Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is on the air, bringing the classic series to the airwaves.
In many ways, the original Cosmos series with Carl Sagan awakened a scientific wonder among millions of people who would never have watched a television show about science. This groundbreaking 13-part series won an Emmy and a Peabody award. The show became the most-watched public television series until 1990, when The Civil War by Ken Burns took the title.
Can Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey provide Americans with a new outlook on science? In many ways, this show has a many of the ingredients of a show that could revitalize science education and learning in the United States. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a superb host, and is well-known among science buffs for his work in documentaries. Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow, is a well-respected scientist and author in her own right. Just as in the original series, Druyan is playing a major role in the production of the series re-boot.
The new series is receiving some criticism online. Some viewers say the show is too basic, repeating science lessons most of us first heard in grade school. The science in the first episode was far more basic than in Sagan's version of the show. This caused some people on social media to question whether the new series was geared back, in response to a "dumbing down of America."
Another major change made in the new series is the use of animation. Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane is the executive producer of the new Cosmos series. Where the original series had historical re-enactments, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey features animated shorts. For viewers not used to watching animation, this can seem distracting, or even childish. For fans of the genre, animation provides a modern, young look to the series.
What may cause the greatest upset with the show (so far) is a tendency toward what some may see as harsh criticism of religion. The original show had a pro-science viewpoint that resonated with many people.
In his first episode, Sagan discussed the Library of Alexandria. This tale included its destruction, and the murder of the library director, Hypatia, at the hands of "Saint" Cyril. It was a story that made many people, including myself, become scientists and authors. In the first episode of A Spacetime Odyssey, we hear the story of Giordano Bruno. This Franciscan monk was burned at the stake in 1600 by the Catholic Church for his ideas on astronomy and biblical creation.
No show is without its faults, and there is much going for the new series. In a time of reality shows, series based on people famous just for being famous, and daytime television, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey could help fill the void for good educational programming.
Hopefully, this series will awaken a new generation of science writers.