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'Cosmos' Returns with Best Possible 2.0 Host - And Approach
March 9, 2014  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments

When Carl Sagan’s Cosmos burst onto the scene in 1980, it stunned everyone with the popularity of its very serious TV subject. Now it’s back, with the best possible 2.0 host for a new generation…

Last time, Carl Sagan was the ultimate tour guide for the universe – finding a way to look not only up and beyond, but inward and backward. Cosmos was a series that embraced and explained evolution, warned very early about environmental concerns, and displayed a sense of wonder with every step. Life elsewhere in the universe? Why not? But life here on Earth, in the meantime, had to be understood, cherished, and protected.

Even though Cosmos was a PBS documentary series, it garnered very high ratings throughout its run. Part of this was due to the fact that Johnny Carson, at that point still the pulse of the nation as host of NBC’s Tonight Show, not only poked fun at Sagan’s enthusiastic speech patterns (“billions and billions of stars”), but had him as a guest to discuss his ideas and steer viewers back to PBS and Cosmos.

This time, in 2014, this reboot of Cosmos – called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – arrives on a different TV platform, in a different viewing generation, and with a new host: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who, like Sagan, hosted some episodes of PBS’s science-oriented Nova series before taking us on an enlightening and entertaining tour of life, the universe and everything.

This Cosmos 2.0 is surprisingly and impressively faithful to the original from more than 30 years ago – which, I admit a bit sheepishly, I’m old and tenured enough to have reviewed the first time around. Tyson’s primary partners in this rebooted venture include Sagan’s widow and original collaborator, Ann Druyan; Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane; and modern Star Trek writer-producer Brannon Braga. They’re all executive producers of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and it’s easy to imagine a clear division of duties. MacFarlane, I would guess, encouraged the substitution of live-action recreations of events through human history with less clunky animated ones. Braga specialized in the  imagined “spaceship” with which Tyson travels through time and space, and in making the universe seem as alive as it is vast. And Druyan protected Sagan’s words and structure and thoughts from the original production, so that Tyson, in 2014, covers much the same ground, and makes the same telling points about evolution, science, life and the wonder of it all.

The blueprint is followed carefully for this 2.0 relaunch. When, in episode two of the original Cosmos, Sagan stood in front of a massive tree to talk about the branches of evolution, Tyson does the same in the second episode of the new version. And though the animation of a double helix DNA strand is much better and clearer in the new Fox series, it’s the same basic idea as in the original.

Give Fox credit not only for making this series – for remaking it, and selecting one of the most charismatic scientists on the planet as host – but for spreading the word so eagerly and effectively.  And Fox isn’t alone. After showing the premiere episode at a special White House screening recently, Fox emerged with an unexpected bonus: President Barack Obama will be introducing, and thus explicitly endorsing, the premiere episode in a newly recorded opening.

You can watch each weekly episode of the new Cosmos on the Fox network, Sundays at 9 p.m. ET – but you can also watch it, at the same time, by tuning to the other Fox TV entities. National Geographic Channel, appropriately, is simulcasting the new Cosmos – but so are National Geographic Wild, and FX, and FXX, and Fox Movie Network, and Fox Sports 1 and 2, and even, get this, Fox News.

That’s where it might be the most fun to watch episode one of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Tune to Fox News, and watch President Obama introduce the newest Fox series. If that’s not a prime, prime-time example of the often complicated and mind-boggling theory of evolution, I don’t know what is.

Tyson, of course, takes on, right from the start, those who deny the concept of evolution, and the idea that mankind has descended from the apes and shares almost identical DNA.

“No one can embarrass you like a relative,” he says with a slight, playful smile.

It’s nice to know that, as Fox presents Cosmos 2.0 on its vast platform of TV networks, there’s room around the table for all the relatives. And now that we’re gathered here together, watching a wonderful new version of an already wonderful science documentary series, can’t we all just get along?

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Spot on Mr. Bianculli...fabulous show!
Mar 28, 2014   |  Reply
Barbara K.
I almost missed because I was looking for it on PBS where it the original appeared. I am glad someone showed it but the commercials were of course very jarring to me. Once I got over the shock I enjoyed it but can anyone tell me why PPBS didn't produce it?
Mar 17, 2014   |  Reply
Sally W.
I thought the first episode was really impressive. I liked Tyson's personal take on Sagan's legacy at the end of the episode. I'll definitely give FOX a lot of credit to air the new "Cosmos" - even though the commercial cuts felt a little clunky. But, it was clearly tv worth watching!
Mar 9, 2014   |  Reply
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