The Brilliance of ‘Cosmos’ – Seth MacFarlane Uses His Power for Good

The Brilliance of 'Cosmos' – Seth MacFarlane Uses His Power for Good

"Cosmos" host Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (Patrick Eccelsine/FOX)

Fox celebrates our greatest minds instead of our smallest

Last night I did something I've never done before: I sat down on the couch, watched some primetime network TV, and learned something new.

I learned something pretty amazing, actually. In the next billion years or so, our galaxy, the Milky Way, will crash into the Andromeda galaxy. No one will die as a result, but the collision will create a light show that will be beyond epic. I don't mean epic in the way we use the way we use the word today, when a bus driver punches a passenger. I mean epic in the sense that thousands upon thousands of stars will change their orbits.

Also read: ‘Cosmos': President Obama Introduces the Rebooted Hit Series (Video)

I probably need a bigger word than epic.

I learned about the collision of two galaxies from “Cosmos,” the new Fox science series in its third spectacular week. Seth MacFarlane has a lot of pull at Fox, and he's used it to get an astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, to come onto a major network to talk to viewers about evolution, astronomy, and most of all, the joys of hard-earned discovery.

I kind of messed up by not mentioning one other thing: “Cosmos” is exhilarating. It makes you feel the way you feel when you sit in an open field looking up at the stars, feeling like part of something much bigger than yourself, and also very small.

Also read: Watch: Fox's Live ‘Cosmos’ Q&A With Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Seth MacFarlane (Video)

Except with “Cosmos,” you're joined by a genius.

TV spends much too much time celebrating people whose greatest ambition is to be famous. Each week “Cosmos” celebrates a different science teacher, doing the often-unheralded work that needs doing for our civilization to survive. If Walter White had gotten this kind of respect, maybe that whole meth thing never would have happened.

The Onion did a story a few years ago, supposedly written around the time television was invented, in which overoptimistic educators described how TV would deliver an encyclopedia of information each night into the homes of we average Americans, finally breaking down barriers to education and understanding.

The joke: That's not really how it worked out.

But with “Cosmos,” it is happening. And not on PBS, where Carl Sagan‘s original “Cosmos” aired, 34 years ago. Of course we expect PBS to be great. But “Cosmos” airs on a Big Four, ad-supported network that needs to reach the biggest audience possible. Despite that pressure, Fox is celebrating the best of our society, instead of the worst.

And we can thank the guy who does all those cartoons filled with gay-panic jokes, and sang that Oscars song about boobs.

I asked MacFarlane a few months ago if he sees “Cosmos” as a way to balance out his other work. He brushed it off, rejecting the idea that there was any reason he should have to defend “Family Guy.”

But no matter what you think of everything else he's done, I think you'd have to agree: He's using his power for good.

“Cosmos” appeals to all our best instincts. It invites us to dream our biggest dreams, set our intellect free, and come lay out under the vast twinkling sky.


  • PolishBear

    I could not agree more. Episode 3 of “Cosmos” was the best yet. What a shame that so many American TV viewers, rather than watching a program about SCIENCE and the REAL UNIVERSE, instead were glued to supernatural dreck like “Believe,” “Resurrection,” and “Walking Dead.”

    • Dan

      I love Cosmos as much as the next guy, however, you should not be dissing scripted shows like the Walking Dead. At least that show is well written and has a plot and character development. You'd be more accurate to take jabs at shitty reality tv that actually is actively making people dumber, not innocent story driven entertainment like Walking Dead or Breaking Bad.

      • Peterminator

        Of all the scripted Shows you choose The Walking Dead as an example for well written??? There ARE a lot of well written Shows out there but TWD is not one of them. All the characters act like complete morons when facing the least threatening Zombies ever so that the “writers” can get rid of at least some of those characters we grew to hate. The only character that wasn't ruined by the horrible writing (as far as i watched it) was crossbow-dude and that was because they handled him like very, very carefully (aka not having him do too much dramatic bullshit they can't handle). It saddens me that the writers of that Show will go on to ruin others because of the success of TWD which ist mostly based on the excellent technical work on the horrible material they produce.
        Anyways: The new Cosmos is brilliant and I'm so very glad they brought it back.

