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Series / Cosmos

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If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

"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, first released by PBS 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. Executive produced by Seth MacFarlane and written by Sagan's widow Ann Druyan, 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.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds is a continuation of Spacetime Odyssey from the same creators, first airing in 2020 on National Geographic Channel and then later on FOX.

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Tropes specific to both are listed under the original Cosmos, and tropes specific to the 2014 and 2020 remakes 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.
  • Alien Sea: Sagan discusses some of the theories about what could exist under Venus' clouds before spacecrafts found the hot and hard facts, including besides it being Earth-like oceans of sparkling water caused by carbon dioxide dissolving on its waters or even hydrocarbon seas.
  • Automobiles Are Alien: There's one part in which we zoom on Earth from an alien perspective and stop when cars can be discerned. They're considered as possible lifeforms, humans being suggested to be parasites required by them to start moving.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • It's intentionally designed to recall the dandelion from the above Book Ends.
  • 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's Adventures in Wonderland: "I've been to a couple of parties like that myself!"
  • Failed Future Forecast: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Genre Roulette: The original series had an eclectic soundtrack incorporating classical music, world music and 1970s electronica. Because Sagan was the head of the committee to select music for the Voyager Golden Record, several of the tracks chosen for the record appear in Cosmos.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Elaborate historical reenactments depict the 12th century Battle of Dan-no-ura in Japan, Johannes Kepler's 16th century Germany, Christiaan Huygens' 17th century Netherlands, and Edwin Hubble in 1920s California.
  • 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.
  • 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: 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."
  • Jidaigeki: 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.
  • Isn't It Ironic?: In the third episode, "Aquarius" from Hair is used during a sequence debunking the practice of astrology.
  • 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.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: The DVD release of Cosmos was unable to reacquire music rights for some pieces of music, such as works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Jean-Michel Jarre, so they were replaced with new compositions by Vangelis.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: Sagan refers to our neighborhood in the Milky Way as "obscure backwaters", a clear reference to the opening lines of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    • Sir Kenneth Clark set the standard for this type of documentary mini-series with his series Civilisation: A Personal View, and Sagan tips his hat by subtitling Cosmos with "A Personal Voyage."
  • 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 and the first ten minutes of the twelfth episode deconstructing ufology, while the second episode includes a sequence demonstrating the pitfalls of intelligent design.
  • 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.
  • 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."
    • In the fourth episode, while discussing the crackpot theories of Immanuel Velikovskynote , Sagan states that the worst aspect of the whole affair wasn't that Velikovsky's theories were wrong or in gross contradiction to established facts, but rather that some scientists attempted to outright suppress his ideas instead of engaging in proper debate.
  • What Might Have Been: In-universe, Sagan briefly speculates on what might have happened if the spirit of scientific inquiry found in ancient Greece and Rome had persisted.
  • 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: Tardigrades have no pigment, but it would be hard to see transparent creatures in transparent water, so they are shown as fleshy pink and opaque, similar to how they appear in an electron microscope.note 
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The segment on Giordano Bruno was harshly criticised by historians of science and philosophy for its inaccuracies. While the show concedes that he was "no scientist", many liberties were taken with his historical character in order to present him in a more positive light, and some have accused the show of deliberately fudging the facts so that his story fits more neatly into the old "science vs religion" cliche.
      • Bruno is shown reading Lucretius' On the Nature of Things while the narration informs us that he was reading "books banned by the Church". Lucretius' work was never banned by the Church, and in fact had enjoyed wide dissemination for hundreds of years before Bruno was born.
      • Bruno is shown being violently thrown out of his friary by his fellows. In reality, he absconded of his own accord.
      • The show presnts Bruno's cosmology as being something he dreamt up himself after being inspired by Lucretius. He states in his own writing that his greatest influences were Copernicus and Nicolaus Cusanus; indeed, much of what the show presents as Bruno's innovations were things he directly lifted from "The Divine Cusanus", as Bruno calls him.
      • As a lecturer at Oxford, Bruno is depicted as espousing Copernican cosmology, which leads to him being jeered at and pelted with rotten fruit by the other scholars. While Bruno was disliked at Oxford, it was mainly because he was found to have been an unrepentant plagiarist, and his heterodox beliefs seem only to have elicitied mild teasing.
