"The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries."Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
is an educational television series written and narrated by astronomer and writer Carl Sagan
in 1980, and was also published in book form. It is best known for its presentation of a wide variety of scientific topics — astronomy, physics, biology, evolution, environmentalism, nuclear power, and more — in Layman's Terms
, making both the wonder and the terminology accessible to the public. It also had cutting edge special effects for the time it was produced and also crossed over into science fiction by having Sagan explore remote corners of time and space via a "Spaceship of the Imagination". As such, it was one of the first science-documentary series to receive serious coverage by science fiction entertainment publications such as Starlog
The series has been credited with inspiring an entire generation of scientists and formed a template for nearly every mainstream science program that followed. It was re-released as a DVD collection with commentary by Sagan, mainly to discuss where Science Marches On
. Even today, it remains remarkably relevant; although some of the facts are dated, the majority of the principles and theories discussed by the show remain intact.Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
aired on FOX network 34 years later as both a remake and an update. With Neil deGrasse Tyson
as host, viewers were once again taken on a journey through the wonders of the Cosmos. It used many parts from the original series which still held up and showcased many things which had come about since the original show's airing, also branching off in other directions.
The full series is available on Hulu
. And on Youtube
(for those outside the US).
open/close all folders
Tropes specific to both are listed under the original Cosmos
, and tropes specific to the 2014 remake are in a folder afterwards.
1980 series: Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
This series contains examples of the following tropes:
- Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Carl Sagan's idiosyncratic pronunciation of the word "cosmos" - not to mention that this was the first time anyone in Britain had heard the alternative pronunciation of the planet name "Uranus" - caused much hilarity in Great Britain and was extensively parodied.
- After the End: In his treatment of nuclear war.
- Book Ends:
- Both the first and last episodes feature discussions on the Great Library of Alexandria and of its last librarian Hypatia. The mood of the latter's discussion of it, though, is far more somber.
- The series begins and ends with Sagan on the same rocky beach, letting a dandelion fly.
- Bonus Episode: the original VHS release of the series included an additional episode in which Sagan is interviewed by Ted Turner for an hour about the series and it's concepts. This bonus episode is not included in the later DVD release.
- Buffy Speak: Very occasionally. "These plants use carbohydrates to go about their...planty business." And of course the famous "star stuff".
- But What About the Astronauts?:
- In the "nuclear winter nightmare" segment, Sagan flies back to Earth after being away exploring space, only to find radio silence because everyone is dead.
- Sagan comes to this conclusion when discussing relativistic travel.
Sagan: In fact, if we slowly increase our speed to the speed of light, we can traverse our entire galaxy in 56 years. But we'd come back to find the earth burnt to a cinder and the sun long dead.
- Cool Starship: Sagan's "spaceship of the imagination", used as a Framing Device for his explorations. It looks like a 3D lens flare from the outside.
- Constantly Curious: Possibly the reason this show became so popular was its ability to be understood by children.
- Eldritch Starship: The Ship of the Imagination. The inside looks pretty normal, just minimal—it has a chair, a viewscreen, a control console, and a video screen on the floor that Sagan activates with hand motions. The outside is shaped like a dandelion puff and glows like a lens flare.
- Erudite Stoner: Sagan was an enthusiastic marijuana smoker and makes a reference to it in Episode 9, when describing the restoration of gravity upon removing it and its effects on tea and people in Alice in Wonderland: "I've been to a couple of parties like that myself!"
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: The possibility of this is discussed during the episode about relativity. Sagan's Framing Device spaceship is described to be completely unrestricted by the laws of physics so he can fully explore the universe.
- Fingerless Gloves: Edwin Hubble rocks a gray knit pair in the scenes about his observations.
- Fling a Light into the Future: Sagan discusses the possibility of Earth's radio broadcasts reaching other civilizations. (Also a case of Aliens Steal Cable.)
- Flower Motifs: Dandelion seeds.
- Food Porn: The apple pie sequence at the beginning of "The Lives of the Stars".
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Talking about the 43 female Heike survivors, Sagan says that they got by by selling "flowers and... other favors"
- Great Big Library of Everything: The virtual reproduction of the library at Alexandria, whose loss Sagan mourns as "self-inflicted radical brain surgery" for civilization as a whole.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up:
- In an earlier version of the "Blues for a Red Planet" episode, there was an afterword discussing the possibility of the U.S. and the Soviet Union teaming up to explore and colonize Mars, ending with a shot of the U.S. and Soviet flags in front of a Martian landscape.
