“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
This quote from Neil Degrasse Tyson sums up the very reason that a show like Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is so important, and why I am so excited to see it return to television. Some will get lost in whether it’s giving a fair shake to Intelligent Design or various religious groups or a hundred different branched of pseudo-science, but in reality it is giving science, and science alone, all of its focus. And for a show such as Cosmos, the is exactly how it should be. Just as the amazing Carl Sagan did back in 1980, Tyson aims to deliver science, in all of its glory, to the masses. And on that front he is thus far succeeding completely.
In the premiere episode, Tyson takes a very broad approach, introducing us to the classic from Sagan’s series, the Ship of the Imagination. I was happy to see this return from the original series, but it does add a bit to the general cheesiness of the show, and I worry it may turn off some younger viewers. In this ship we venture out from our planet out to our solar system, our galaxy, and much, much further. It truly makes you feel small, but in the best way. We then turn our attention to the story of Nicolaus Copernicus, the 15th century mathematician and astronomer who’s somewhat lucky dream, and then education and reasoned analysis of that dream, led him to be the first academic to make a model in which the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the universe. This story is told through beautifully animated scenes that add a nice change of pace to the show, breaking it up so what we’re not always looking at somewhat poorly done CG or Tyson himself for an hour straight. Lastly, we’re introduced to the cosmic calendar. This takes all time, as we currently know it, into one calendar year. Starting with the Big Band Theory and moving up until the night that the show premieres. This is where Tyson begins to gloss over a lot of big topics like the Big Bang itself, the origin of life, and evolution. Luckily I believe we’ll see these topics discussed more in later episodes. And it does help us to understand just how small a part of time we really occupy in the grand scheme of things. Overall, it’s a great introduction to the series, and the final moments, when Tyson reveals his personal connection with Sagan, are enough to make this grown man tear up a bit.
The second episode of Cosmos does just what I was hoping it would, it focuses on a very specific subject for the full hour. In this case evolution. The episode begins with more over the top setup that I could personally do without, discussing how the thousands of species of dogs we know today came to be, through artificial selection. We then look at how much more powerful natural selection can be, given enough time to work. We once again jump into the Ship of the Imagination and travel into the cells of a bear to see how polar bears came to be. We also get to learn about DNA and its many complex ins and outs, including how some of our DNA relates to everything from trees to butterflies. But probably the best part of this episode is the journey throughout the evolution of the human eye from its humble beginnings deep under water to the intricate part of the anatomy we know today. It’s so fascinating to see, and that has a lot to do with the way that the different stages are displayed. It’s a good change from the mediocre CG we’ve seen up until this point, like we journey to Titan to muse for a few minutes about what might life might look like not just as an evolution of life here on Earth, but in a different environment completely. Lastly we’re treated to Sagan’s original 40 second clip of single cell evolving to man as we know it, and it’s truly berth-taking.
There is no acting or plot to analyze in this review, as I’ve gotten so used to doing. But Neil Degrasse Tyson is of course a major part of the show, and should therefore be looked at. While the effects and setups might be extremely corny, Tyson himself is so completely sincere in his delivery, it’s hard not to see it. He’s looking right at you, conveying these big ideas right to you, and doing it all in a way that is extremely disarming. This is the kind of voice we need in the public eye, talking to people about science and the scientific method. No matter what you believe, no matter what you might place your faith in, no matter how much or how little you think you might know, science is important. Even more than important though, it’s vital. And so, I would argue, is Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.