Reviews / TV

TV REVIEW: Fox’s Cosmos Leaves you Feeling Smarter and Less Signifigant in 30 Minutes or Less

Cosmos Header

Sauron would be jealous.

 

What is the first thing that enters your mind upon hearing the word cosmos? Is it the vast wonders of the heavens above? Could it be the popular 1980’s documentary series written and hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan? Or, does it remind you of the lesser known Autobot Transformer whose alternate mode resembled that of a flying saucer as they were imagined in the 1950s? If you chose the latter, than you are in good company. Well, in sort of company anyways, as I too always think of the little green and yellow bot whenever I hear that word.

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Cosmos TF

You wouldn’t think I’d be able to successfully link Carl Sagan to Transformers, but here we are.

 

For those who think of Sagan’s series, you are in luck, as I mention the word in reference to the new Fox series: Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey, which is a reboot of the show delivered back in 1980 by the ever-infamous astrophysicist and cosmologist. All those degrees and he still had time to do makeup…impressive. I kid of course: as I have enough background to discern the difference between a cosmologist and a cosmetologist—at least I’m pretty sure I do.

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Carl-Sagan

The man with a really large business card, Carl Sagan.

 

Carl Sagan Cosmos

Anyone else feeling an odd sense of Hollywood déjà vu? 

What I don’t currently have is a viewing experience with Sagan’s old series as I dive into Fox’s reboot of the same name. In that sense, you will be getting a review of the pilot episode through the eyes of a virgin to the docu-series (among other categories as well, but I digress).  Not surprisingly, the new documentary is being aired by the network that brought you Family Guy—before taking it away and bringing it back again.  Speaking of Family Guy, interestingly enough, Seth Macfarlane is also the executive producer of the Cosmos series. Fans of his raunchier work may be disappointed to find there are no bathroom or dead hooker jokes in this series… yet. (To find out more about his interest in this project, click here.)

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Seth-MacFarlane-Cosmos

Could it be? MacFarlane’s producing a project with no genital jokes?
(Give it three episodes.)

 

As with its predecessor—so I readFox’s Cosmos is television’s attempt to explain the big picture so to speak. It will explore everything from the origins of life to the creation of the universe—at least as much as humans have been able to figure out to this point. The goal is to try to explain such phenomena in a way which appeals to mass audiences without theoretical physics degrees—basically, people who obtain their knowledge of space through reruns of Battlestar Gallactica. If you are one of those who prefer their science intake in a more technical format with actual mathematical formulas, I highly recommend the scientifically factual The Big Bang Theory.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBTd9–9VMI

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The pilot of the series delves right into the birth of the Verse (as Firefly aficionados like to call it), our galaxy, and the history of how humans have perceived our planet’s place in it. Without giving away details of the entire 40 minute opener, I will share my thoughts on the visuals, presentation and overall value of the content.

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THE VISUALS

Tyson Body Shot

Was anyone else hoping the Big Bang took this guy well off camera to finish his narration?

 

Above all else, the first thing that caught my attention with Cosmos is the brilliance of the visuals. CGI has come a long way, especially when it pertains to space (as seen recently in the Oscar-winning Gravity) and Cosmos successfully utilizes the technology to mesmerizing effect. Until we can actually send a few iPhones back in a DeLorean to perform a 14 billion-year time lapse, one may never see a more accurate forming of our moon, at least not during our lifetimes. The animation used for the history lesson segment was crude, but in an intriguing kind of way.  However, I was much more impressed with some of the live vistas used for the sequences between the animated renderings.

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Milky Way Tyson

Notice anything standing dead center in front of the Milky Way?
(Unfortunately, it’s a common theme.)

 

My only complaints with the visual elements had to do with the choice to create a silly spaceship that looks like a Terminator 2 location-marker from Google Maps. The imaginary vehicle is used to transport host Neil deGrasse Tyson through time and space during the first episode. I found the use of it in a documentary a tad cheesy, but if it helps the 7-year-old audience pick up the lessons of each show, I guess I can learn to accept a few odd-ball style components.

