Checking in with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Photo: Fox)
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Photo: Fox)

We have reached the halfway point in Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Where do we go from here?

I have been having a challenging time with Fox’s ambitious reboot of Carl Sagan’s documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Although I have been keeping track of the awesomeness throughout the show’s run, there is something about the presentation that does not sit right with me.

First, on the technical side, the production quality has been wildly inconsistent. The computer modeled graphics have looked gorgeous throughout the series. The animation sequences also look impressive. Rather than the blobs that fill executive producer Seth MacFarlane’s other shows, the style on this show uses sharps angles and texture. It reminds me of the animation used for the “Toon Link” universe of Legend of Zelda video games. In recent episodes, however, there has been a tendency for the show to apply Instagram filters to filmed sequences with host Neil deGrasse Tyson, which tend to be more distracting than illustrative of larger points. At one point in last week’s episode, the filming suggested NdGT was in a shot-for-shot remake of the Blair Witch Project. The sound quality has been downright terrible. I do not have a separate audio setup for television, so perhaps in Dolby 5.1 the show sounds AMAZING, but there shouldn’t be mono/stereo toggling from segment to segment for those of us listening through our sets.

On the content side, the issues seem to come from the way audiences consume media. I think the show has intentionally moved forward on the idea that each episode should be fully self-contained. Condensing astrophysics into convenient chunks is no simple task, so I can understand adopting this approach so that a general audience does not feel overwhelmed. However, the audience for Cosmos is not general: you’re catering to the nerdiest of nerds, Fox. Since the content is aimed more generally, there is a lot of repetition within the series. We have heard about the Cosmic Calendar several times, but each reference is treated like it is the first time it is mentioned. Last night’s episode talked about tardigrades, which were mentioned once in episode one along with mass extinctions, but neither episode referenced the other. This might be the grade-grubber in me coming out, but I want to be rewarded for paying attention.

Despite these grumblings, you should be watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The biographies of the pioneers of modern science have been fascinating. Also, there has been at least one mind-blowing thing in each episode, which is a good way to start/end the week1

  1. Depending on how you interpret Sundays on your calendar, cosmic or otherwise.  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv