The year was 1980, when one man took it upon himself to teach the entire world all the ins-and-outs of science; that man’s name was Carl Sagan, noted astronomer, astrophysicist, and all-around science dude (not to be confused with Bill Nye the Science Guy; also awesome). Sagan’s vehicle for such a monumental teaching lesson was Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Not only did that program go a long way to teach millions of people about science, but its success popularized the entertainment value of worthwhile, scientific television programming. This led to guys like the aforementioned Bill Nye teaching a generation about science and how to say “Bill, Bill, Bill, BILL… Bill Nye the Science Guy!”. Another such person who has benefited both personally and professionally from Sagan’s popularization of science entertainment is none other than astrophysicist, and known badass, Neil deGrasse Tyson. In recent years, Tyson has taken the reigns as not only the current leading science popularizer but also in developing and hosting a new Cosmos for a new generation, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has had an unfortunately difficult time reaching fruition. Following Carl Sagan’s death in 1996, his wife and co-creator of the original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage Ann Druyan attempted to get an updated version of the science event produced, but networks didn’t see the appeal of such an expensive undertaking. It’s understandable that networks would be so cautious with such an amount of money and work, but they were terribly wrong. Luckily, an unlikely ally would come along in show creator, actor, director, and noted Oscars boob-seer Seth MacFarlane. Together with Druyan and Tyson, MacFarlane and a hell of a lot of other people have been hard at work for a couple of years putting together this new cosmic event: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
After all that time, work, and money, was this series worth it? Oh my god, yes! Put as simply as humanly possible, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is balls-out fan-fucking-tastic (that’s a scientific term; trust me).
First, there’s the host: Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you’re somehow unaware of this man, allow me to enlighten you. He’s a famous astrophysicist; just the fact that “famous” and “astrophysicist” are beside each other should tell you all you need to know. Tyson is an affable, enlightening, and engaging genius. He can wax philosophic about the expanse of the universe and the presence of star stuff in all of us, but then he can also correct James Cameron on the star patterns in the night sky of his film Titanic. He can play an instrumental part in Pluto being declassified as a planet, and then he can make an appearance on The Daily Show where he tells Jon Stewart that the planet in the show’s logo is rotating the wrong way (while having just solved a Rubik’s Cube in moments). He can explain in minute detail what the hell the Higgs boson is, how the Higgs field affects absolutely everything, and make it understandable to a layman; then he can turn around and joke about sex in outer space with comedian Chuck Nice on Tyson’s StarTalk Radio podcast. The man has found some way to simultaneously be the smartest man in the room and the coolest man in the room. With that innate ability he has to communicate the fun of knowledge to anyone, not only has he done a load of good to follow in Carl Sagan’s footsteps and popularize science, but he has brought that to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, in spades. This culminates at the end of the miniseries’ first episode, when Tyson recounts the story of meeting Sagan as a teenager; a story I’ve heard the man tell many times, but it never gets any less inspirational or emotional.
Tyson is the most important element in this equation; just as Sagan was before him (and Nye was on his television show). Without Tyson’s ability to make learning so much fun–and capture how important and really cool it is–the program simply wouldn’t work. With that said, the animation is pretty awesome, too. There’s terrific computer animation that deftly updates some of the most memorable elements of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage; namely: the Spaceship of the Imagination and the Cosmic Calendar. Coupled with this computer animation are 2D animation scenes recreating moments in history, with animation from Six Point Harness Studios and voices from voice acting veterans like MacFarlane and Phil LaMarr. These scenes would seem to complement the narration by Tyson very well.
Overall, as you can tell, this updated Cosmos is off to one hell of a start, and I’m confident in predicting all 12 remaining episodes will be just as entertaining and educational as the premiere was last night. Somewhere, I’d like to think a bit of that star stuff that we got to call Carl Sagan for a while is out there, and it’s very happy with the continuation of this learning legacy.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey premiered March 9, 2014, across multiple 21st Century Fox networks and will air its remaining 12 episodes on Fox. Check local listings for time of airing and reairing on National Geographic Channel.