Last night, Phil Plait rained destruction and death from the skies into millions of homes across the United States. I am of course speaking of the debut of his 3-part pilot of Phil Plait’s Bad Universe television show on Discovery Channel.
About a year ago, Phil embarked on a mission to bring his book, Death From The Skies, into a television series. It was a super secret project that Phil kept pretty close to his chest. At the time, and up until the last few weeks, all that folks knew was that Phil was involved in some sort of project for television. I remember talking to Phil about it at TAM8 and saying to him “I know you can’t divulge the details, but my guess, is that the project is akin to something like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series, but more parochial, concentrating on the realm of astronomy.” Phil did not say a word, and just kind of stared at me as a smile crept across his face. I wondered at the time if I had guessed closely enough, or if he was a bit taken aback with honor that I would suggest a comparison in any way to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Now that the first episode has aired, I can look back and say it was probably a little bit of both.
Episode 1 of Bad Universe concentrated on asteroid and comets striking the earth, and the potential devastation that will occur when a large enough extraterrestrial chunk one day, inevitably, slams into us. The devastation is unmistakable and inescapable. Fortunately, we have people like Phil and others like him in science laboratories around the world working on the theories and the means to turn inevitable destruction into a survivable scenario. In a presentation style reminiscent of The Mythbusters, Phil travels the country to talk to these specialists and to put their theories of global preservation to the test. Explosive materials, ballistics, physical representations of asteroids and comets, and lots of cameras are the tools at work. The processes are purely scientific. The results are enlightening, and in some cases, downright encouraging.
I was left with only one lingering question at the end of the episode. Why was Syndey, Australia the thematic target of this cosmic annihilation? Doesn’t Phil know that I and the rest of the SGU and our families will be in attendance at TAM Australia this coming November in Sydney? My wife shot some awkward glances my way each time we saw those asteroid chunks raining down on Sydney, and the aftermath shots of Sydney were none too comforting either. Good thing my daughter wasn’t awake to start asking me questions about why we are heading to the city that is ultimately doomed. (I am half-kidding, of course).
Having gotten to know Phil Plait as I have over the past several years, the most enjoyable overtone to the entire episode was that Phil was being Phil. He was not trying to put on an unnatural persona. Phil was being himself, exactly as I’ve come to know him. The little comic-book-like graphics and titling fit in quite nicely with Phil’s personality and overall vision. He is a big-time fan of science fiction with a tinge of geekiness that makes other geeks (like me) appreciate his style, substance, and humor. I very much liked his contributions to the pilot episode of The Skeptologists, but Bad Universe is Phil Plait at his best in his natural environment.
When I was a teenager, I dreamed of a career in astronomy. Astronomy was always my favorite science subject, and still is to this day. So when I see someone like Phil doing what he has done with his career, I feel happiness for him that he had the wherewithal to follow through on his dreams and interests that has ultimately led him to this 3-part mini series on the Discovery Channel. With Bad Universe educating the masses about the astronomical perils that lie beyond our sky, Phil is not only doing what he loves to do the most, but he is really good at presenting this material about a subject that effects every person and living creature on the planet.
I very much look forward to next week’s episode.