We’re three episodes into the global premier of the eagerly anticipated remake of Carl Sagan’s scientific documentary masterpiece, Cosmos. Word of it spread quickly through the various worlds of the literati and public alike. Over thirty years have passed. So…. Not only have scientific discoveries evolved, almost exponentially, leaving much new to cover, but so too has the technology used to create such a bold broad and far reaching work.
To aficionados and purists of course the original was perfect, without flaw and incapable of inspiring nothing but praise; certainly no complaints. But still… Curiosity is easily drummed up when contemplating a project of this size, with the big budget FOX would surely allot to it, not to mention having animation funny man Seth McFarland on board (?!?!) and the new narrator and guide for this remake would be celebrity physicist Neil degrass Tyson.
Being only three episodes in one could easily forgive the slightly humdrum pace at which the show is traveling thus far. Perhaps they’re saving the good stuff for later? Breaking out the big guns once the series catches on with a few more million viewers? But it’s not just the slow pace at which the show’s storyline is moving. With a seemingly infinite treasure trove of cash at their disposal the producers of the series have certainly spared no expense on breathtaking visuals and computer generated graphics and animation; but that seems to be, so far at least, the best aspect of the show.
Where Sagan’s Cosmos seemed primitive and quaint in the visual effects department at times — downright cheesy even, especially now, every episode left the viewer feeling inspired enthralled and captivated. More than anything though one walked away feeling educated, over-educated usually — with a ton of new knowledge to digest. So much so that it is common to find that anyone who has seen Cosmos has seen it numerous times. Usually more times than they can count. That was half the fun of the show. Trying to keep up with Sagan’s brain and his insatiable appetite to soak in every fact and ounce of important science data that had ever been discovered or postulated in the history of humanity. His enthusiasm for science and learning inspired us all to feel that same thirst. This is one of the many reasons why the man –a scientist mind you — became such a celebrity in his time, and a legend today.
The new Cosmos is not only slow but it also seems geared towards a less intelligent and curious audience. The science behind the science, the details, the math and equations, even the practical applications for said discoveries are all but gone in this new version. The script wiped clean of anything remotely mentally challenging or even intriguing. It’s as if the purpose is more to wow the audience into believing that science is “cool” without explaining any of the actual science itself. Names are dropped here and there, completely out of order and context — which is maddening for those who are familiar with the timeline of science’s greatest discoveries, and probably frustratingly confusing for those who don’t, but the exuberant raw passion and admiration Sagan seemed to have for these masters of human potential seems lost on Tyson. As if it’s all old hat to him.
There’s nothing particularly offensive or annoying about Tyson, but there’s also nothing particularly appealing either. Whereas Sagan could coax a drunken sailor to get excited about some of the most complicated scientific theories and equations ever invented with nothing but the sparkle in his eye and his soothing voice at once sonorous and excited, Tyson seems relatively tame if not downright bored half the time talking about the same matters. As if he’s either been there done that too many times already or he simply just isn’t as interested in the subject matter as Sagan was when discussing the same things.
So far the viewer finishes each episode feeling not much more than “meh… It was okay…”, but certainly not enraptured or on fire or ready to pop another one in immediately afterwards. The original Cosmos to many is a downright spiritual experience. No matter how times they watch it. Something very special and magical was created there that stands all by itself and alone in the annals of filmmaking. A concise but hefty 13 volume collection of boundless knowledge expressed and presented with excitement and reverence. The new Cosmos so far at least is an adequate passers by explanation of only the very basic ideas science has offered us through the years. Lukewarm tea without much flavor, sweetener or spice.
Whether this was done on purpose or not is more of an industry question. Perhaps the producers and the network felt that for audiences used to The Simpsons and American Idol, this was the best way to serve it. Almost hypnotically slow and filled with animation. We really don’t know. Choosing Seth McFarland — God love him for the hysterics of Ted — as an executive producer may have also played a role in why the show seems relatively bland to connoisseurs of the original series.
The man is after all a jokes writer, not a scientist nor even a science documentary producer.
Another factor that one finds a bit disturbing is the none too subtle atheistic view the show so far seemingly means to promote. It was no secret that Sagan was an agnostic at best. He stated as much quite early towards the end of the original series, though delicately respectfully. In this new age when certain cretinous minds are hellbent on forcing everyone to unnecessarily but unequivocally choose between believing in a God or not, the new Cosmos seems to be upping the ante on trying to prove that science displaces God somehow, when in reality we may just be discovering the intricacies of how the Divine Force has things worked out and coming up with our own names for these very natural systems in His/Her/It’s master plan. Either way, it’s an entirely unnecessary point to be making regardless; the exploration of spiritual, cosmological and theological ideas doesn’t really belong in a show extolling the virtues of scientific achievement. The sharpest minds understand that science and religion are not in competition with one another any more. Together though they are in fact creating some marvelous discoveries. And one day I believe will make THE most marvelous one of them all. In time.
Don’t get me wrong regarding the new Cosmos though. This show is still better than most anything else on TV but for PBS or HBO. It just isn’t the original. Nor an adequate update to it. I’ll still look forward to each new episode for the next few weeks at least. You can’t really get a subject matter closer to my heart than what this one explores. And who knows, it may just be gearing up and get really good once it gets going. I hope so. We need more television like this in America right now.
One very positive aspect of the show, (McFarland be damned for he’s one of the worst offenders in this arena), is that it isn’t filled with rampant gratuitous sex, violence and vulgarity like nearly everything else on modern American television. One cannot get through a half hour of TV during prime time today without more fucks cocks cunts balls bloody corpses axes through the head and naked bimbos riding alleged tough guys than one would normally encounter in an entire lifetime just ten years ago. Our grandparents — thank God they’re dead– wouldn’t recognize this nasty wicked and violent world we live in today. Why on earth today’s writers and producers think that adding the word fuck cock or dick to every sentence somehow makes a show funnier is beyond me. Frankly I believe the opposite is true. The shock and offensiveness of this new trend takes away from the viewers ability to be amused. This is one thing at least viewers of the new Cosmos don’t have to worry about. At least not yet anyway.