By Cecilia Rabess
Remember when the most popular show on television was a show about nothing? Well we’ve come a long way because now there’s a show about – no big deal – all there ever was and all there ever will be. Admittedly, that’s a pretty ambitious mandate for a network television series, but the new Cosmos, a reboot of Carl Sagan’s original spacetime odyssey which premiered on Fox last month, is truly a force: of entertainment, education, and inspiration. Hosted by the venerable and avuncular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos is hands down the most interesting show on television.
Tyson takes us on a highly visual, cerebral journey in his “space ship of the imagination” (think the Magic School Bus without the perennially frazzled Miss Frizzle and with a healthy dose of CGI) dropping an impressive array of intergalactic knowledge along the way. The show has been touted as both sweeping and accessible and that is undeniably the source of its universal (pun!) appeal.
There are three types of people in the world: those who know nothing about astronomy, cosmology, and space; those who know everything about astronomy, cosmology, and space; and those who refuse to pay for a subscription to HBO. This show is for all of us. Tyson has an impeccable flair for taking both the most mundane and the most mystifying aspects of cosmology and putting them into context.
Tyson possesses the star power of a thousand suns. If he is not your cosmic crush, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. (Bonus points if what you see is a star tie.)
Like when Tyson presents us with the cosmic calendar that imagines the history of the known universe compressed into a calendar year. If the Big Bang occurs at midnight on January 1st, then 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds later, modern human history begins. That’s right, everything and everyone we’ve ever known has happened in but a second in the cosmic year. Or when he explains that most of the observable universe is made up of light emanated from billions of years in the past – what we see when we look deep into the night sky is essentially a 13.8 billion year old Instagram feed (filter: Kelvin.)
And while it’s true that Cosmos asks more questions than it answers, Tyson reminds us that questions without answers are the driving force behind scientific inquiry. So although some pan the show for dumbing down complex astrophysics concepts, these critics are missing the point. Even Einstein famously said that “if you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself.” (It's just plain embarrassing when you can’t explain modified Newtonian dynamics within the Oort cloud to your little niece in 15 words or less, amirite?)
The sheer variety of visual stimuli on Cosmos reminds us that the universe, like the show, is pretty weird, but also wonderful. The program makes liberal use of innovative graphic animation and show-stopping special effects that take us from the center of some of the smallest organisms on Earth to the outer reaches of the universe. It even has its own original score.
Finally there’s Tyson himself, who possesses the star power of a thousand suns. If he is not your cosmic crush, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. (Bonus points if what you see is a star tie.)
Straight talk: if you’re not watching Cosmos you’re basically missing out on all there ever was and all there ever will be. But why take my word for it? The president thinks you should be watching too.
Image via Cosmos