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Cosmos Ship

You are here.
(Where that is I don’t know. I just work here.)

 

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THE PRESENTATION

Neil-deGrasse-Tyson-in-Cosmos-A-Space-Time-Odyssey Millionaire

“Welcome to Who Wants to be a Millionaire… let’s play!”

 

As many—but not all—have come to realize, the most advanced CGI visuals in the world don’t automatically guarantee enjoyable entertainment (case in point: Green Lantern). Seeing vistas of the galaxy is great and all, but without presenting it in a proper context with an adequate narrator, their use can sink an otherwise pretty ship. Unfortunately, this is the one area I felt Cosmos didn’t deliver a polished product.

While Tyson sufficed as an adequate host from an audio standpoint, did I really need to see his mug every three seconds? The guy was literally blocking my view of all the cool visuals 90% of the time. Call me old hat, but for my money, the best documentaries are the ones where the host lets the material do the visual storytelling while their voice provides supplemental narration. I’m sure Mr. Tyson is a nice guy, but I couldn’t help feeling he was a little self-absorbed, especially while telling his story about his run-in with Carl Sagan and how nice he was. Seriously? I felt like I was watching a guy name-drop during a documentary on television (which I totally was). The whole scene came off more forced then sentimental if you ask me…even though you didn’t.  I will cut him some slack however, seeing as he is the head of the Hayden Planetarium.

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Tyson

Again with the blocking of my view.

 

Outside of my issues with the host being too full of himself, the overall package of Cosmos felt good, although not great. The technology showcased was top-notch for a television production and the content itself was easy to follow. My only other minor gripe had more to do with the way the show was edited for broadcast television. It seemed that commercial breaks came at really awkward times. There is no doubt something like this is better suited for watching via Blu-ray or other home media where viewers can watch straight through. It’s possible that watching via the National Geographic channel might have been a better option, but alas, I’m too cheap to pay for it.

On another interesting note, it was nice to see President Obama open the show by encouraging our youth to keep exploring the sciences. Maybe it was an indirect plea to inspire young scientists to find a way to make Obamacare work. Odds are, they’ll probably have better luck finding life on Mars.

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THE CONTENT

Tyson head Shot 3

When he’s tired of standing in front of every shot, he’s sitting in the way instead.

 

Being that the idea behind Cosmos lends itself to exploring the mysteries of life and what we have learned as a species about our own existence, there is a seemingly endless amount of topics at its disposal. Of course, how long the series runs depends more on how many advertisements Fox can sell. As mentioned more times than I can count, they tend to have trigger-happy fingers with certain shows well before they’ve had a chance to mature.

The core of any good documentary is the subject matter. Nevertheless, it’s not just about the accuracy of the information presented, but the relevance of the material itself. I know that picking my nose 15 hours a day is probably not the healthiest of habits, but why isn’t it? And what are the social implications of everyone picking their noses too much? I would never judge a book by its cover—unless there is an incredibly attractive female in skimpy clothing on the front—I also won’t judge a show by its pilot episode. That said, however, I feelI learned enough new interesting tidbits from the first installment that I’ll definitely be tuning in to future episodes.

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la-et-cosmos

“Neil, for this scene we are going to change it up and stick your head right in the middle of it…”

 

Another facet Cosmos excelled at was making me feel truly insignificant (not that I needed help with that). Using Sagan’s cosmic calendar of one Earth year, viewers realize humans have only been on the universe’s radar for a few minutes when taking into account the age of our cosmos. It truly makes the audience question their place on the planet and in the grand scheme of things. On a personal level, it made me wonder the significance of my own existence and the things I do on this planet, like obsessing over Ghostbusters and taking the time to write about said obsession.

If I had to guess, the scientists are probably right: in space no one can hear you blog.

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3 Spurs

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