'Cosmos' Triumphantly Returns Except For One Very Bad Segment

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is essentially Seth MacFarlane spending all the Hollywood cred he’s built up to try and bring back pop science shows. And, aside from one absolutely glaring misstep, you can almost forgive him for Dads.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is, it must be said, damn near perfect. The effects are gorgeous, the writing is topnotch, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a damn near perfect host. It’s not going to take the place of getting a doctorate, but the show compares admirably to Carl Sagan’s carefully written original show in that it makes science accessible. That this show is on the air, let alone on the air with the big budget it has, is a miracle.

The show is built around the idea of a “calendar”, so this episode deals with the beginning of the universe. Tyson gets into his “ship of imagination,” which sounds goofy, but matches the earnest, open tone of the original and that this series strives to match. It helps that Bill Pope, one of the most experienced cinematographers in Hollywood, is shooting this show, and is some of Pope’s best work.

Tyson is a superb host, as well. It’s not just that he can handle the science, it’s that even after years of studying it, he takes joy in it. That sense of wonder and pleasure is palpable, and it defines the show. It’s joyful, it’s educational, it’s engaging…

And then we get to “Heroes Of Science.” Everything about this segment is at odds with the rest of Cosmos. It’s a traditionally animated segment, and to be frank the animation is passable at best; it’s clear the effects team and Pope didn’t consult on this. The writing takes a dive in quality. But probably the worst sin is that it didn’t do its research, managing to both undermine the show and do a disservice to the philosopher they’re supposedly paying tribute to.

The segement focuses on Giordano Bruno, and the first thing that’s glaring about it is that this “hero of science” wasn’t a scientist, something the segment itself admits. Bruno only ranks as a hero because, apparently, he held the unusual belief for the time that the Sun, itself, was a star.

Worse, the segment acts like Bruno was killed by the church for his cosmological theories, when really he was killed for his theological beliefs. The Church didn’t care a whit that Bruno had a few theories about what was in the sky. I know this because I studied Bruno, among others, in a college course. But you could also learn about it by, say, browsing Bruno’s Wikipedia entry, since why he was killed is right there in the second paragraph.

The history of science is absolutely an interesting topic, and it’s certainly one worth including in Cosmos, but if it’s going to be this poorly researched and clumsy, it’s not worth it.

But that’s something you can excise with judicious use of the remote, and the rest of the show is so good it transcends one terrible segment. Put this on your must-watch list; it’s pop science at its best.