Hoo boy. It’s an obvious joke, so I’m just gonna’ get it out of the way: that title really sounds like an add you’d find in “Home Video Magazine” circa 1980, doesn’t it? “Desiree Cousteau in…” There. We’re done. I was thinking about mentioning the ratings, but honestly we’re halfway done with the show next week, and that seems a better time to discuss it. Not that the ratings matter: The entire series is done and in the can as they say, and Fox is doing this as a prestige project, so quite literally no one cares. Unless the show gets literally negative numbers – which is to say unless it’s actively driving viewers away – no one gives a crap about the ratings.
Tonight’s episode was...vague? Unfocused? I’m not sure. We were treated to explorations of the microcosms of everyday life – a dewdrop, the guts of a plant’s photosynthetic properties, etc – and then we rather abruptly switch to a discussion of how smell is transmitted, and recognized by our brains. Thence comes a rather abrupt switch back to small things on the level of atoms, and how, under normal circumstances, atoms don’t really touch. Then it’s on to the sun and fusion, and nutrinos, and then we get another jaunt along the cosmic calendar, which takes us all the way back to the observable end of the universe – a few moments after the Big Bang.
There were some neat moments. The Japanese Neutrino Detector was pretty cool. I’d heard of such things, but never seen one. It’s a half a mile underground, and it occasionally registers Neutrinos that come through the core, from the other side of the earth. Snazzy! The bit about the one Egyptian temple that was only illuminated twice a year, illuminating all the idols of the gods EXCEPTING the creator was neat. I doubt Tyson’s interpretation of it is correct (“The origins of the universe must be left unknown”) but it was new to me and pretty neat.
On the whole, though, the episode seemed disjointed. One aspect didn’t seem to relate too much to aspects on either side of it. I honestly had difficulty following its transitions from time to time. Some of this was due to the ludicrously stupid animation depicting how photosynthesis works (It’s a great big goofy CGI candy factory kinda’ thing straight out of a Willie Wonka commercial) which was distracting as hell. Some of it may simply have been my stress level. I haven’t been sleeping well, I’m short of cash, everyone in my family is grievously ill in one manner or another, and honestly I might have just been zoning out. As demonstrated in the clip above, Dr. Tyson is not a compelling speaker or actor, and this show asks him to do both at the same time. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that he’s…well, he’s kinda’ bland. That blandness coupled with the seemingly random shifts of topic in this episode made it hard for me to stay focused on what he was saying.
How hard? Well, I found myself drifting off and reading TV Tropes entries on the wives of Henry VIII. You would be hard pressed to find anything I give less of a crap about than the Tudors, or really English Royal History in general. Still, I found myself drifting to that. I’m reminded of long ago when “Voyager” premiered. I watched the pilot, and really liked it. I think it’s the strongest of the “89s/90s/00s Trek premiers, and it had probably the best cast. By episode 3 (“Effect can precede cause” Janeway says), I was trying to watch the show, really I was, but I found myself alphabetizing my CD collection. “What the hell am I doing?” I realized, “I need to watch the show. Focus. Pay attention!” so I sat down, and sure enough, seven minutes later I was back at work on my truly impressive stack of CDs. I was far less stressed and far less of a basket case in those days, so I can only conclude that there wasn’t enough there to hold my interest. No matter how little I ask for in Trek – and honestly, I ask for very little – that show couldn’t give it. I got more fulfillment out of mundane rote organization than I did from watching a show I felt obliged to like. (I abandoned Trek altogether not long after that)
This episode reminded me of that: I don’t really ask for much – and to be honest, this episode DID give me a little of it with the Neutrino detector and the Egyptian temple – but it’s really not interested in making me interested.
So that’s my impression. If I’m not giving more of a synopsis, it’s simply that it’s hard to sew a button on to a cloud of steam. There wasn’t enough form or structure here for me to be able to really relate much apart from observations and experiential stuff.
Of course this could all be in my head. As I said: not thinking clearly.
What did you fine folks think? Sound off below!
Kevin Long is a well-reviewed Science Fiction author, who has written three full-length anthologies, and has a fourth one coming out any week now. He used to blog under the name “Republibot 3.0,” but now that his stalker is dead, and he can afford to be less paranoid, he uses his real name. His personal website is here and his Smashwords page here. Or, if you prefer Amazon, his books are here, here, and here. Check out his site, and buy one of his books. He’s got a wife and kids to support!