Paul Casserly 's Opinion

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

Paul Casserly: Into the void

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Exploring the mysteries of the cosmos and interviewing Winston Peters have more in common than you might think, according to Paul Casserly.
Neil deGrasse Tyson fronts Cosmos:A SpaceTime Odyssey.
Neil deGrasse Tyson fronts Cosmos:A SpaceTime Odyssey.

"To enter this journey we'll need imagination but imagination will not be enough", thought Patrick Gower as he sat down to interview Winston Peters on The Nation on Sunday.

He could have also said, "We're about to embark on a journey into the infinite and the infinitesimal" but those words belong instead to Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, in National Geographic's terrific Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

This series, which is a re-boot of Carl Sagan's legendary Cosmos: A personal Journey, in the1980s, is an unlikely joint venture between Sagan's widow and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.

Their mission is to try to explain what is known about the universe and beyond and to make it into a family friendly entertainment.

Episode one would suggest that it's going to be a successful venture and essential viewing.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has become a science superstar and is a regular guest on The Daily Show, and it's easy to why. He's a great communicator, and is blessed with a voice not unlike Darth Vader without the special effects, which is to say, a voice like James Earl Jones.

We began with an incredible journey through the solar system, thanks to state of the art special effects. Sadly McFarlane's production is free of his trademark humour, and things are played with a pretty straight bat, although he may be having a subtle giggle by placing Neil in something that looks very much like a shiny sex-toy as he flies through the universe showing us what makes it tick.

Delightfully, it was filled with many things I didn't know: "Mars has as much land as earth itself" while "Jupiter has more mass than all the other planets combined" and it has dozens of moons. Saturn has "millions of moons", or tiny snowballs that make up the rings. Also, there is no 'anus' in Uranus. This may be an American thing, but when Neil says "Uranus" it comes out as "Urine-is".

Disappointed as I was that there were no evil babies or obese New England dads to help tell the story, there was plenty of McFarlane's trademark animation.

This was employed to tell another story I hadn't heard, that of Giordano Bruno, the man who somehow figured out the infinite nature of the universe before Copernicus had even so much as looked through a telescope. (Although, according to this piece in slate.com, Bruno was a hundred years late to the party and possibly just a nut case.) Somehow poor old Bruno didn't see something closer to earth, the Italian Inquisition, and was soon put to death. There's no point arguing with some people.

That's something that Patrick Gower and every other journalist in New Zealand who finds themselves in front of Winston Peters knows all to well. To interview the man is essentially to be told off by him.

After a lengthy spiel about how New Zealand First is totally against the recent electrical asset sales and plans, if able, to "put back the system into one delivery of electricity throughout the country" Gower sought clarification, "So you will buy back Genesis?" Winston: "Yes". God, we were actually getting somewhere for once.

"Would you walk away from negotiations over that? Would you walk away?" continued Gower. But, as you probably guessed, we were soon shot back in outer space, entering a wormhole that even Sagan or deGrasse Tyson would struggle to grapple with.

Winston, did not answer with an earthly "yes" or "no", or even a "maybe", but came back with a lengthy telling off.

"You say 'you'! Straight away we're back talking about Winston Peters. The New Zealand First Party is having it's 21st birthday in July of this year, which means that we haven't been around because one guy has been running the show himself like a dictator ... In terms of walking away we're not even walking in until we get what we believe New Zealand economically and socially needs ... Paddy look, I'm not going sit here like someone in a star-chamber federal case in the United States while you think you're going to nail me down."

There was to be no nailing down in this particular "star-chamber" or any other I suspect, but it's fun to watch an attempt.

As a TV spectacle these encounters with Peters are unequalled, like the joy one gets from watching someone attempting to wrestle a greasy pig.

It's going to be an interesting ride to the election thanks to planet Winston, just as it's going to be an interesting ride through the universe on Cosmos.

Indeed, Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to describe both journeys when he says: "In this ship of the imagination, free from the shackles of space and time we can go anywhere."

* Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. National Geographic, Sunday's 7.30pm
* The Nation. TV3, Saturdays 9.30am.

Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

It began with Dr Who, in black and white, when it was actually scary. The addiction took hold with Chips, in colour. He made his mum knit a Starsky and Hutch cardigan. Later, Twin Peaks would blow what was left of his mind. He’s been working in radio and TV since the 1990s and has an award in his pool room for Eating Media Lunch.

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