After my recent run as a cut-rate media critic with the 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to resist taking on another television show. Fortunately, the highly anticipated Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has premiered only a few weeks later. Time to cut my media-writing chops on some higher quality fare.
I want to do something different with these than a simple recap. A review would be fun, but every media outlet on the Internet seems to have a review of the new Cosmos series already, so adding one more seemed like a wasted effort. Instead, I’ve decided to take bit of a skeptical eye to the proceedings, watching each episode and identifying the high points and the low points — the Best of and Worst of the new Cosmos, if you will. So without further ado …
Episode 1: “Standing Up in the Milky Way”
THE BEST MOMENTS
First off, the host. I’ve liked Neil deGrasse Tyson ever since the days when he hosted NOVA ScienceNow, and I listen regularly to his Star Talk radio podcast; so I knew going in that he would probably slip nicely into Carl Sagan’s role as narrator of the series. He did not disappoint. While he’s not quite the noble poet of science that Sagan was, he has an affable way of making scientific ideas accessible and entertaining to the lay person, which is exactly what this series needed in 2014 on FOX. This isn’t Tyson as the fierce science advocate, though; instead, this is Tyson playing the straight man to the wonders of the universe.
Second, I’m really fond of the visual narrative motif built into the Spaceship of the Imagination. I think most people can agree that the Spaceship is one of the cornier moments of the original Cosmos; so if it had to come back for this sequel, why not make it a more functional part of the narration? The visual cue of Beneath/Past, In Front/Present, Above/Future is a elegantly simple way to help cue viewers in a series that is so often going to be jumping back and forth. Not paying close attention to every word Tyson says? Well the shot is moving “Below,” so whatever they’re about to talk about must be science history. Subtle but effective.
Finally, some of the FX visualizations during the “Cosmic Address” segment were pretty cool. The Spaceship flying past the Mars Rover; the visualization of the inside of Saturn’s rings; the dark, icy rogue planet — honestly, I just enjoyed the whole tour of the universe. Opening with the whole concept of scope — and how being tiny doesn’t mean we have to be insignificant — set a fine tone for things to come.
THE WORST MOMENTS
I think the weak point of the first episode was definitely the animated Giordano Bruno story. The whole sequence fell flat for a number of reasons.