- This was also acknowledged in the afterword of the new version of the final episode, "Who speaks for Earth", showing images of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands and the abolition of the apartheid in South Africa, mentioning how "walls have fallen down and irreconcilable ideologies have embraced", and taking it as a good omen for the future.
- Ghost Planet: Sagan theorizes about Mars in this manner before settling into the reality.
- Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: The combined explosive yield of all bombs dropped during World War II was about 1 megaton of TNT. As one episode pointed out, this is the warhead yield of a single, very small hydrogen bomb. If the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a full-scale nuclear exchange, it would be like "A World War II every second, for the length of a lazy afternoon."
- Holy Backlight: Applied to Sagan in the opening of the tenth episode, in a discussion of the concept of birth and its cultural implications.
- Hot Librarian and Hot Scientist: According to contemporary reports, Hypatia, the last librarian at Alexandria.
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: In "Who Speaks for Earth?" during the After the End scenario, Sagan wonders what the Encyclopedia Galactica would have to say about humans, and in the first episode he muses:
"For an extra-terrestrial observer, the differences between the human cultures would seem trivial."
- Jidai Geki: A recreation of the era when it's explored how the artificial selection of crabs happened due to a random resemblance to a fallen samurai.
- Insignificant Little Blue Planet: When discussing the final photo of the entire solar system by Voyager 1, Sagan shows us the Earth as a single pixel in a huge image. However, he goes out of his way to mention that Earth is special due to the presence of life.
- Layman's Terms: Possibly the best example among educational programs, and certainly the inspiration for nearly all the shows that have come since.
- Lies to Children: Carl resorts to analogies to explain extremely abstract concepts like gravity, infinity and extra dimensions. To his credit, he immediately explains why the analogies are imperfect.
- Living Gasbag: In one episode, Sagan theorized that life existing on a gas giant planet such as Jupiter would be most likely to evolve into this form.
- The Longitude Problem: Discussed by Sagan, who talks about Dutch trading ships and the need for a good clock to calculate longitude.
- Match Cut:
- The first scene of the first episode ends with Sagan letting a daffodil blossom fly off into the wind. The show then cuts to an animation of the Ship of the Imagination flying through space.
- The montage that ends the series contains several match cuts, such as a recreation of a medieval scholar writing with a quill pen, cutting to a modern scientist tapping away on a keyboard.
- The opening credits of the 2014 version include several match cuts, such as from a crater to the pupil of a human eye and from a spiral galaxy to the spiral of a nautilus shell.
- Measuring the Marigolds: Complete, total, masterful refutation.
- Message in a Bottle: Sagan compares the Voyager Golden Record to this, tossed out onto "the cosmic ocean".
- Mundane Made Awesome:
- Books, as explained in Episode 11, "The Persistence of Memory," let us transcend time and death.
"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
"Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds there ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contributions to the collective knowledge of the human species."
- A bit earlier in the book, he quotes Charles Sherrington, who makes the act of waking up into something of cosmic importance.
The brain is waking, and with it, the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly, the cortex becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of sub-patterns.
- "The Lives of the Stars" begins by showing an apple pie being made- in a dramatic manner reminiscent of "Also Sprach Zarathustra".
- Not Drawn to Scale: The DNA helicase and DNA polymerase enzymes are much larger relative to a DNA molecule than they're depicted as in the CGI simulation.
- The closeup view of a comet in the new series looks much like the one seen in the opening sequence of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which doesn't show that while the nucleus is a mile across, by the time it reaches the inner solar system the coma of gas surrounding it is the size of the Earth.
- Nuclear Weapons: Discussed in the episode about nuclear war.
- One World Order: Played with. While Carl Sagan points out the folly of radical, fanatical nationalism compared to loyalty to the species, planet and cosmos, there's never really any call to a unified world government, rather hoping for the world to cooperate better. Neither does he treat humanity as a mere amorphous mass, acknowledging diversity in its myriad cultures, nations and communities while encouraging that same diversity to work together.
- Orion Drive: Mentioned as the only presently possible way of achieving space travel at any noticeable fraction of the speed of light, and also the best use for nuclear weapons. The related Daedalus drive concept was also mentioned.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: Sagan is incredibly effective at delivering these in regards to Real Life, as is Ann Druyan in the intro to the updated version of Cosmos.
- Plant Aliens: The civilization who are self-described as "We Who Survived" in the Encyclopaedia Galactica are mobile autotrophs who implement Selenium, Bromine and Chlorine in their biology (along with the ubiquitous CHON elements, of course), and engage in arithmetic poetry. Ironically, they ended up self-destructing. Just before we did.
