The original Cosmos 13-episode series hosted by Carl Sagan ran in 1980. It was one of the few examples of television that I watched as a teenager which left a lasting impression. The series featured lavish effects, wonderfully communicated fascinating scientific concepts, and had a host which I found to be charismatic and funny. Looking back on the series, I have no doubt that the original Cosmos fueled my initial desire to seek out astronomy as one of my first majors when I went to college.

The first episode of its sequel/reboot “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” ran last night. The new series is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a prominent media-savy astrophysicist. As notable in my mind are the executive producers, people including Brannon Braga (Star Trek, 24, FlashForward), Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow), and Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted).

The first “Cosmos” episode had some fantastic segments. The show did a great job with communicating how small the earth and its immediate vicinity really is with the ‘you are here’ discussion, and I immediately regained the sense of wonder that the original series imparted in me. I also think the entire analogy of the galactic timeline using the cosmic year as a yardstick was well thought out and made sense.

But “Cosmos” isn’t perfect. I’m not so sure about the Giordano Bruno history segment. While I’m all for watching historical content when properly presented within an appropriate context, “Cosmos” went a bit far with that segment in terms of time and in veering off what should be its science based focus. I’m also not in love with Tyson’s flat delivery as I find it less enthusiastic and passionate than the subject matter deserves.

Even with its imperfections, “Cosmos” is a sight to behold that should be watched. It’s lush, well produced, and interesting.

6 comments

  1. Good post. I watched the first episode tonight and found it pretty great as well. I am definitely looking forward to where they go with the rest of the season. As in introduction, I didn’t find any information that I hadn’t seen on other shows such as ‘The Universe’ or in my A101 course, but I imagine the details will come.

    I am inclined to disagree with you about the G. Bruno segment. I think that is historically important and relevant in any attempt to describe the development of science. I actually hope to see more of the relationship between social and political influence on the development of our understanding of the natural world.

    So many contemporary science promoters are forced to spend time refuting science denier’s claims who fail to incorporate evidence into their challenges that N.D.Tyson, Lawrence Krause, Brian Green, Bill Nye and others are distracted from the magic of science and pulled into the controversy of science and social politics.

    As we advance our technology, we absolutely must get past this reactionary rejection of scientific claims by people who or motivated by economic or religious incentives. All that said, I think the show was visually stunning and kept a nice flow from one idea to the next to tell a coherent story that anyone who watches will enjoy.

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  2. Thanks for your thoughts; you are spot on with your observations of how science promoters spend time away from their focus having to deal with (mostly) religious disbelievers. Although I recently enjoyed watching Nye’s recent debate, that kind of time and effort is not able to be used to research things.

    The other thing I didn’t address regarding the Bruno segment is that I found the “Cosmos” summation of the reason for his death to be factually incorrect. He didn’t die mostly due to his Copernican-like view of the universe as Cosmos asserted, he died because the church considered him a heretic for things like denial of the trinity, and denial of Christ’s divinity. For some reason, the Catholics were more than willing to both make an example of him and to silence him at the same time.

    I really sound like a negative-Nelly, but truth is that I am really looking forward to the 12 remaining episodes.

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    1. That is an interesting point about the Bruno thing. I don’t know the circumstances, but I would certainly be offended if the show is misrepresenting history to address a contemporary problem. The Catholic Church has certainly done plenty of things wrong in its long history that there is no need to change the facts.

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      1. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a deliberate misrepresentation. He was tried and “convicted” for heresy (aka not believing the Catholic Church version of the truth), and belief in the Copernican theory was technically not what the Church was preaching. The question in my mind is if that was the specific reason the Church declared him a heretic, or if he was declared a heretic for not supporting core Catholic tenets. That is likely splitting hairs, and these events happened 400+ years ago so nobody really knows the true facts.

        Having said that, it reeked a bit of the schtick employed on the “Alien’s are here” shows; a blemish on an otherwise spotless show.

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  3. I wasn’t able to watch it when it aired, but I was able to watch it the next day. I’m having trouble with the claim by alot of catholics that Cosmos was factually incorrect in its summation about Giordano Bruno’s execution by the Catholic Church. NDT stated plain as day that the reason the church burned him at the stake was because he refused to admit a belief in jesus’s divinity and the trinity. I guess I didn’t catch the part where NDT said he was executed BECAUSE of his views about the universe (and god) being infinite.

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    1. Sorry for the late response, it was Taco Tuesday night 🙂

      I don’t have the episode on DVR, so I can’t comment specifically on what was said. My impression was that Cosmos was spending 15 minutes trying to lead the viewer to believe that Bruno’s conviction and execution for heresy was largely due to his Copernican beliefs. That may have been a faulty assumption on my part, but it’s the conclusion I drew from it. I had no idea (nor do I care) about what the average Catholic’s opinion might be, that was a conclusion I made myself after watching the episode.

      If Cosmos didn’t intend to lead the viewer to that conclusion, the historical segment becomes even more irrelivent and more a tangential waste of program time IMO.

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