|Burke rocking that 70s style|
Now the BBC and PBS have joined forces to produce How We Got to Now, a series hosted by Steven Johnson revealing how relatively unknown folks in today's popular memory invented and triggered events that drastically changed the world. I have watched the first two episodes and it has a very 'Day the Universe Changed' vibe about it more than a Cosmos one.
Before I watched the show, I did not know who Johnson was but upon doing some research, I knew of some of his work. He has written a number of books and articles for outlets such as Wired discussing technology and its interaction with society. Thought-provoking stuff for the most part. The first episode, Clean, tackles how the modern world became the much more sanitary world of non-filth-filled street along with clean drinking water. The second episode, Time, weaves the tale on how time went from something very local and daily to the standardized international time standard society enjoys today.
I do not wish to share any spoilers, but with both while I found them highly entertaining, I also
|Sagan's 80's academic chic|
Still, the show is fun to watch and in particular the story on how Chicago was retrofitted to install a modern infrastructure was highly engaging. The style of the show is to intermix stock 'olde time' black and white footage to evoke the feeling for what the author is trying to convey rather than for the footage to be historically accurate. I am a sucker for such things, but when the footage is anachronisic with footage from say the early 1900s describing something from the mid-19th century, I get a tad annoyed. It is more a personal quibble and far from a deal breaker.
Johnson is an enthusiastic host. His personal interest in the topics clearly comes through to the viewer. Unfortunately, Johnson does not have the British professorial speech of James Burke or the erudite poetic speech patterns of Carl Sagan. It's how I'd imagine me speaking to a camera if I was given my own three part series. Here's a guy sporting a Northeastern American accent who watched a lot of James Burke and Carl Sagan as a kid, and does the David Letterman style of television by acknowledging the camera crew and other breaking the fourth wall elements. This is not a bad thing, but for me it's weird seeing a very idealized version of me on tv.
Overall, with some of the above exceptions noted, I so far have enjoyed the show. I definitely plan to watch the remaining four episodes. For some reason, when the BBC and/or PBS get together to produce or carry a show, it somehow comes off more authoritative than similar stuff churned out on most 'educational' cable channels. I do not enjoy it as much as the original Cosmos or The Day the Universe Changed, but it might be the equal of the latest Cosmos or Connections III.