- Puny Earthlings: At the beginning of episode 12 ("Encyclopedia Galactica"), Sagan narrates, "In the vastness of the Cosmos there must be other civilizations far older and more advanced than ours."
- Ramscoop: Mentioned shortly after the Orion Drive, as a possible means of circumnavigating the universe within a (subjective) human lifetime. (The limitations of the Bussard drive, such as the drag problem, were not addressed.)
- Recursive Reality: Carl Sagan speculates that our universe could be the equivalent of a subatomic particle inside a "superuniverse".
- Re Cut: Later editions of Cosmos have been supplemented with material dating from after the original run of the show and even after Sagan's death-clips of the Space Shuttle, of the Exxon Valdez disaster, of the Mars rovers. In the final episode, one of the broadcasts Sagan listens to as the ship of the imagination sails back to Earth is a bulletin from the 9/11 attacks.
- Science Hero: Sagan himself. As heroic as you can be in a documentary, anyway. Also some of the historical scientists portrayed in the series, like Huygens, Humason, Einstein, Leonardo, and Kepler.
- Science Is Bad, Science Is Wrong: Strongly and intentionally debunked.
- Space Is Noisy: The pulsar thrums loudly as it revolves.
- Starfish Aliens:
- One episode speculates on what life might be found within the atmosphere of Jupiter or a similar gas giant. It included microscopic "sinkers" that had to reproduce before sinking too far into Jupiter and being crushed or fried, mile-wide hydrogen-filled balloon "floaters" that filter-fed on the sinkers, and winged predators that hunted the floaters.
- The pages from the Encyclopedia Galactica (which are reprinted in the book adaptation) describes lifeforms with biologies that utilize cryogenic superconductors and "mobile autotrophs" (i.e., walking trees).
- Starfish Language: The whale's songs are described like this. Also, he speculates that science and the laws of nature are the universal language for communicating with an alien intelligence.
- Space Whale: Not exactly, but it mentions that the golden record on the Voyager probe also has recordings of the songs of the whales on Earth.
- Speculative Documentary
- Take That: At pseudosciences. He spends the first ten minutes of the third episode deconstructing astrology.
- Tear Jerker: Sagan's heartfelt plea to prevent nuclear annihilation, and his heartwarming acknowledgement of its aversion in the later DVD commentary.
- From the book, the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria at the hands of a Christian mob, as well as the loss of widespread skeptical scientific inquiry from the western world for roughly 1,000 years that Hypatia's death represented.
- Terraforming: At the end of "Blues for a Red Planet," Sagan popularized the idea of turning Mars into an Earth-like world by seeding it with (tough) plant life.
- Time Dilation: A thought experiment about special relativity involving an Italian teenager on a Vespa. (What if the speed of light were 40 km/hr instead of 1.08 billion?) And it's awesome.
- Time Travel: Discussed in the episode on relativity and used as a Framing Device for the episode with the calendar of the universe.
- Unintentional Period Piece:
- In the third episode Sagan is shown picking up a copy of the New York Post which announces "THE BEATLES ARE BACK!". John Lennon was murdered two months after the episode first aired.
- The episode where Sagan explains how the Voyager data was received and collected now doubles as a fascinating portrait of the state of computer technology in The Seventies. Data was collected on "magnetic disks, much like a phonograph record."
- Voice Clip Song: A Glorious Dawn, by Symphony Of Science, which mixes and sets a tune to scenes from Cosmos, along with Stephen Hawking's Universe. Notably, entire phrases from the respective shows are used as lyrics. It's rather awesome. And thanks to Jack White's record label Third Man, it was actually given a limited release on vinyl, with a copy of the diagram from the Voyager Golden Record etched on the backside.
"The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars. A still more glorious dawn awaits - not a sunrise, but a galaxy-rise. A morning filled with 400 billion suns - the rising of the Milky Way."
- What the Hell, Hero?: Sagan clearly reveres the Greek scholars whose work was stored in the Library of Alexandria, but in the last episode he points out that there is no record of them ever questioning the society they lived in, particularly the institution of slavery, which he calls "the cancer of the ancient world."
- What Might Have Been:
- Sagan briefly speculates on what might have happened if the spirit of scientific inquiry found in ancient Greece and Rome had persisted.
- At the time of his death, he and his wife, Ann, were planning a new miniseries, Cosmos For Kids.
- The state-of-the-art CGI in the 2014 remake, as evidenced by its trailer, makes one wonder how the original series would have looked had Sagan had access to the technology in 1980.
