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Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy TV

Review: StarTalk – Series Premiere

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Neil Degrasse Tyson had a large amount of success with the series Cosmos, so I expected that success to translate to his new Natgeo series, StarTalk. Even the show’s tagline, “Science and pop culture will collide,” seemed to point to something that would be a blend of entertainment and informative programming. Unfortunately, the format leaves the show feeling more like a self-promotion of Mr. Tyson, and causes it to fall flat.

Episode Recap

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Neil Degrasse Tyson talks with George Takei about the science of Star Trek and his personal experiences with the show and its creators. Co-host, Leighann Lord, and special guest, Dr. Charles Liu, explore the science and ideals that make Star Trek such an iconic show.
Throughout the show, there is discussion of how Star Trek introduced ideas that have since been translated into real life in a variety of ways. From cell phones to automatic doors, much of the technology of the show has been explored by people who were inspired by the possibilities that technology could offer.

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By the episode’s end, even Bill Nye has something to say about what makes Star Trek special. Referencing the fact that most science fiction takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity must struggle to survive, Nye briefly discusses how Star Trek is a hopeful series. Instead of barely surviving, the denizens of the Star Trek universe use science to eliminate the problem of world hunger and poverty, proving that, “we can all, through science (dare I say it?), live long and prosper!”

Review

I can sum it up with one word: disappointed. The StarTalk premiere was basically promoted as an interview of George Takei which would focus on the science of Star Trek and how it has influenced science and culture. But that’s not really what it is.
First of all, the interview with George Takei is pre-recorded and there are only brief snippets of it shown. Even in those brief clips, Tyson seems to do most of the talking, and I was just left wanting more from Takei and a lot less from Tyson. On the positive side, whenever Takei does speak, it’s great. He even talks about his time in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, which I was previously unaware of.
Since the interview with Takei is largely background, it leaves a lot of time to be filled by the host, co-host, and guest. There are some bright spots when the three were talking, but Tyson quickly shuts those down since it’s clear they aren’t in his field of expertise. Seriously, for a man who claims to be a fan of Star Trek, Neil Degrasse Tyson seems unable to hold a conversation with real fans. Lord and Liu are obviously huge fans of the show and Tyson makes sure to redirect the conversation whenever they manage to actually talk about the meat of Star Trek.
While the show has some definite highlights, I was left thinking that Dr. Charles Liu would have been a better host for the show. The guest line-up for future episodes looks pretty good, so I’ll continue to watch and hope that Mr. Tyson will eventually let someone else share his spotlight, or maybe just bow out entirely.

Content Warning

Language – I was very surprised by the cursing in the show. Some was bleeped out, but others were not (a**, h***, sucks).
Spiritual Content – Since this is a show about science, there is nothing about God within the show. However, evolution is taken to be a fact and discussed as a foregone conclusion. The possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is also discussed, as well as the possibility that there could be something other than carbon-based dating, which could raise questions regarding creation.
Positive Content – There is much discussion of diversity and prejudice. The idea that the strength of the starship Enterprise lies in its diversity is especially compelling, and the fact that this diverse group of people can handle the discussion calmly and without any kind of derogatory comments is refreshing.

*Photos courtesy of natgeotv.com