Cosmos: Then and Now

Tonight’s premier of Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey has me on the couch watching Sunday evening TV for the first time since I don’t know when. I remember The Simpsons, King of the Hill and X-Files Sunday nights on Fox fondly. Those have long since gone off the air or have become stale. I’m an adult now and therefore updating the ritual. The popcorn is popping as I sip my bubbling beer. It’s time to learn some science!

I am thankful for the opportunity to experience appointment television again. Mostly because I am eager to see how the odd (but fitting) coupling of Seth Macfarlane and Neil DeGrasse Tyson will update another cherished memory of my childhood. I still watch the original, but this is an era of reboots and sequels in Hollywood. Naturally I’m concerned about the integrity of the production.

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Host Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Fox Broadcasting

The answer is clear right away. As I lament about having to endure my first commercial break in years, I conclude that this is not my father’s Cosmos. This show is slick. It takes full advantage of 35 years worth of special effects development since the original aired in 1980.

I am thankful for the opportunity to experience appointment television again.

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Carl Sagan of the original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage: PBS

“The Cosmos is all that there is or was or ever will be…” opens Carl Sagan in the original 13-part show. His narrative and charm is what makes that series fantastic. It encourages an understanding of the universe while providing an insight into the spirituality such understandings instill. The title of the original, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a statement to both the tone and the storytelling of the program. It stands in contrast to the title and storytelling of this spring’s reboot: Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.

This is not my father’s Cosmos

Differences are necessary. Today, the audiences are different. And the science has grown. Where Carl Sagan could play professor and obviously explain textbook facts, Neil DeGrasse Tyson must play host with sensational style.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson and the cosmic calendar in Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey: Fox Broadcasting

The scripts for today’s Cosmos have to share science for today’s audience. Ergo, the need to embellish certain aspects of the original makes sense, even if they are a bit laughable. The Spaceship of the Imagination is a literal ‘vehicle of storytelling’ in today’s version. A minor figment in the original show now is updated to look functional and timeless. The original was like a luminous snowflake. The modern ship becomes a character alongside our host as he reacquaints us with our zip code in space. I laugh when there is a jab at Pluto’s demotion from planet-hood along the way.

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The Cosmos ‘Ships of the Imagination,’ modern (left), original (right)

A remake of this documentary series is crucial now more than ever. We are living in a time when Sagan’s words seem more foreboding than before. A culture of scientific illiteracy is more dangerous now than ever. Kudos goes to the Fox network for working with Seth MacFarlane, Ann Druyan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson to reintroducing this material to the mainstream. Since his passing, Sagan’s original series is still a staple of documentary television.

The Cosmos is all that there is or was or ever will be…

The series will follow the same 13-part structure as the original. With fresh facts and new insights into scientists whose discoveries we still revere today. MacFarlane contributes not only the finances, but also a certain style.

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Animated Giovanni Bruno in the Premier of Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey

The Animation is Fitting

A convention I’m sure to warm up to is the use of animation in place of live-action reenactments. Again, this is for the modern audience – and this is Fox on Sunday. It seems fitting to have the cartoons, as the goal of both shows is to make the content as accessible as possible.

Host Neil DeGrasse Tyson (L) and Seth MacFarlane, executive producer of "Cosmos", participate in Fox Broadcasting Company's part of the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter 2014 presentations in Pasadena, California, January 13 , 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

At a Press Conference. Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Left) Seth MacFarlane (Right)

“The Cosmos is all that there is or was or ever will be…” opens Carl Sagan’s voice in this remake too. We begin on the shores of the same ocean. “It’s time to get going, again.” invites Neil. There’s urgency in the tone of this series, and a cosmic continuity between it and the original.

Most noteworthy when Neil concludes this premier with a story of meeting Carl Sagan on a snowy day in his youth. He shows us Sagan’s appointment book with the day specified for the young Neil Tyson. Our host confides that his time with the scientist in his home and laboratory inspires him become the person he is today. It’s touching, and I’m looking forward to more references like that in his series and exploring the Cosmos with a new generation of science enthusiasts.

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