      • Generally, the ideas of infinite worlds, extraterrestrial life, and heliocentrism were not forbidden by the Catholic Church, and many well-respected theologians and high-ranking churchmen argued in favour them. The Church's issue with Bruno stemmed principally from his denial of the divinity of Christ, the Ressurection, and slander of Mary. The show reverses the importance of the charges, treating his cosmology as the principal reason for his condemnation.
      • Steven Soter, co-writer of the show, defended the Bruno segment by comparing him to Isaac Newton, who Soter argued is well-regarded for his scientific feats in spite of his unscientific interests in alchemy and theology, apparently forgetting that Bruno didn't have any scientific accomplishments to speak of.
  • 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 (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 depict the asteroid belt as this for artistic license, since it's an easily recognizable image. The real asteroid belt is incredibly sparse and boring (as Neil points out in a StarTalk episode, we could never have gotten any of our outer system probes through the belt if it was that dense). He later discusses the actual sparsity of the Oort Cloud, where objects are as distant from each other as Earth is from Saturn.
  • 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.
  • Big "NO!": Played for Laughs in "The Clean Room" when someone ignores the big "keep out" sign on the lab Clair Patterson is meticulously decontaminating and ruins all his hard work to ask where the restroom is
  • 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 in Big Sur 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 nearly 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 who among them will solve the problem.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Robert Hooke is depicted like this in Episode 3's animated scenes, having been given an Obviously Evil appearance and him muttering "Blasted Newton! I'll make him pay!" once Newton refuses to give in to his demands. To be fair, Hooke's own accomplishments, like discovering Hooke's law (governing linear elasticity), are also mentioned in the episode.
  • Central Theme: Apart from "science is awesome", Tyson repeatedly stresses the importance of questioning authority and long-held assumptions. He even encourages the audience to question him and figure things out for themselves.
  • 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.
    • Brannon Braga plays the live-action Michael Faraday without speaking lines.
  • 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 advised on proper safety measures for its suggested "at home" experiments.)
  • Dramatic Pause: Incorporated into the penultimate scene, an Astronomic Zoom replicating the Pale Blue Dot photograph, to allow the audience to contemplate their place in the cosmos.
  • Dream Sequence: Giordano Bruno has a fateful dream about lifting the curtain of the sky and stepping into an infinite cosmos. The animation is based on the Flammarion engraving, an illustration of cosmic exploration whose creator is unknown.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Tyson also notes that the scientific method has been invented at least twice, by Mozi in ancient China and Ibn Al-Haytham in the medieval Islamic world.
  • Hobo Gloves: It being Victorian England, these are part of the overall shabby look of young tradesman Michael Faraday. They disappear after he gains employment at the Royal Institute.
  • 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.
  • Humble Hero:
    • Clair Patterson is shown as one, pointing out his habit of putting his students' names first on publications to help their careers and shunning the limelight except when forced.
    • Michael Faraday is also said to be a man of faith and humility who worked in science for the joy of discovery rather than glory.
  • 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."
  • Medium Blending: Historical recreations in the new series are presented through animation, which saves money over the Gorgeous Period Dress of the original series.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Clair Patterson turning on a mass spectrometer and doing some calculations with a slide rule is given a stirring soundtrack that builds up to a dramatic climax... routine scientific activities with a fantastic context. The inside of the spectrometer is shown dividing up and measuring the atoms, and the calculations are for the age of the Earth, which had never before been scientifically measured.
  • 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, then 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 realism: 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.
  • Running Gag: Clair Patterson's workspace or samples getting contaminated by careless people.
  • 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, and the lead-meltingly hot, pressure-warped surface of Venus.
  • 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 old (by working backwards from the death of Nebuchadnezzar), which seemed like a reasonable figure until 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. Several times, Tyson says it's important not to feel too smug over previous' centuries ignorance because they didn't have the technological capability to observe distant planets and that science is still marching on today.
    • 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 outbursts 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".
  • Stealing the Credit:
    • "When Knowledge Conquered Fear" portrays Robert Hooke as attempting to do this with Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica by claiming that he originated Newton's equations. In fact, Hooke doing this to Newton is what drove Newton into hiding in the first place, which is when he invented calculus.
    • Neil commends Henry Norris Russell for not doing this to Cecilia Payne when he realized her thesis on stellar atmospheres was correct after all.
  • 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."
  • Take That Us: In the episode "The World Set Free", an animated segment at the 1878 World's Fair in Paris shows several displays and banners passing by. One of them is MacFarlane Refined Lard. Seth MacFarlane is the executive producer of the series.
  • 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: invoked 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 are 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.

