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The Story of Albert Einstein on 'Light Falls'
May 29, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 

If you’re looking for a breezy bit of TV candy to kick off the summer, PBS stands ready to serve.

Light Falls, a 90-minute production that airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET (check local listings), spends 90 minutes tracing Albert Einstein’s life, with particular emphasis on how he developed his theory of relativity and worked until almost literally his last breath on an even grander concept he called the Unified Theory.

Welcome to summer school, kids. Open your books, er, iPads, and repeat after me: e=mc squared.

Actually, Light Falls is not that dire. It’s the taped version of a musical stage show in which physicist and entertainer Brian Greene makes Einstein’s life into a story – a pretty good story, as you can imagine – and tries to explain the theory of relativity in a way that civilians can at least not feel like he’s speaking in a dead language from another galaxy.

In the latter pursuit, he succeeds sort of, some of the time. Something about how, if you could move at the speed of light right alongside a beam of light, the beam of light would seem to be standing still, and you could hold it in your hand like a selfie stick.

You with me? It’s okay. I’m not with me, either.

Happily, Greene succeeds nicely in the other prong of his mission, which is to create a theater spectacle that draws its storyline from Einstein’s life and work.

Greene serves as narrator, and he has a fast-paced, often light-hearted script from which to work.

Sample: He tells us young Albert was brilliant in school by explaining that if he were a student today, people would call him Einstein.

Greene also devotes a generous portion of the show to Einstein’s personal character and quirks, rather than only his pursuit of that beam of light.

Einstein was a rebel, Greene says, who on almost every level distrusted authority – especially academic authority. While he drew on the work of other scientists, he pursued his own agenda, which Greene says doubtless accounted for his singular successes.

What’s been largely forgotten in the century since Einstein was developing his theories is that the response to those theories, particularly relativity, made him a rock star.

Perhaps the late Stephen Hawkings approached that stature in the contemporary world, but Einstein reached another level. When he published a new theory, it was front-page news all over the world, even if only a tiny percentage of the world understood it.

Greene diplomatically stays away from the messier aspects of Einstein’s private life but recounts at some length his habit of revamping and sometimes outright deconstructing theories he published with great certainty just months earlier.

This plus his fierce individualism made him at times a suspect colleague in the scientific world, and for all the swelling music and inspiring charts of the universe that fill out Greene’s production, Einstein doesn’t come off as a consensus god.

He comes off as legitimately brilliant yet, like his Unified Theory, ultimately an unfinished work. That gives us ordinary people something to enjoy while the geeks are actually grasping how e=mc squared.

 
 
 
 
 
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