Cosmos: A Primetime Necessity


Carl Sagan in the original version of Cosmos

I almost didn’t watch the Cosmos reboot, and I almost won’t watch the rest of them. But I did, and I will.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is not for those who remember their high school or college science, nor for those who read Stephen Hawking or Thomas Kuhn (or Isaac Asimov, for that matter). To the scientifically literate, the show is only slightly more informative than Lunchables instructions are to the owners of Paesano’s. Even for those of us who enjoy Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s wit, he tones it down hard for this show. The CGI has a bit of a corporate demo feel, especially following the fantastic work done in the Star Trek reboots. And finally, Obama’s opening remarks were a welcome surprise on a FOX show, years of government austerity (school disinvestment and meager investment in research) left his words ringing hollow.

All that said, I couldn’t be more pleased this show is on the air and Fox is the best place to host it. Tyson’s narration is clear, with what feels like the minimum necessary math or technicality. His (or the writers’) analogies and descriptions make for easy yet imaginative listening. The graphics are apt and the pacing is fluid. The human elements provide solid narrative bookends. This show feels like a perfectly digestible meal for those who have forgotten or never learned this science.

I was further surprised and pleased to see such a plain and honest critique of historic fundamentalism on FOX! Tyson’s narrative plainly demonstrates the cultural and intellectual danger of strict adherence to dogma. The FOX audience, used to the ‘war on Christmas’ mantra, could stand to learn history’s repetition of the opposite problem.

A nice aside: the graphics of the Giordano Bruno scenes were far more cosmopolitan compared to the space travel scenes. College freshman 3D homework vs Framestore’s Deathly Hallows scene.

Cramming both the age and size of the universe into the first episode was a powerful start. The enormity of each are individually humbling, and together are staggering. Whether the viewer feels creation is divine or by chance, the utter smallness of humanity is clearly illustrated. I hope viewers are savvy enough to realize (and the producers thorough enough to deliver) everything that follows about known science should be similarly fascinating. I, for one, look forward to seeing what a mainstream production budget can do when animating cellular and sub-atomic mechanics.

Educational television, in modest doses, belongs on mainstream TV. Cosmos satisfies two responsibilities: that of television to mix a little meat into the gristly diet of reality TV (yes, I’m aware that there’s a lot of good TV happening too). More importantly, a basic level of scientific literacy ought to be cool and accessible. I’m going to watch this show because, as a scientifically literate person, I want the middle ground where I meet others to be a useful place. I want the political discourse to start to be affected by empiricism.

For those who found the scale from Earth to multiverse fascinating, I encourage you to explore Cary Huang’s Flash-animated Scale of the Universe.

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