      • haaggus

        Walking Dead is about as well-scripted as an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians. Check out a real show, like House of Cards.

        • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

          They're both good. There's art to be found in serious drama like House of Cards, and art to be found in camp like Walking Dead.

          • Ed

            TWD is lacking of an story arch. They don't do anything, literally, they just move from one place to another place, but in general the story doesn't evolve to something else… is just main characters dying

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      Well, I was watching Cosmos, but the Walking Dead is also an awesome show! I watch a lot of science documentaries and I think Cosmos is one of the best. One of the things that makes it so watchable is the lack of cutaway interviews with experts. While those interviews can be informative, they make the documentaries less linear. With all of the information being told to us buy just Tyson, it allows the show to almost have a plot and to tell a story instead of just listing facts.

  • David Perkins

    Agreed. But I'm still waiting for Neil DeGrasse Tyson to say ‘BILLions and BILLions.’ The ultimate homage to HIS teacher.

    • Chris Weber

      Sagan never actually said “Billions and billions.” That was Harry Shearer's impression on SNL that you're remembering, and then countless impressions that followed. I promise, it's true.

      • MacIsBack

        Carl Sagan said “Billions” by itself in the original “Cosmos” (strongly emphasizing the “B” in the word so that people wouldn't mistakenly think he said “Millions”). As for doubling it up to “Billions and Billions”, Sagan attributed that to starting with Johnny Carson and it spread into the cultural zeitgeist from there. And Sagan eventually embraced the term “Billions and Billions” and used it as the title of one his last books.

      • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

        Are you sure? Sagan has a book called “Billions and Billions” which I think comes from his quote “There are in fact 100 billion galaxies, each of which contain something like a 100 billion stars”

  • MyPartyRightOrWrong

    God created everything. No need for science.

    • PolishBear

      Apparently no need to BRAINS, either. We are all just a bunch of meat puppets, being jerked back and forth by God and Satan, right? RIGHT???

      • khkh

        I'm pretty sure that guy is just trolling. :)

        • I_Hate_Usernames

          you have an overly optimistic view of the average intelligence of the internet

    • dj bowrn

      better get the fuck off the internet then since its “useless” and turn off the electricity in your house…

    • David

      Love the satire, very well done

  • MikeyMike

    I love the new Cosmos series, but I think it is *slightly* dumbed down, compared to the original series.
    Case in point: the original, Sagan described how Ptolemy determined the circumference of the Earth, but using lengths of shadows at different points in Egypt and pacing off the distance, then determining the degrees of arc to account for the difference to formulate the circumference.
    In this last episode, Tyson describes how Halley determined the distance of the Earth to the sun by observing the time it takes Venus to traverse the Sun…and that's it. They should have spent 45 seconds to show the geometry involved and take away the mystery of how Halley made his calculation.
    Still love the show, though.

    • PolishBear

      Carl Sagan was far more cerebral, whereas Neil deGrasse Tyson is a bit of a ham. Perhaps it's just as well. TV viewers have far shorter attention spans today than they did when “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” first came out.

    • Kokolo

      Wasn't that Erathostenes

      • Casey

        It most certainly was Eratosthenes.

      • nobodobodon


      • MikeyMike

        Yes, my mistake…it's been 10 years since I watched the original series.

    • shaun

      It has to be dumbed down for the average American who thinks the earth is 6000 years old.

      • MikeyMike

        I'm afraid you're too correct. My kids love it (7 and 10) and it seems well geared to them. However, given the time slot it is seems intended for an older audience.
        I love it as well…hopefully it will get a few things through to people who have no clue about science.
        I particularly enjoyed Tyson's pointing out how we can all name serial killers, but can't identify those that have made great strides in our understanding of the universe.

      • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

        The American who thinks the earth is 6000 years old is NOT watching Cosmos.