- When Dimensions Collide: As part of an explanation of how we can try to visualise a 4-dimensional being, and a Shout-Out to Flatland, Sagan brings to life the 2-Dimensional 'Flatland' on a tabletop and imagines it being visited by an object from our (3D) dimension.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Sagan was fond of pointing out just how majestic and grandiose the natural world is, compared to the ability of our imaginations to understand it. In one part, he describes big numbers and then points out how far from infinity and eternity they are.
2014 series: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
This series contains examples of the following tropes:
- Aliens Steal Cable: Discussed in "The Immortals", which also suggests that if there are broadcasts from alien civilizations, they may either have been missed or can't be detected by modern technology.
- All Planets Are Earth-Like: "The World Set Free" begins with the notion that Venus was once much like Earth, with oceans and a stable climate, but volcanic activity filled the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid, making it the hot, inhospitable planet it is today. Tyson draws a parallel between Venus' fate and that of Earth if greenhouse gasses are not put under control; although he does mention that turning Earth into an actual Venusian hothouse is a very long shot, as Venus lost its oceans to space.
- American Accents: Tyson pronounces "water" as "warter" - fairly common colloquial accent in America, just not heard very often on TV in a science show.
- And the Adventure Continues: The series ends on this note: the discoveries of dark energy and dark matter in the last episode are used to highlight the fact that humanity is closer to the beginning than the end of the scientific journey, espousing the importance of widespread scientific literacy. The closing shot is of an unmanned Ship of the Imagination drifting out into deep space, inviting the viewer to explore the cosmos with it (and hopefully, on their own or as a profession.)
- Apocalypse How: "The Immortals" discusses a number of possible ways our civilization could end, starting with the more remote (asteroid collision, supervolcano eruption) and moving to the more imminent, such as climate change.
- Arc Words/Catchphrase: "Come with me."
- The Ark: Used as a metaphor in "The Immortals" for the propagation of life, describing the Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest recorded version of the Flood myth), and using this idea to discuss dandelion seeds and panspermia, the possible transportation of microbes from one planet to another via asteroid impact debris.
- Art Shift: The animated segments in "The Immortals" are more stylized than those of other episodes, particularly the segments devoted to the fall of Mesopotamia and the spread of Old World diseases in the Americas.
- Artistic License – Biology: The tardigrades are depicted as fleshy pink and opaque (the way they appear in an electron microscope, minus the "pink" part) because it would be hard to see transparent tardigrades in a transparent water droplet (as they appear elsewise).
- Ascended Fanboy:
- Seth MacFarlane is a huge geek for the original series and for Carl Sagan. He is also one of the producers of the updated version of the show starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. He admits that, in his opinion at least, he is the "least important" player in the remake, serving mostly as the means by which Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan's widow) and Steven Soter were able to meet with FOX and get the new series off the ground in the first place.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson spends the last few minutes of the first episode relating his first meeting with Carl Sagan, back when he was a 17-year-old nobody from the Bronx, and how it shaped him into the scientist he is today. In episode 4, he again returns to that moment as an example of a moment in space/time.
- Ascended Meme: When discussing the invention of the digit 0, Neil mentions that it's useful for writing "billions and billions".
- Asteroid Thicket: The first and seventh episode featured one for the asteroid belt, probably for Rule of Cool. The real asteroid belt is incredibly sparse and boring. Tyson later points out the actual sparsity of the Oort Cloud.
- Astronomic Zoom: In "Unafraid of the Dark", over Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" speech. The final thirty seconds of the zoom replicates the original photograph taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, albeit upside-down. There's also a Dramatic Pause for the audience to absorb just how precious Earth actually is.
- Author Appeal:
- Neil hugely admires Isaac Newton, the guy who invented calculus on a bet.
- He's also quite the admirer of fine wine and visits Italian wine country to talk about photosynthesis and the c constant.
- His monologue on the future humanity could craft for itself-a utopia free of poverty and bigotry-sounds pretty familiar to his fellow Trekkies.
- Book Ends: The series begins and ends on the rocky cliffs from the first series.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: In Episode 5, after talking about the governmental accomplishments of the Chinese emperor Qin Shihuangdi, Tyson adds that Qin also completely suppressed original thought, burned all books that disagreed with his philosophy, acted like a totalitarian dictator, and probably set the human race back a thousand years by silencing the disciples of Mozi, who had a viewpoint similar to the modern scientific method.
- Buffy Speak: Tyson re-uses phrases such as "star stuff" from the original series.
