Cosmos Makes Triumphant Return

You don’t need to know rocket science to know the name Carl Sagan. Easily one of the most brilliant and passionate voices of his generation, Sagan was an astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, Cornell professor, and prolific science popularizer, and in 1980, he captivated America with his hit show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It was unlike anything seen on television before, a documentary series that provided an engaging look at the history of mankind and its collective thirst to understand the universe. It seamlessly melded philosophy with life lessons, experimentation with historical re-enactments, and scientific theory with impressive visual effects relative to it time.

Like the zombies it’s currently up against in the Sunday night timeslot, Cosmos has returned from the dead, and without a moment to spare. The new season, subtitled A Spacetime Odyssey, is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and already seems to be living up to it namesake with the thrilling journey it promises over its 13-episode run. The show is co-produced by Seth MacFarlane (proving that backing projects outside one’s typical genre can and should be done), 24 and Star Trek: Enterprise‘s Brannon Braga, and Ann Druyan, producer of the original show and Sagan’s widow. The first of what I anticipate will be a series of spectacularly informative hours of TV included a look at our “cosmic address,” the influence of a monk named Giordano Bruno, and the Cosmic Calendar, a narrative device used in the original series to demonstrate humanity’s history relative to the history of the universe. (Spoiler alert: we’re a blip on the radar.)

Host Neil deGrasse Tyson on the bridge of the Spaceship of the Imagination.

The most striking aspect of the new Cosmos has to be the visuals. To a society bludgeoned with high-budget blockbusters on a regular basis, they probably aren’t mind-blowing — that effect is decidedly reserved for the science — but they are ridiculously pleasing to take in. A strand of DNA forming itself. A reflective pool morphing into a human eye. A swirling galaxy. This is what happens when TV is given the movie treatment, and with dramatic, otherworldly scoring by famed composer Alan Silvestri, it’s like we’re all being tipped head-first into Tyson’s Spaceship of the Imagination, zooming past planets and seeing for ourselves just how vast and wonderful the cosmos is.

Speaking of Tyson, he’s got to be the perfect host for this job, dubbed Carl Sagan’s “heir-apparent” by Seth MacFarlane. Currently the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, Tyson has previously hosted Nova, Nova ScienceNow, and StarTalk Radio, a podcast where he teams up with comedians and fellow scientists to discuss various topics relevant to the modern day. Besides being unbearably intelligent, Tyson has an on-screen swagger like no other (in a recreation of the Big Bang in the show, Tyson casually dons sunglasses and rides the explosion of existence with unfathomable cool). He speaks directly to viewers, as Sagan once did, and invites us to open our minds and be critical thinkers in a way that society seems to have lost in the years since A Personal Voyage.

The iconic Carl Sagan (in his equally-iconic turtleneck).

On a more personal note, Carl Sagan has been influencing my life in subtle ways since I was young. My mother, a high school biology teacher at the time, once explained to me that Earth revolves around the Sun, and that the Sun is a star, but there are (to borrow a phrase from Sagan) billions upon billions of stars in the observable universe — so wouldn’t it make sense that there are other planets revolving around those stars? And isn’t it just slightly possible that some of those planets hold life? It wasn’t until several years had passed that I realized that she’d gotten that idea from Sagan and passed it down to me.

One of Carl Sagan’s most famous lines was, “We are made of star stuff,” a phrase that Tyson quite rightfully parrots in the new series. Put another way, the very same atoms that we’re made of also make up the stars, and if there’s one message that should be taken away from Cosmos, it’s our oneness with the universe. Perhaps, many years down the line, scientists will cite Cosmos as having kindled their interest in understanding the natural world.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey airs Sundays on FOX at 9PM and Mondays on National Geographic Channel at 10PM.

Posted on March 15, 2014, in Fox, Network Television and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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