    • Richard Simmons

      I don't think Dr. Tyson is any less Cerebral than Dr. Sagan was he is just very skilled in communicating very complex ideas in a way that is very graspable to the masses of scientifically illiterate Americans. Who have fallen into the trap of religion and abandoned a critical skill that made our ancestors the supreme survivalist and innovators that they were. I mean loo at it Why wast time and energy pondering the Universe and allots splendor when you can answer every question with God did it it helps the ignorant feel smart and like they don't have to worry about it because someone loves them and is watching out for them. Religion preys on our greatest weaknesses and feeds our egos . its also antiquated and useless in this age of Scientific knowledge.

    • Marilyn Roberts

      As I was watching, the scenes where Tyson is in his “spaceship”, the thought that there is too much Hollywood was shadowing the experience. I am thrilled that Sagan's legacy is revived. I'm jut not sure I can appreciate the fake mixed into the real science.

      • Zach Wilson

        It's the ship of the imagination. It was never implied to be real. In fact, by merit of its very name, it is largely implied that it is just that…imaginary. It's just a unique plot device, it's not meant to make you think that Tyson is actually flying through space/time; or that he can grow to the size of the observable universe, or shrink to the size of a neutrino.

        • Marilyn Roberts

          Understood. Maybe the Ship needs to be a bit more surreal. Its kind of limiting to place actual objects into a dream-like sequence. Not that I dislike the concept. It just seemed too Hollywood. But I will restate continuously that the idea that Sagan's legacy has been brought back to the public is phenomenal.

      • MacIsBack

        Carl Sagan traveled through space in a “Ship of the Imagination” too in the original Cosmos. The new Cosmos with Neil Degrasse Tyson is simply doing exactly the same thing, but just with better special effects for the ship. (The ship in Sagan's original looked like a dandelion seed and was created with now dated computer graphic effects).

      • haaggus

        Good thing you're not in charge of the show.

      • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

        The original Cosmos also had a spaceship that flew around and was edited to be more cinematic. This is nothing new, its just better graphics.

    • Zach Wilson

      Keep this in mind: The original Cosmos occurred in a time when science, space exploration, the burgeoning growth of technology, and an open-ended view of the future was something important—perfunctory even—to people, the world over. We now live in a time where people are more concerned about Kardashian asses, celebrity gossip, and looking good—at any cost. People care more about how technology can make life more fun, than how it can make life more meaningful, or—more importantly—where and how that technology came into existence.

    • dandelion

      Loved Sagan's “Cosmos: a Personal Voyage” and loving this one as well.

      Dumbed down is maybe too harsh of a word.

      I also noticed that gap: “Halley determined the distance of the Earth to the sun by observing the time it takes Venus to traverse the Sun” but they didn't bother to explain it in further detail, whereas the 80's version would have spent a bit of time explaining it.

      I think this newer version is a lot more fast paced (not to mention that the episodes are shorter) and doesn't go as deep into the details, but sadly that's how it has to be, for the nowadays viewer with a much shorter attention spans. You can probably blame the “age of information”, where you google for an answer and forget it 5 minutes afterwards, but don't take my word for it ;)

      Still, I've been enjoying this version quite a lot, it maintains the original charm, gives you that feeling of ‘wonder” the original did and is probably the best TV Show I've seen recently. A very pleasant sight with all these “aliens built the pyramids” and “pawn shop” pseudo-documentaries.

      • juls lake

        Look at how much more there is to cover now than in the 80's. Internet didn't even exist — or cell phones. As Sagan said, “We stand on the shoulders of our predecessors,” Early sci-fi movies had to show how we made and launched the space ship. Now, we just skip to the part where we're in space, hoping people have at least some idea of how we got there. What there needs to be are more episodes!!

      • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

        I noticed some missing information too, but I find myself constantly looking up stuff when watching the show, so I am learning even more from independent research spurred on by each episode.

    • haaggus

      Aritosthenes, you mean. Carl Sagan pronounced his name perfectly and repeatedly. Ptolemy was completely different.

      • MikeyMike

        Yes, I made a mistake. It's been years since I watched the original.
        However, learn to spell a name correctly if you're going to throw down “dunce.”
        “Eratosthenes” Dunce.
        Oh, you edited your comment. How nice of you. I retract my use of “dunce” as well then.

    • Matthew Sterling

      Ptolemy didn't compute the circumference of Earth from sticks and shadows, that was Eratosthenes.

