For 90 Minutes The Universe Turned Really Good
Some of you may remember a few months ago when I complained about The History Channel’s science show The Universe. It annoyed me so much that I never watched past Episode Twelve until tonight. Tonight, though I have a lot of work I need to do, I am on some pain medication for the new crown which was put on my upper left molar today. I expect it will be all better tomorrow, but as the local anæsthesia started to wear off I could really start to feel the pain. I planned for this, but I am taking the evening off from being productive lest I make some counterproductive choices while my brain is a little fuzzy.
I didn’t have much to watch except for an episode of The Universe. Figuring that my standards would be lower and that it would be a bunch of spacey stuff for my spacey brain to relax with, I put Episode Thirteen on and set myself up on the couch. Episode Thirteen is all about the history of scientific theory about the nature of and creation of the universe, starting with Ptolemy, going through Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein and more recent discoveries and modifications to the working theories of the birth and death of the universe.
I was surprised by how recent some of the ideas that I’d taken for granted were. When I learned about galaxies, it seemed like that was just how everyone had always understood things. Of course I know that wasn’t so, but it surprised me to learn that Edwin Hubble (not to be confused with Edwin Hubbell) announced his discovery that the universe was more than just the Milky Way in 1925. That makes the knowledge of other galaxies only a little more than twice as old as I am.
But the big surprise is that sitting through an hour and a half of The Universe (twice the duration of any of the other episodes) failed to make me angry. It was engaging and helped bring together some of what I already knew with context that made it make sense. I really enjoyed watching it.
It turns out that this episode was written by a writer who had not written for The Universe before, and that the narrator had also changed. A quick survey of IMDB entries for The Universe shows that the narrator, David Ackroyd, and the writer, Matthew Hickey, did only this one episode (and that it was really Episode Fourteen, the season finale — iTunes had the episodes out of order.)
If I choose to be a pessimist, I can assume that the series will return to its frustrating combination of hyperbolic description and sketchy science. But there is a chance, however slim, that the Season One finale of The Universe marked a new direction in the production of the show. I was disappointed in The Universe mostly because it came so highly recommended by friends. Perhaps (and I can only hope) the fantastic show described to me really does exist once the painfully flawed first season is out of the way.