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Fox graces the sprawling TV universe with a new Cosmos


Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts 13-episode reboot of Cosmos. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 9th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox and repeating Monday, March 10th at 9 p.m. (central) on National Geographic Channel.
Hosted by: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Produced by: Seth MacFarlane, Anne Druyan, Mitchell Cannold, Brannon Braga

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Consider this improbable journey through time and space: from Carl Sagan’s classic 1980 Cosmos series on PBS to a Fox reboot whose principal executive producer is the guy behind Family Guy.

Seth MacFarlane had the good sense, though, to bypass himself as host and instead go with the modern-day Sagan, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Dyson. He brings his usual enthusiasm and animated delivery to this audacious 13-episode project. And the bigger your HD screen, the better it will play.

The full title of Sagan’s signature series was Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. This time out it’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, with Sagan’s original collaborator, Ann Druyan, back for another go at it in partnership with Tyson and MacFarlane. National Geographic Channel also is a partner. It will air Cosmos on Monday nights, beginning March 10th.

Only the first hour was sent for review. Subtitled “Standing Up in the Milky Way,” it soon puts Tyson in a “ship of the imagination” for a whirlwind tour of our “cosmic address.” At its outer reaches is “The Virgo Supercluster,” located more than 100,000 light years from home. He does not, however, encounter rush hour traffic during a journey that also zooms past the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

Cosmos is less effective when it resorts to ground level animation to illustrate Roman Catholic scholar Giordano Bruno’s travails in the year 1600 and beyond. Absent any scientific evidence or even a telescope, he postulated that Earth is “not the center of the universe . . . it’s a planet, just like the others.”

Bruno is shown in cartoon form, both as a beautiful dreamer and in prison. “It wasn’t long before Bruno fell into the clutches of the thought police,” Tyson says. The Catholic Cardinals of The Inquisition found him guilty of heresy. And after eight years of rotting behind bars and refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake.

Bruno got little mention in Sagan’s original book version of Cosmos, a mega-bestseller that has been reissued in paperback by Ballantine Books. But he’s a heroic, significant figure in the first episode of the new Cosmos. And he’s voiced by none other than MacFarlane, who does it straight up.

Tyson concludes the first hour with a rousing trip through the “Cosmic Calendar” (“The Earth took one hell of a beating in the first billion years”) and a touching reminiscence of Sagan, whom he met as a 17-year-old. “He reached out to me and to countless others,” says Tyson, who shows viewers a paperback book that Sagan personally inscribed to him.

During his heyday, which was huge, Sagan became a regular guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Carson regularly parodied Sagan saying “billions and billions” with a pronounced enunciation of the “b.” He also greatly admired him.

Fox’s Cosmos can’t hope to replicate the clout of the original, which for a decade stood as the most-watched PBS series ever until Ken Burns’ The Civil War overtook it in 1990. But the reboot, with only Episode 1 to go by, looks like a noble, educational and decidedly visual effort that can only be enhanced by the HD crystal clarity that Sagan never had a chance to behold. He died in 1996 at the age of 62. Earth was most fortunate to have him.


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