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Turning science into extravaganza

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 29: Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson answers science questions from the crowd at the Williamsburg Waterfront on July 29, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 29: Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson answers science questions from the crowd at the Williamsburg Waterfront on July 29, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 29: Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson answers science questions from the crowd at the Williamsburg Waterfront on July 29, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images) Gallery: Turning science into extravaganza

By way of putting things in perspective, Fox's 13-part space documentary Cosmos points out that if the history of the universe were compressed into a single calendar year, the first flower would not bloom on earth until Dec. 28.

So while it may seem like a long time since astronomer Carl Sagan first took us on this cosmic journey to the furthest galaxies on PBS, not much has really changed in the grand scheme of things since 1980.

Except, in the case of Cosmos, some of the contributors. And we've gotten light-years better in the interim at creating splashy computer graphics.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson does a very capable job of replacing Sagan as host. The more surprising principal is Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane as executive producer. Turns out the crude cartoonist  is a science aficionado. (Stop snickering, Stewie!)

Some of the conceits are hokey (such as the "Ship of the Imagination" that whisks deGrasse Tyson around the aether), but Cosmos is well-written, visually compelling, and solid on science and speculation.

The pace can seem leisurely (each episode will also be shown on Mondays at 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel); Alan Silvestri's score is overwhelming; and the animated segments seem strangely extraneous.

But check it out. You might learn something. How often does that happen in Fox's Sunday night funhouse?

24 Hours on Earth focuses on a single star: the one our planet orbits, the one whose light and heat dictates nature's rhythms and patterns.

This glorious two-part documentary (Tuesday at 9 p.m. on BBC America) examines one 24-hour period in all manner of climes: jungles, deserts, mountains, oceans. It shows how flora and fauna adapt to their environments, which in large part are determined by sun exposure.

The diversity of life shown is remarkable and the footage is extraordinary, from meerkats doing stiff sun salutations to massive colonies of monarch butterflies warming their wings.

As in almost all nature films, predators provide the money shots. Here, it's great white sharks stalking seal pups off South Africa and hawks strafing wrinkle-lipped bats in Borneo.

The second installment is in many ways more fascinating because it is devoted to nocturnal creatures large and small, who exist in a world that is largely hidden from us under the wheeling stars. Turns out the secret life of plankton is something to see.

The jury is still out on narrator Matthew Macfadyen (TV's Little Dorrit). His plu-plummy accent makes him sound like one of those Englishmen who have spent too much time out in the midday sun.

 


TV REVIEW

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

9 p.m. Sunday on Fox29

24 Hours on Earth

9 p.m. Tuesday on BBC America


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4552 @daveondemand_tv

 

David Hiltbrand Inquirer TV Critic
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