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'Eric Idle's The Entire Universe' Comes to PBS
December 22, 2017  | By David Hinckley

If you’re feeling holiday overload and were just thinking you could use an hour of pure silly fun about astrophysics, PBS grants your wish with Eric Idle’s The Entire Universe.

The Entire Universe rolls out before our very eyes at 10 p.m. ET Friday (check local listings), and as the presence of Idle suggests, it’s old-style absurdist Monty Python-style Brit comedy with much singing and dancing.

The show’s nominal premise has Professor Brian Cox (left) lecturing on the history of the universe.

The ongoing gag is that he doesn’t know Idle has framed his lecture as an old-style musical, with a cast of dozens singing and dancing to songs about catchy subjects like gravity and the distance between planets in our solar system.

Those seeking actual information about the origin and evolution of the universe will be able to glean perhaps 10 minutes worth. That turns out to be sufficient time for a surprising number of statistics, like current scientific thinking that there are more than 300 billion stars in our universe and more than 300 billion universes.

Fun facts like that inspire comedian Warrick Davis to do a hat-and-cane number whose chorus is “Don’t you feel small?”

Yes. The answer is yes.

Hannah Waddingham, best known lately from Game of Thrones, performs several blonde bombshell numbers, including one apparently called “The Time Song” which tells us that time goes on and on. And on and on.

Hard to argue her point.

Cox follows that number with an explanation of how Einstein determined that time and space are the same thing. Waddingham asks if he’s talking about Facetime.

Einstein is played by comedian Noel Fielding, who rides round the stage on his bicycle. Fielding also gets to crack the mandatory Spam joke.

Not every bit works, but it’s all fast-paced and good-natured enough so the hour breezes by. It helps that we never know exactly what we’ll see next, like when a troupe of Cossacks dances to a song about the speed of light.

The half-dozen songs themselves are consistently catchy, none more so than “The Infinity Monkey Cage.” Led by Idle, this folksy sing-along tackles the classic musical subject of whether other versions of ourselves may be living as we speak on other planets in those other universes.  

If so, then the people who are the British royal family in this universe might be, say, a family of gorillas in another universe.

The song itself muses on how, under this theory, a cat could be alive and dead at the same time (as in Schrödinger's cat).

That thought may stimulate the same brain cells that were earlier stimulated by Cox’s reassurance that the speed of darkness is the same as the speed of light.

So if you want a musical diversion, and would also like to hear a brief explanation of the Big Bang Theory, or speculation that there were universes before the Big Bang, or the projection that our sun could burn itself out in another five billion years, well, you won’t do better than Eric Idle’s The Entire Universe.

Incidentally, it does help here if you’re British, because you’re very likely better equipped to appreciate the jokes about Oldham and Manchester.

But that’s not a requirement – because in the end, really, astrophysics is a universal gift.

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