- Butterfly Effect: Invoked when discussing the amount of carbon naturally occurring in the atmosphere, represented by three colorful butterflies. When taken away from a flock of white moths, the Earth freezes; when three more are added, the Earth heats up. Tyson also mentions it when explaining the difference between weather and climate.
- Call Back:
- The series begins with Tyson on the same point on the California coast where Sagan started and ended the 1980 version.
- NDT's explanation of the speed of light using a motorcyclist in the countryside in episode 4 is word for word identical to Carl Sagan's explanation. In fact, several explanations are verbatim (or nealy so) from the original series because this is an updated version written by the same two scientists who wrote the original series with Carl Sagan. Phrases such as "star stuff" show up due to this trope.
- The second episode uses the same simple "evolution in 40 seconds" animated graphic that the 1980 program did.
- The final episode of the series shows a montage of the various scientists whose lives have been covered throughout the series.
- Many objects mentioned or shown in one episode will show up later—Voyager, for instance.
- The use of "a kind of hell" by Tyson. The original phrase, used by Sagan even shows up in a voiceover taken from the original series in episode 12. Other phrases from the original series show up elsewhere throughout A Spacetime Odyssey.
- Call to Adventure: When a scientific concept has not been proven yet, Tyson asks the audience whom among them will solve the problem.
- Chekhov's Gun: In "The Electric Boy", Michael Faraday keeps a lump of malformed glass as a reminder of the time he was forced to work with optics by Humphry Davy. Later, as he struggles to prove a correlation between electromagnetism and light, he fails to find a proper medium through which he could see polarized light be affected by an electric magnet. In desperation, he picks up the lump of glass, and sure enough it does the trick.
- Comet of Doom: Deconstructed in the third episode, "When Knowledge Conquered Fear". Tyson explains how this trope was based in superstition and ignorance of how the solar system worked, and then tells an absolutely epic version of how Edmund Halley went about utterly crushing this superstition by figuring out what comets were and how they worked. It ended with Dr. Tyson telling of Halley's "prophecy" that not only would a particular comet return in 50 years, but accurately and correctly predicting where in the sky it would appear, and how long it would be visible, and how "Halley's Comet" became the best known comet in the history of the world.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Sagan's entire reflection on the Pale Blue Dot photograph is narrated over an Astronomic Zoom that becomes the famous Pale Blue Dot photograph.
- Cool Starship: The Spaceship of the Imagination is pretty nifty, but a big one pops up in episode 11, launching from (somewhere that looks like) Mars and unfurling a Solar Sail.
- Creator Cameo: Seth MacFarlane plays the voice of Giordano Bruno in the animated segment about Bruno's life.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Oil industry tries to cover up the harmful effects of their product and employs a scientist to do it while trying to discredit the scientists pointing out the opposite—no, not climate change, lead emissions from gasoline. There's a clear History Repeats subtext.
- Determinator: Clair Patterson is portrayed as one. No matter how hard it is to decontaminate his lab so that he gets accurate results, he spends six years at what was supposed to be little more than a graduate school project, and then the rest of his life campaigning against leaded gasoline, despite the oil companies doing everything in their power to discredit him.
- Doorstop Baby: Episode 3 begins with Tyson comparing the human race to this, abandoned on the earth with no idea where it came from or what its purpose is.
- Don't Try This at Home: Michael Faraday, probably anachronistically, says this to his audience while demonstrating how an electric spark can make gunpowder go boom. (Or possibly not an anachronism, since his book about candles included several "at home" experiments and advised on proper safety measures.)
- Dramatic Pause: Incorporated into the penultimate scene, an Astronomical Zoom replicating the Pale Blue Dot photograph, to allow the audience to contemplate their place in the cosmos.
- Dream Sequence: Giordano Bruno's fateful dream of an infinite cosmos. Along with stars and planets, and Ophanim (the angels shaped like wheels). It gets a callback in the final episode when he "escapes" his prison cell through a Fantasy Sequence.
- Elmer Fudd Syndrome: Michael Faraday is depicted as speaking like this as a child in "The Electric Boy".
- Eye Scream: The result of Humphry Davy putting his face too close to a nitrogen trichloride reaction. One poof of smoke and he's clutching his face while blood runs through his fingers. (The injuries weren't permanent.)
- The Faceless: Robert Hooke and John Michell are only shown from the back since there are no surviving portraits from which their appearance can be determined.
- "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: The ship of the imagination shrinks down and flies down a bear's blood vessels to explain how polar bears evolved from brown bears. In the original series, the camera's POV dives inside one of Sagan's white blood cells, but his ship isn't actually seen to shrink.
