Review: Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey

cosmo

Do you hear the sound of crying and wailing out there? It’s the noise of countless Creationists and devout religious followers, after hearing portions of the new television show — Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. Nothing gets them more stirred up than an hour long program during prime-time that encourages free thought and talks about evolution. But, more on them later. Let’s talk about COSMOS, shall we? It’s relaying some much-needed science knowledge to the masses (especially the FOX channel audience), but it’s not just about facts and theories, oh no. What set the original COSMOS apart, hosted by the legendary Carl Sagan in the 1980′s, was that it interlaced countless tidbits of science information with inspiration, thoughts of philosophy, and wonderment of the universe. It was a lofty ambition, a quest to get people to think outside the box. As much as Mr. Sagan loathed pseudo-science (see “A Demon-Haunted World: Science as A Candle In The Dark”), he also believed in humanity. We are capable of so much more, he said, and was convinced that all it took was a gentle nudge in the right direction to escape our self-destruction. Back in the 80′s the sense of urgency was fueled by a growing nuclear arms race, while today’s comparison is the threat of Global Warming (to those that understand the scientific process). I have recognized that the original COSMOS was written with a specific formula in mind. And it works. So when a COSMOS reboot was announced, I was worried that it might just be another flash-in-the-pan science show trying to make a quick buck. Shows like, “The Universe”, Stephen Hawking’s “Into The Black Hole”, and similiar shows, all tried their best. While certainly informative, I found they lacked substance. All growl and no bite, so to speak. They also presented a lot of scientific theories, with interviews of scientists that generally had to talk down to the viewer in a condescending manner. That usually left a bad taste in my mouth, and did not inspire to me keep watching. But after watching the COSMOS reboot premiere, I can genuinely say I am both immensely satisfied and pleased that they are sticking to the original COSMOS formula, inspiring and exhilarating the viewer while at the same time peppering us with science fact.

When news of a COSMOS reboot started to surface, I was worried. I have a genuine respect for Mr. Sagan and like all people that revel original television shows, I did not want the COSMOS name sullied. (Debates versus New Coke and Old Coke, Classic Star Trek and Next Generation Star Trek, anyone?). News about the new show slowly and gradually leaked out. It was announced that Neil DeGrasse Tyson would be the host. Okay, that is encouraging. The man has charisma and is currently a “rock star” scientist. Then we find out Carl Sagan’s wife is not only participating in the shows creation, but already has scripts written — some of them ideas from Carl Sagan himself. I am very encouraged. Then the news of Seth McFarlane joining the team and it airing on the Fox channel arrived. That was a bit of a bombshell. I was unsure how to interpret this at first — was it a last gasp attempt to get it on air, making concessions to the shows integrity? Would Seth “simplify” a science show to appease the masses? Thankfully, that did not come to pass. Through interviews and brief news snippets we learned that Seth actually has a deep passion for science and sincerely wanted to honor the late Mr. Sagan with a show he would be proud of. The end result so far: Home Run. The collaboration payed off. And the mere fact that this science show that aired in prime time was so well received is a monumental milestone in itself — perhaps now TV producers and owners will be so less inclined and scared to air a television show of substance rather than “reality” TV shows about Octo-mom’s or Survivors. The COSMOS literally IS the closest thing to reality you can get to, anyway.

To those that are fairly science-literate, the content of the premiere was very basic stuff – but that is not the point of COSMOS. Through fantastic high-definition special effects and a solid musical score, we are introduced to the majesty that is the universe, being led of course by the guiding hand of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. His voice is slightly toned down, perhaps to match the gentle style of the late Mr. Sagan — because introducing new ideas and concepts goes down easier with a welcoming smile, rather than a scientific sneer. We are first given a brief tour of our corner of the cosmos and then we expand out to the entire observable universe. This has been done many times before in other shows, but I was surprised by the visuals we were given — which I have not seen in other news or science shows before. The point of course, is to amaze the viewer, to reel them in so-to-speak, and go from there. Once you’ve taken a trip of that magnitude, our driver is now our traveling buddy.

What followed next both shocked me and  pleasantly surprised me. In trying to relay one particular story of a man in ancient times with a unique belief about the universe, they single-handedly demonized the idea of religion – not just the christian religion – but of all religions. The ancient religious leaders were depicted as wholly evil, complete with dark red robes and scowling dark shaded eyes, bent on the destruction of free thought. As an atheist I found this satisfying, but slightly disturbing. There should be no need to over-dramatize to make a point based on facts. Am I complaining though? Hell no. Religion did stunt scientific progress to incalculable degrees. I am sure Neil will tell us all about how much progress was lost when the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed because of religious reasons in a future episode. :) Through the story we are told of humanities great potential and ingenuity – the whole purpose of its telling. It is the cornerstone of science to believe that all questions can be answered eventually through the abilities of man, rather than laying all of them at the feet of an imaginary being. This is part of the COSMOS formula, to inspire future generations of scientists and minimize the wasted energy used on Religion and Psuedo-science.

The rest of the show dealt with the “universal cosmic calendar”. This also, has been done before in other science shows, but none this well presented. I will not go into detail about it other than to say the graphics and tone of the presentation greatly enhanced the mind-blowing information given to us. I was quite surprised at the public reaction (I was monitoring twitter and facebook during its air time), as I wrongly assumed most people knew these things already. But in a way, that’s a good thing — the more minds blown and inspired the better!  It set the bar for future delvings into other subject-matter, and it does indeed look promising.

The end of the show concluded with a very nice tribute to Carl Sagan, linking Neil DeGrasse Tyson to him in a personal way. It was a validation of sorts for Neil, who was given the COSMOS “torch” to continue the journey. As long as they stick to the COSMOS formula, I can’t see how they can go wrong. I look forward to the remaining 12 episodes and expect only good things to come. It’s taken a very long time, but we science enthusiasts can now turn on the television and find something worthwhile to watch. Welcome back.

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