      If you watched the original series compared to the new one, the big difference comes from the time allotted. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage aired on PBS and had a full hour to run, uninterrupted by commercials. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is running on Fox so loses 15 minutes of air-time to commercials.

  • JR

    By the way, by the time the Milky Way-Andromeda galaxies collision takes place in about 2.5 billions years or so, the Earth will be far too hot for any terrestrial life to exist. So we'll be long gone before the event. And if for some miracle us humans were still alive, the collision alone would likely eject us from our solar system, which would be the end of us. In terms of the big epic light show that NdGT was referring to, well, that's for another far away galaxy to enjoy.

    • Algiark .

      So what if we're ejected by the solar system? If technology progresses as it is now, 2.5 billion years in the future we would have colonized lots of solar system in the galaxy.

    • Anglokraut

      The earth certainly WILL be too hot in 2.5 billion years, as it will have been swallowed up by our cooling sun going through its death cycle of expansion and ultimate collapse into a pulsar, neutron star, or even a black hole.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      Maybe we will leave Earth, but its also probable that we will be able to just move the entire planet further away from the sun at that point.

  • Bill Carroll

    Thanks Seth for supporting this show; hopefully it will pull a Family Guy and not a Firefly when Fox cuts them off.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      It seems like only one season is planned anyway, like the original Cosmos. I'm hoping to a second, but Tyson might be too busy.

  • Guest

    What a fresh breath of reality, other than the unpleasant, choking smoke of religious nonsense! Bravo, Cosmos!!

  • Ally

    What a fresh breath of reality, than the unpleasant, choking smoke of religious nonsense! Bravo, Cosmos!!

  • Ken Nardone

    Why settle for dirt and a rib when we are clearly made of stars?

  • urnotathinkerareu?

    love the show and that real education is being delivered!!

  • I_Hate_Usernames

    look up for the future

  • Skepacabra

    Seth's right. He has nothing to apologize for in Family Guy. At its best, the show offers intelligent satire under the cover of crude, offensive animation, not unlike South Park. Now understandably, some people dislike the show's scatological humor or its constant use of “Cut-To” jokes. Everyone's tastes are different. But there's little in Family Guy that dumbs down its audience by playing to the lowest common denominator, and more often than not, its “offensive” jokes operate in a context that is actually promoting positive values. (Cut To: Cosmos for Rednecks joke)

    • Herbka

      You're delusional. Family Guy very *rarely* rises above the lowest common denominator. Or maybe we just have vastly different definitions of lowest common denominator. I would also add, making obscure references doesn't equate to intellectual content.

      • lucidz

        Lowest common denominator people laugh at it for the butt and fart jokes, I think more intelligent people can see what's going on beneath the surface.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      i like both shows, but South Park is far more intelligent. However, MacFarlane seems very smart and knowledgable about many things.

  • haaggus

    Isaac Newton was beyond amazing. One of the top 5 humans of all time.

  • Jim Taylor

    Makes me laugh, these Family Guy, WD, discussions. The only time I see them are when I'm “just tuning through”. People say they're so busy but have time to watch such dreck? I turned my cable box in a year and a half ago, bought a $75 digital antenna and converter box for my analog TV. You may laugh, but 18 months x $125 cable bill that I DON'T have anymore is $1500 freaking dollars a YEAR.

  • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

    This show gets better and better each week. Tyson is awesome and the animation is superb (crazy that its the same animation company used for Family Guy). I'm hoping that they do a follow up season and we get more than 13 episodes.

  • beyondthetech

    I love the new Cosmos, but I'm a little mixed on its preachiness. Don't get me wrong, it's incredibly justified because we have a lot of dumb Americans who still think the sun revolves around the Earth and that it was created 6,000 years ago, no thanks in small part to idiots like Ken Ham and his Genesis Museum. The show does have to be slightly dumbed down for the “Jersey Shore / Real Housewives / Bachelor / Kardashian / Honey Boo Boo” population to properly soak in and actually understand the material being presented here. I guess for more common-sense minded people like many of us here, we just have to deal with the show's necessity to also play to the lowest common denominator in the room as well.