- Fingerless Gloves: It being Victorian England, these are the poverty variant and part of the overall shabby look of young tradesman Michael Faraday. They disappear after he gains employment at the Royal Institute.
- Green Aesop:
- Specifically invoked in "The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth", in which Tyson almost outright says that humanity's current destruction of the planet through oil/coal mining and pollution is very well setting up the sixth major extinction event that the Earth has seen — one that will mirror the Permian–Triassic extinction event, which destroyed up to 96% of all life on Earth.
- "The World Set Free" explicitly points at the effects of carbon dioxide production and our continued use of fossil fuels as a giant factor in ruining our planet.
- Hell on Earth: What Earth might become due to global warming, as explained in "The World Set Free".
- Heroes Love Dogs: Neil shares some scenes with his dog, whom he affectionately calls "my friend"; in fact while walking it on the beach he uses it to explain the difference between weather fluctuations and climate:
Look at me, not my friend.
- Historical Hero Upgrade:
- Historical Villain Upgrade:
- One episode features Robert Hooke and discusses his numerous accomplishments, but the episode devotes more focus to his rivalry with Isaac Newton, where he comes off largely as a windbag trying to take credit for Newton and Halley's work.
- Similarly, Sir Humphry Davy's relationship with Michael Faraday is simplified to that of a master resentful of his talented apprentice. Davy at one point called Faraday his greatest discovery, and the attempt to reproduce von Fraunhofer's optical glass was also backed by the British government, not solely Davy acting out of professional jealousy (and Faraday didn't quit it until a few years after Davy's death). That said, the episode also leaves out the time where Davy brought Faraday on a long tour of Europe as a valet, during which time Faraday was frequently mistreated by Mrs. Davy, or Davy's spurious accusations of plagiarism over the electric motor.
- History Repeats: In a heartwarming example. Faraday got the attention of Humphry Davy by sending him a book of notes he'd made on Davy's demonstration. Later in life, we see Faraday imagining his younger self standing in front of his desk—once Davy's desk—as he's about to open a dissertation by his young fan (James Clerk Maxwell) expanding on his own theories.
- Hollywood Darkness: Averted. The ship turns its lights on when visiting the orphan planet and the surface of Titan, which are both otherwise very dark places.
- Jitter Cam: When Tyson takes the Ship of the Imagination into a Black Hole.
- Lies to Children: The new series presents some scientific concepts in a much more simplified way than the original did.
- Although the "motorcycle traveling at relativistic speed" returns, the new series doesn't discuss the Doppler effect, redshift, blueshift or length contraction, and only briefly touches on time dilation without Sagan's Tear Jerker dramatization of the Twin Paradox.
- The DNA molecule in episode 2 is represented as a "twisted ladder" model, rather than a spacefilling atomic model as in episode 2 of the original series. A more accurate spacefilling model of DNA is briefly seen in episode 6. Meanwhile, the DNA molecule shown in the opening sequence of the new series looks like it's made of fish bones, which bears a suspicious resemblance to the opening scene of Prometheus.
- An inconsistency of style is introduced by zooming in on realistic depictions of cells, but representing the enzymes involved in DNA replication and photosynthesis as machines.
- Although the new series mentions the quantum mechanical behavior of electrons and how they can be excited into different orbitals, electrons are still depicted as particles orbiting around the nucleus, rather than smears of probability. (By contrast, the atoms in the NOVA opening sequence from the 1980s are more accurate.)
- Tyson demonstrates the law of conservation of energy using a pendulum, but doesn't mention that it loses energy through friction, which is important because he segues into how nuclear reactions lose energy by emitting neutrinos.
- Measuring the Marigolds: Inverted. One excellent example is in "Unafraid of the Dark", where he explains how brittle manganese nodules on the seafloor, growing over millions of years, record the history of supernovae through layers of slightly radioactive iron.
"The difference between seeing nothing but a pebble and reading the history of the cosmos inscribed inside it — is science."
- Musical Gag / Stealth Pun: A sequence near the end of "Hiding in the Light" — the episode all about light spectra and therefore about colors — is scored with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
- Mythology Gag:
- In the first episode Tyson begins the show on the same rocky outcrop in Big Sur, California as Sagan started the original Cosmos, the Match Cut with the Dandelion blossom is recreated and Tyson also uses Sagan's famous "We are all made of star stuff" quote.