     2020 series: Cosmos: Possible Worlds 

This series contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Alcubierre Drive: Discussed on “The Fleeting Grace of the Habitable Zone” as a possible means of traveling across the stars. Tyson compares it to a jet ski displacing space time like it was water.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" concludes with the story of Indian emperor Ashoka the Great, who started out as a ruthless, bloodthirsty tyrant, but soon became one of the most enlightened rulers of the ancient world. As the legend goes, Ashoka was approached by a Buddhist monk holding a dead child, a victim of his violent campaign against the Kalingas, and asking "You who bring death, can you bring life to his poor boy?" This shook Ashoka to his core, and devoted the rest of his life to Buddhism.
  • Art Shift: The segments on Nikolai Vavilov in episode 4 are done in Stop Motion instead of 2-D animation.
  • Cassandra Truth: The myth of Cassandra, how Apollo cursed her with prophesies that no one would believe, is told in “Coming of Age in the Anthropocene”, and is compared to how scientific predictions of climate change were, and still are, dismissed by many.
  • Descended Creator: Seth MacFarlane voiced Harry S. Truman in episode 4, "Vavilov" and episode 10, "A Tale of Two Atoms".
  • Distant Finale: The final episode, "The New Seven Wonders Of The World", takes place in the 2039 World's Fair, some twenty years after it was broadcast. The pavilions of this prospective future fair suggest that scientists would have managed to reverse climate change and discovered new civilizations in other planets.
  • Eye Scream: Episode 9 shows how Isaac Newton used to stick a bodkin needle between his eye socket and eyeball as part of his experiments on light and color.
  • First Contact: The subject of episode 7, "The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth". Tyson notes that there is much concern over making contact with an advanced alien civilization, pointing out how interactions between humans of different Technology Levels often resulted in genocide; he also argues that humans have already made contact with an alien intelligence: bees, whose complex communication system has been deciphered by scientists. The episode ends with a hypothetical contact scenario, with a radio telescope picking up signals identical to the dancing patterns of bees.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • The scientists in episode 4 "Vavilov" who starved to death during the Leningrad Siege note  protecting the seeds of the Pavlovsk seed bank for future generations.
    • The fate of the Cassini spacecraft in episode 8 is presented as this. After its twenty year mission to explore Saturn was over, once its fuel ran out, it was sent to crash into the planet's surface, as letting it orbit risked it crashing into one of Saturn's moons, potentially disrupting any possible life in them.
  • Humans Are Special:
    • Averted in the seventh episode, "The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth" which shows that trees, bees, and tardigrades each possess traits that humans like to think are unique to them. Trees have knowledge of chemistry and entomology; bees have politics, language, and a great understanding of mathematics; and tardigrades show affection for each other in the form of snuggling.
    • This trope is averted again in the eleventh episode, "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" where Tyson looks at various traits that humans believe make us special (making art, using tools, having complex social structures, etc.) and then shows various animals that can do them too. Tyson concludes that the only trait unique to humans is our "neurotic need to feel special."
  • Recursive Reality: In episode 9, "Magic Without Lies", Tyson explains how we are unable to see other dimensions by invoking the novel Flatland. He explains how Flatlanders have no concept of "above", since they only exist in a world of length and width. Tyson picks up one of them and muses that to another Flatlander it's like he disappeared into thin air. After he's done explaining this, Tyson is suddenly lifted away and disappears, as if he himself was picked up by a fourth-dimensional being.
  • The Symbiote: Episode 7 discusses how the mycelium — the underground fibers that forms the vegetative part of fungi — creates a network on the forest floor that enables communication among different plant species, allowing, for example, a tree to keep one of its seedlings from growing too big.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In episode 10, Tyson gives a vivid account on the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée in Martinique, the biggest in modern history. While there was plenty of warning of an impending eruption, the people of the city of Saint-Pierre mostly stayed behind, some because they couldn't afford to evacuate, others because they thought the lava wouldn't reach the city. Plus the mayor was about to be inaugurated, and those making preparations didn't feel there was a need to postpone it. When the eruption came, it was sudden and devastating; instead of a lava flow, a huge blast of ash and deadly gasses buried the city within minutes. The city was utterly destroyed and all its inhabitants killed saved for two. (one, Louis-Auguste Cyparis, survived by being imprisoned in a dungeon, but was left badly burned.) Tyson then suggests that life under the shadow of nuclear war isn't any different.

Alternative Title(s): Cosmos A Personal Voyage, Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey