Tyson takes a trip through the “Cosmos”

Fox’s new space-centric series excites, educates

There’s been a real dearth of good and honest science on television. The Discovery Channel may as well be called The Shark Channel, while the History Channel just plays endless reruns of “Pawn Stars.” Not to be left with just National Geographic, Fox’s latest reincarnation of cult classic “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” breathes new life into science-focused television and documentaries as a whole.

Traditional documentaries toe a very fine line. If they’re too factual, they’re boring, and some poor fifth grade class spends an afternoon suffering through it. If they wax too unscientific, they lose all credibility — and some poor fifth grade class still spends an afternoon suffering through it.

“Cosmos” is exceptional simply because of its ability to blend storytelling with science. It doesn’t feel like a documentary. It feels exactly like its namesake: an odyssey. There’s no greying historians and scientists barking facts at you. There’s no corny lab coat wearing, no test tube bearing dork. It’s pure, unadulterated science.

And apparently, science is quite beautiful. The visuals of this “Spacetime Odyssey” are simply phenomenal. The host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, flies through space and across time as volcanoes erupt around him, dinosaurs go extinct and humanity crawls out of the ground. It was flashy and a little over the top, but it certainly made learning the difference between the Triassic and Cambrian eras more interesting.

Tyson is the perfect choice for a host. He doesn’t have the God-like voice of Morgan Freeman from “Beyond the Wormhole,” nor does he have the obvious energy and passion of Bill Nye. But Tyson does have a subtle enthusiasm all but impossible to resist. He narrates quietly and professionally but there’s an obvious reserve of excitement which just emanates out of him. It takes a rare talent to get someone excited about something 746 million miles away, but Tyson does so effortlessly.

“Cosmos” is also one of the most accessible shows about science. I could see my 5-year-old self watching it for the visuals, and just as easily see my 60-year-old self watching it to see the advances of science in recent years. It’s not frustratingly complex, but it does throw in enough little-known tidbits to keep things interesting for science buffs.

When it was first released in 1980, “Cosmos” was groundbreaking. Narrated by the legendary Carl Sagan, it was the first show of its kind. It spurred hundreds of students into math and science-related schools and careers and is one indicator of the revival of scientific thought in the United States.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely this iteration will be able to accomplish the same. In an age of entertainment and information overload,, a TV show doesn’t draw the same audience it once did. “Cosmos” sets the bar incredibly high for documentaries and is an excellent show in its own right, but it doesn’t live up to the hype generated by its predecessor — simply because it can’t.

3 stars

Published March 28, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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