- In "Sisters of the Sun", Neil refers to the Milky Way as the "backbone of night", the name of an episode of the original series. Shortly after he repeats the heartening "galaxy rise" speech that debuted in the same original episode and was used in Symphonies of Science.
- Nested Story Reveal: In the fourth episode, the old man watching William Herschel and his son walking on the beach is revealed to be the son all grown up, and the scenes are really his memories.
- Never Trust a Trailer:
- For episode 8 "Sisters of the Sun", Tyson shows supernovae and the lights going out in various major cities as he asks "are we safe?" It turns out in the episode the lights going out have nothing to do with supernovas or their effect on Earth (say, frying our electrical grid), they are merely illustrating the effect of light pollution on stargazing long before discussing supernovae.
- The trailer for "The Immortals" poses the question of whether or not scientific advance will someday make if possible to live forever. Naturally, this question is never answered in the actual episode—the closest thing is saying that if humans managed to avoid any extinction scenarios, them there is no reason why civilization cannot outlive the Earth, but of course, billions of years is not "forever", and the episode doesn't even mention that humans would have to find a way around the heat death of the universe or the Big Rip in order for the species to truly exist forever.
- Nightmare Retardant: In "Sisters of the Sun", Tyson goes into detail about the catastrophic consequences that the death of the supergiant star Eta Carinae will have for any planets too close, even ones in another star system, and points out that for all we know, the star may have already exploded. He then says that he knows that the viewers are now worried about what will happen to Earth, and then reassures them that we on Earth are perfectly safe, because we are far enough away from Eta Carinae that even if we saw it go hypernova tomorrow, all we would get out of it is a nice light show. In "The Immortals", he also dismisses worries that a regular old supernova will end civilization because there aren't any potential supernova stars close enough.
- Panspermia: "The Immortals" discusses the possibility of life being spread across other planets. It also suggests that if life here were wiped out by a meteor, bacteria from space-borne debris could survive the trip back down and repopulate the Earth.
- Persecuted Intellectuals: Discussed in the fifth episode, which depicts the Burning of Books and Burying of Scholars that took place in the Qin dynasty. Tyson points to this as one of the great dangers to science and human achievement.
- P.O.V. Cam: When discussing the evolution of eyes, it shows you what eyesight with that eye would look like.
- Precision F-Strike: Michael Faraday lets out a "damn!" after accidentally shocking himself on a long day of scientific failure and claps his hand over his mouth in horror. (In the 1800s the word was more serious, especially for someone profoundly religious like him.)
- Rags to Riches:
- Joseph von Fraunhofer goes from Indentured Servitude in a glass factory to the head of Bavaria's Optical Institute. Sadly, all the toxic fumes he inhaled as a boy might have led to his early death (a fate common to glassworkers of the time).
- Michael Faraday, a poor man who didn't finish his elementary education, running the Royal Institution.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: In "The Electric Boy", after Michael Faraday invents the electric motor and becomes the toast of the English scientific community, his superior Sir Humphry Davy reassigns him to work on glass optics, in the hope of keeping Faraday from showing him up. Ironically, this failed assignment gives Faraday the means to make his greatest discovery (see Chekhov's Gun).
- Recursive Reality: Tyson suggests that inside each black hole is a whole universe, which in turn has black holes of its own, with universes inside them. The segment displays a little bit of Reality Ensues: after travelling through kaleidoscopic parallel universes, Tyson ends up in a random parking lot, insinuating that life goes on for everything.
- Rhetorical Request Blunder: Non-murder version in "The Electric Boy". After fooling around with electromagentism, Humphry Davy jokingly tells Faraday to see what he can make of it once he's done tidying up the lab. Faraday makes an electric motor of it.
- Scenery Porn: Italian wine country, the ancient Triassic, and various other stunning vistas from Earth's past and present.
- Scenery Gorn: Any time Neil starts talking about the Permian-Triassic Extinction, also known as "The Great Dying". There's also the Hadean Era, when the Earth was a ball of angry lava constantly being hit by meteorites.
- Science Hero: Clair Patterson has a whole episode devoted to his heroic struggle of first figuring out the age of the Earth, and then campaigning to get lead banned from gasoline and household products, despite facing opposition at every point from oil companies and their "expert for hire" Robert Kehoe.
- Science Marches On: Invoked and discussed at length. Neil explains the process Bishop Ussher used to determine that Earth is 6,000 years oldnote and then how geologists realized the Earth had to be older than that by examining rock layers before Clair Patterson arrived at the figure we use today. Also covered are the transition from the "disappearing land bridges" idea to the theory of continental drift and the vindication of Payne's discovery that the Sun is mostly hydrogen rather than having the same composition as Earth.
