MovieBob - Intermission
A MovieBob Review of Cosmos

Bob Chipman | 17 Mar 2014 16:37
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Cosmos Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Few Hollywood players can claim the odd path to success of Seth MacFarlane. He is a comedian who first turned his animated student film about a moron and his talking dog first into a pilot for the then-fledgling Cartoon Network and then into Family Guy. Fox snapped up the crude sitcom-spoof as a potential Simpsons successor but canceled it just as it seemed to be getting a (shaky) footing. In a largely unprecedented move, Fox then un-canceled the series when DVD box-sets of the existing seasons turned into massive moneymakers buoyed by an unexpected groundswell of fandom among collegiate Millennials.

Since then, MacFarlane has been cock of the walk (giggity) - with not only Family Guy to his credit but also American Dad, the recently-concluded Cleveland Show, a best-selling album, the box office smash Ted and the upcoming A Million Ways To Die In The West. He has what the business calls "clout," which means you get to throw your weight behind personal passion-projects that might otherwise not have the "juice" to get pushed through. A risky project becomes less risky when its undertaken to keep a moneymaking star-talent "on the reservation." And when Fox came to MacFarlane looking to see where he'd like to spend his clout, (read: "Tell us what we need to take a bath on to keep Brian and Stewie on the network for another few seasons") he had two things in mind.

The first seemed obvious to the point of self-parody: He wanted to helm a revival of Family Guy's (almost literal) prehistoric ancestor, The Flintstones. That project, though still officiallyon his plate, has been delayed. The second project, though, hit the worlds of both network television and academia for a loop: MacFarlane opted to throw his weight behind the long-gestating revival of Carl Sagan's legendary science series Cosmos.

The creator of Family Guy had asked Fox - the television network behind not only his own scatological cartoons but other infamously low-rent ventures like Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire and MAD TV - to add an educational science documentary to its prime-time lineup.

The original Cosmos aired on PBS in 1980, and is remembered as one of the most widely-viewed and highly-praised attempts to infuse science education into the popular culture of all time. It certainly turned the genial Sagan into one of the rare pre-internet Nerd Superstars, a man whose name and distinctive voice (somewhere between Burgess Meredith and Mister Rogers) became synonymous with the dreams of the Space Age for a whole generation - a generation that can still get misty-eyed at the words "pale blue dot."

By contrast, the new Cosmos (produced by MacFarlane and Sagan's widow Ann Druyan) features as its human star Neil deGrasse Tyson, already one of the present day's biggest Nerd Superstars well before this new series was a blip on anyone's radar. A titan in his field (astrophysics, for the record) equally sought-after as a guest for venues like The Daily Show and serious academic conferences, Tyson's notoriety straddles the line between pop-science and just plain pop. It's likely that many who know him as a "badass" internet meme don't necessarily know who the image actually derives from. And prior to Cosmos his most recent widespread cultural engagement was stirring up Twitter with detailed snark directed at the myriad scientific fallacies of Gravity (while still praising the film), and he gained earlier attention a few years back for sniping at Titanic for a temporally-inaccurate arrangement of stars in its nighttime scenes (director James Cameron made it a point to correct this in the film's subsequent 3D re-release.) Supposedly, it was Tyson who first turned MacFarlane on to the idea that Druyan was looking for producers for a revival in the first place.

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