week. The creators of the new “Cosmos” chose to use animation instead of live-action (maybe influenced by MacFarlane). Don’t expect Family Guy, though. These are quite artistic and a big improvement on dressing up actors in cheesy Renaissance costumes.
I imagine that any show that attempts to cover the entirety of the universe must be terribly difficult to keep within scope. This episode seemed rushed at times. I expect that since we just got the universal basics down, future episodes will be able to move a bit slower. At a couple of points, the discussion took sharp turns without graceful transitions. For example, we were introduced to basic evolution and common ancestry of species, then suddenly we jump to how ancient plants died and became coal and oh-by-the-way we are now burning this and it’s causing our climate to change. Absolutely this topic is very important, but we’ll get to that later…right? Hopefully, the rest of the series can focus on more specific topics instead of having to rush through the entire 13.8 billion year history of the universe.
Overall, the episode was a great starting point for the series. I think there is definitely space (no pun intended) in our entertainment world for a show like “Cosmos.” Instead of relegating yet another science show to less-watched cable channels, the producers are bringing “Cosmos” to Fox in primetime. Those who watch it will undoubtedly be entertained and learn something. I think Carl Sagan would approve.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey airs on Sunday, March 9th