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'Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey' will never live up to the original


The first episode of the new Cosmos TV series, subtitled a Spacetime Odyssey, hit the airwaves on Fox-owned TV stations across the country last night. An update to the original Cosmos, written and hosted by the legendary Carl Sagan in 1980. The new series was a collaboration between people involved in the original (among them Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, and Cosmos co-writer Steve Soter), and a new generation of personalities (such as astronomer and host Neil deGrasse Tyson and producer Seth MacFairlane).

See also: favorite Carl Sagan quotes

Needless to say, there was a lot of hype surrounding the premiere, which begs the question: can it live up to the original?

Short answer, no, but this has nothing to do with the new version's merits.

When Sagan debuted his Cosmos in 1980, the world of entertainment was a different place. At that time, there were no cable TV channels devoted to science. For that matter, cable TV was in its infancy. Computers? Basic at best as most movie special effects were still done by way of skilled modeling. At the time, there wasn't much in the way of variety TV or computer graphics. At the same time, the documentaries of the period were an exercise in boredom, as in (most of the time) monotone hosts mechanically narrating through series of images and videos.

Then then came Cosmos. The original Cosmos was groundbreaking in many ways. Filled with cutting-edge (for the time) special effects, live action, wonderful music, and a charismatic, on-screen host, Cosmos was unlike any documentary ever seen before. Then there was the subject matter: science as a whole, not just astronomy, made presented in such a way that just about anyone could understand it.

When it came to documentaries, there was before Cosmos and after Cosmos and the reception, both critical and popular, showed it as Cosmos became the most-watched documentary of all time (it still ranks second behind only the Civil War) and the critics heaped award upon award on the series.

In short, there is no way that Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey could ever compare to the original.

Now, that isn't saying that the reboot is bad, far from it.

Like the original, the reboot takes the viewer through space and time in order to showcase the continual process of experiment that is science by telling the stories of how we came to our present knowledge and speculating upon where future discoveries could lead us. This goes in stark contrast to current education, which has reduced science to technical reading, eliminating the experiment and real-world applications that both make our modern world reality and can spur today's children to take up careers in science.

Another plus to the reboot is its all-inclusiveness. Like the original, this new series isn't just about astronomy/cosmology. In the viewer's journey through the Cosmic Calendar from the Big Bang to the present, host deGrasse Tyson takes us on a journey through space and time, illustrating how both Earth and life sciences are integral, along with astronomy, in explaining how the world came to be. Like a machine, there are many processes that shape our world, all interdependent on the other, which is why it is important to realize that a specific science does not occur in isolation.

A final strength of the new Cosmos is its breadth, not depth. In presenting a broad range of topics at a basic level, the show can spur viewers' interest in a variety of subjects, not confuse people, and better stand the test of time. In his original, Sagan presented many broad, basic facts about the universe. Result: 34 years later, the series is still largely current as these basic facts haven't changed. The same approach tends to be taking shape with the reboot

For me, the only downfall of the new series is the fact that it uses cartoons rather than live actors on a set for the historical re-enactments. Or me, the cartoons look crude and the characters, well, cartoonish. However, I know that this is a matter of style and one that I personally don't like. However, I'm sure there are a lot of opposite opinions out there, too.

In all, there's probably no way the new series will have the same impact as the old, not because of the reboot's lack of merits, but because of the time in which the original came into being. Unrealistic expectations and comparisons aside, the new series looks to be good if the first episode is any indication of the upcoming 12.

Personally, I can't wait to see the new Cosmos will bring in the future. I'll tune in and suggest you do, too.

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