- In a meta-example, A Spacetime Odyssey itself was created to update the information presented in the original series, A Personal Voyage.
- Self-Deprecation: When Michael Faraday says that scientists are noble and morally superior to tradesmen, Humphry Davy remarks that he must be the first scientist Faraday's ever met. (Also Foreshadowing, considering Davy's shabby treatment of Faraday later on.)
- Shiny-Looking Spaceships: The 2014 version of the Spaceship of the Imagination is very shiny, compared to the white dandelion puff/spikey thing of the previous series (Hey, it was the 80's and they were on a budget).
- Shout-Out: When the series title appears at the end of the sequence, the C and S at the beginning and end of the word "Cosmos" emerge from the eye's pupil first as a tribute to Carl Sagan.
- Solar Sail: Unfurled by a Cool Starship in episode 11.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Tyson has a habit of using colloquialisms during his measured speeches. He says "maybe it's those damn volcanoes" while contemplating what is causing greenhouse gases. He also describes star cluster Eta Careinae as "flipping out ever since" its first outburts of (supposed) radiation pressure, which were first documented in the 1800s and have continued to this day.
- Space Is Noisy: Even in a science show.
- When one asteroid bumps into another asteroid in "The Clean Room", there is an audible "thump" sound.
- When "Sisters of the Sun" is explaining how the Sun will eventually expand into a red giant and destroy Mercury and Venus, those planets explode with audible booms.
- Speech Impediment: see Elmuh Fudd Syndwome, above — the weason Micheaw Fawaday weft schoow.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Though the episode guide spells the name "Ibn al-Haytham", Tyson consistently refers to the Arabic scientist by the Latinized form, "Alhazen".
- Take That:
- At several times in different episodes of the series, beliefs commonly espoused by fundamentalist Christians regarding nature (such as the idea that the universe is only about 6000 years old, or that the eye disproves evolution by being "irreducibly complex") are specifically called out and debunked.
- When discussing the speed of light, a graphic shows the nearby section of the galaxy with a sphere roughly 12,000 light years in diameter, which is how far you'd be able to see if the Earth was really only about 6000 years old. The image then zooms outward and Tyson makes a comment about the grandeur and majesty of the whole universe as opposed to the puny little one imagined by people believing in recent creation.
- It should be noted that numerous highlighted scientists are mentioned as being religious in a positive way. For instance, during "The Electric Boy" Tyson mentions that Michael Faraday was a devout Christian, and that his faith was a source of comfort and humility to him throughout his life. It's not religion Tyson takes issue with, rather ignoring verifiable fact in favor of (unverifiable) stories written millenia ago, and then trying to impose those stories as fact on everyone else.
- "Sisters of the Sun" has a nice Take That to sexism before the animated segments.
"One of them provided the key to our understanding of the substance of the stars, and another devised a way for us to calculate the size of the universe. For some reason you've probably never heard of either of them… I wonder why
- Terrified of Germs: Clair Patterson seems to be initially portrayed as such the first time we see him. Later it is revealed not to be germs he is afraid of, but airborne lead particles from leaded gasoline.
- This Is My Human: At the start of episode 2 Tyson explains the evolution from Savage Wolves to Big Friendly Dog (and Angry Guard Dog) when wolves with a lower amount of stress hormone domesticated humans.
- Time Marches On: In episode 10 "The Immortals" Tyson introduces a new "year" to the cosmic Calendar, starting from now.
- Tuckerization: A segment set in the Paris 1878 Universal Exposition in "The World Set Free" features a booth for MacFarlane's Refined Lard, taking advantage of the fact that there was an actual Mcfarlane and Co. Booth advertising their refined lard at that expo.
- Vindicated by History: Multiple scientists who developed ideas before technology existed to test them. For example, Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift made him a laughingstock during his lifetime, but Marie Tharp proved him right when she mapped sonar images of the seafloor and consequently identified the continental boundaries. Similarly, some discoveries are made only for Tyson to note that it would sometimes takes centuries for the ramifications and understanding of those discoveries to occur. Conversely, some segments tend to subtly note how often certain things are discovered and re-discovered over and over, such as the scientific method.
- The World Is Just Awesome: The goal is to demonstrate this is true for the entire universe. Earth is awesome. Subatomic particles are awesome. Galaxies are awesome. Bacteria is awesome. Everything from the massive star Eta Carinae to the microscopic tardigrades that survive anywhere, is beautiful, complex, and wonderful in the literal sense of that word.