March 10, 2014



I’m an unabashed science and space geek. That’s why I got so excited at the prospect of an updated take on the classic Carl Sagan series COSMOS. Even better, Fox was going to do something unheard of: air the series in prime on Sunday nights. While the network gets an “A” for effort, this version of COSMOS left me cold.

The opening hour was a disjointed affair that seemed to function as little more than six potential introductions for whatever direction the rest of the series decides to go in. There was the obligatory tour of planets and our solar system, an overlong animated segment dedicated to Giordano Bruno and quite a bit of intrusion by host/narrator Neil deGrasse Tyson. It all felt a little too random and a little too surface. I get the point of a set-up installment but, a pilot episode of any kind can’t be rudderless and drive long term viewership.

Dr. Tyson to the holodeck! Dr. Tyson to the holodeck!

I like Dr. Tyson quite a bit (check out the excellent NOVA episode “The Pluto Files” if you’re not yet familiar with him) but, as our COSMOS tour guide, I kept wishing he’d get out of the way and let the visuals tell the story. Even worse, someone thought it would be a great idea to drop Dr. Tyson into a cheesy green screen holodeck for our journey through space and time. It felt more EPCOT than epic. That the exterior of this “ship of the imagination” looks like a cross between Queen Amidala’s Royal Starship and a suppository, doesn’t help matters any.

Production values are fine but surprisingly unremarkable. Save for a stunning (and all too brief) zoom-in on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. There were also some questionable choices in the locations department. Why, for instance, would you send Dr. Tyson to Italy and then limit him to wandering around what looked like back alley parking lots?

A spectacular digital fly-by of Jupiter in COSMOS.

Seth MacFarlane is on board as one of the series executive producers which is why, I suspect, there are several extended animation sequences. I’m all for getting rid of silly re-enactments but, switching out low-rent live action with low-rent cartoons doesn’t render a sequence any more effective. In fact, where the story of Giordano Bruno is concerned, it ended up trivializing what could have been a compelling account of the conflict between science and religion. It’s an age-old battle that still rages to this day. It certainly would have given the lunatic fringe something else to whine about aside from President Obama’s brief on-air intro.

I hate to come down too hard on COSMOS because we certainly need more intelligent programming on television, especially in broadcast prime. Still, I can’t  give the series a pass just because it’s a peg that fills a hole. By no means is COSMOS terrible. It still has a dozen episodes to find its footing and make up for the missed opportunities in hour one. I’ll certainly check out the next few installments but I’m already lowering my expectations.

COSMOS airs Sundays at 9PM E/P on Fox and re-airs Mondays at 10PM E/P on the National Geographic Channel.


Space ship or suppository? You decide.