Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

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 While I’m all for watching historical content when properly presented within an appropriate context, “Cosmos” went a bit far with that segment in terms of time and in veering off what should be its science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.

TV

The Blacklist

In many ways, The Blacklist (NBC) is a show that is fairly consistent in it’s inconsistency. The quality of the acting talent, writing, the tone of how the fictional F.B.I. and it’s players interact with their prized asset, the overall pacing, and the desired amount of believability per episode varies weekly. Usually such a scenario results in a show that is frustrating to process and often unwatchable.

This show has a singular reason for succeeding: James Spader. Spader’s performance is riveting for a couple of important but very diverse reasons. Spader appears more like an average human being and less like a twink in this series, and his physical appearance contributes to his character’s believability. Spader is also wisely given the lion’s share of the interesting tidbits of the show, and his acting ability allows for maximum benefit. And Spader’s swagger allows him to be the perfect foil for Harry Lennix’s FBI-Director character.

The chemistry is there when it needs to be, and the show will continue to be watchable as long as Spader’s role as shining star doesn’t diminish. If it does, The Blacklist will dry up and blow away.

TV

House of Cards

Kevin Spacey - House of Cards

Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

While I have my own viewing interests which include shows that many find repugnant or in appropriate (I’m looking at you Archer), my wife and I are always on the prowl for new programming to watch together. After quickly burning through Battlestar Galactica and finding out that I blew it with Mad Men due to some serious stupidity, we needed a new show to consume.

We recently started watching House of Cards (HoC) on Netflix. As are many people on Facebook, Twitter, and the interwebs, we are hooked. After having a bit of time to process the first three episodes, there are some things that I really like about the show.

TV

Rome

Rome was an HBO series that aired from 2005 to 2007, and was a co-production of HBO and BBC. The series is set in the first century AD as Rome transforms from a Republic to an Empire.

There is a great deal to like about this mini-series. The look of the series is lush even when viewed on standard DVD discs. The production is superb, with an obvious effort to shoot as much as possible in Italy. And although the events portrayed in Rome have varying degrees of authenticity in terms of participants and timing, the show is basically accurate in its portrayal of Roman politics, lifestyle, and brutality.

Rome chronicles the adventures of Titas Pullo and Lucius Vorunus, two Roman soldiers that often are at the right place at the right time. Their good luck are eventually noticed by Caesar, and they progress upwards through Roman ranks to witness key historical events including the Roman conquest of Gaul, Caesars civil war, the assassination of Caesar, the introduction and rise of Octavian to become Augustus, and Augustus’ battle with Marc Antony.

As in many HBO series, the acting in Rome is phenomenal. Ray Stevenson and Kevin McKidd do a fantastic job portraying Pullo and Vorunus, and Ciarán Hinds (pictured) is completely believable as Caesar, a politician that excercised his desire for pleasing the people as well as himself. James Purefoy is a delight to watch as Marc Antony, and Tobias Menzies excels as Brutus. The rest of the support cast do an amazing job in bringing the desires and motivations or key historical figures to life.

The series was not renewed at the end of the second season due to the prohibitive cost of producing it (aka Deadwood). Although a film was promised and looked like it was going forward in early 2010, there has been little word on when or if it will be completed. I hope so, I’d like to see more.

TV