Television review: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s long awaited sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage premiered on Sunday. For those of you who have not seen it, you can watch the full episode on the website.

My feelings on the opening episode are complicated. I’ve never seen the original Cosmos all the way through, but I’ve seen enough of it to get a feel for the style, and I’ve read most of the book. It’s also been a while since I’ve seen much other popular science programming, so my views of the genre may be a bit skewed. I felt like the content was a bit light by those standards, but since this is a miniseries in which each episode (hopefully) builds on the previous ones, this is less of a problem than for a more episodic type of show.

The first thing you might notice about the new series is that it’s on a for-profit network rather than PBS. That means the episodes are 44 minutes long instead of 60 minutes. This by itself is not a bad thing. However, there were times when the episode felt like it was trying to squeeze 60 minutes of content into the 44 minutes. The slow, leisurely pace of the original Cosmos was one of its appeals, and that is not carried over into the sequel as it could be.

For the most part, I don’t begrudge Dr. Tyson this. While I believe he does have the gravitas to match Dr. Sagan’s style, his style is his own, and is markedly different, including quicker. The problematic part, in my opinion, was a script that glossed over a couple of key points: using the terms “cosmic address” (a listing of our place in the universe from Earth outward) and “cosmic calendar” (the analogy of scaling the lifetime of our universe to one year) without explaining them. While the descriptions were clear, the premises were a bit muddled.

That said, I enjoyed the show. The fundamental point, to ground the view firmly in our place in the universe in space and time, was explained clearly and thoroughly (if a bit rushed), and, in many respects, quite beautifully. Beginning and ending with quotes from Carl Sagan was a nice nod to the original series, and Dr. Tyson’s touching tribute to Dr. Sagan was perhaps the best part. I remain optimistic about the rest of the new Cosmos, and I am eager to see more.

My rating: 4.0 out of 5.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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