MacFarlane remakes Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’




o "Cosmos," debuts 9 p.m. Sunday, then airs 9 p.m. Mondays, Fox and nine cable channels.

o Carl Sagan's "Cosmos," begins at noon Saturday.

• WHAT IT’S ABOUT: This 13-part series, produced by Seth MacFarlane, who also does some voice work, is a remake of Carl Sagan’s 1980 series, “Carl Sagan’s Cosmos,” which charted the creation of the universe, planets and life and became a huge hit for PBS. With a major assist from Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter — both of whom wrote the original with Sagan, who died in 1996 — this “Cosmos” is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, also director of the Hayden Planetarium. Sunday’s opener, like Sagan’s, begins beyond the stars, at the beginning of the universe, as Tyson (like Sagan) takes flight in his own “Ship of the Imagination.” “It’s time,” says Tyson, “to journey from the infinitesimal to the infinite.”

o “Cosmos,” debuts 9 p.m. Sunday, then airs 9 p.m. Mondays, Fox and nine cable channels.

o Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” begins at noon Saturday.

• MY SAY: Seth MacFarlane does “Cosmos?” Is this a cosmic joke? Or is this project perhaps MacFarlane’s atonement for his TV sins? Billions and billions of years of evolution and 75 years of TV, and we all meet at this point in space and time, whereby the guy who created “Family Guy” channels an eminent planetary astronomer and his classic TV series … what does it all mean?

Who cares? Is “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” any good? Based on the first (and only) episode sent out for review, it’s good — in some ways, even superior to the original. Those ways are the quantum leaps in special-effects technology that transport Sagan’s original vision to places he could never have dreamed of. It’s a dazzling, vertiginous swirl of stars, planets, galaxies and superclusters; the money sequence Sunday features a proto-Earth and moon rapidly accreting out of space junk and stardust.

As a cosmic tour guide, Tyson is easily Sagan’s equal. He brings Sagan’s passion, wonderment and intellectual heft, and because he’s told this story on so many other TV series, he remains a comfortable, familiar figure. Tyson closes Sunday’s opener with an anecdote about a 17-year-old from the Bronx who long ago visited Sagan. That aspiring astronomer — Tyson, naturally — was treated with kindness and generosity. That day, he says, “I also learned the kind of person I wanted to be.”

• BOTTOM LINE: Basic yet beautiful, “Cosmos” appears to be a winner.