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Of Big Bangs and Cosmic Cookbooks

Sometimes the small screen hosts really big stuff. But big doesn't automatically mean great. Sometimes it does, though. Two new shows illustrate this pretty well. Poonam Saxena writes.

tv Updated: Oct 22, 2011 00:18 IST
Poonam Saxena

Sometimes the small screen hosts really big stuff. But big doesn't automatically mean great. Sometimes it does, though. Two new shows illustrate this pretty well.

Star World is showing Terra Nova, an ambitious television series set in the distant future and the remote past. This is what it's about: More than a hundred years later, mankind has made a mess of the planet and things are looking pretty grim. But scientists discover there's a way to go back in time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. So an intrepid bunch of men and women and their children go back to earth as it was millions of years ago in order to escape their gloomy present - and also to perhaps have a chance at setting right all the mistakes human beings made.

Even this somewhat bald summary should make you agree that Terra Nova sounds like a breathtaking sci fi series, full of wonder, danger and a certain melancholic undercurrent about the destiny of mankind.

But whatever little I saw of Terra Nova was a bit of a let-down. Yes, there are some scary-looking dinosaurs thundering through forests and chasing humans, who often end up with torn limbs, deep gashes or just dead. Apart from the dinosaurs, there is the computer-generated rather artificial-looking landscape of earth as it was all those years ago. Then there are the human settlers, who live in a fended off area, have their own internal politics to deal with.

Terra Nova is a nice adventure series with fairly stock characters and situations and dialogues. See it with the kids.

What it's not is a great sci-fi adventure series that knocks the socks off you. (So perhaps Steven Spielberg, who is the producer of the series, should just concentrate on making the next Jurassic Park movie).

But the show that does knock the socks off you is another science series - Discovery's new show, Curiosity, which started this week and seeks to answer questions that have haunted human beings forever. Who made the universe? Is there life on other planets? And so on.

The first episode, hosted by Stephen Hawking, asked the question: Did God Create The Universe? And it was spellbinding. I don't think I've ever seen a more gripping, rivetting explanation of the Big Bang theory. And I had no idea that Stephen Hawking had such a droll sense of humour.

Even if you know nothing about science and the very words 'quantum physics' give you an instant migraine, you will be enthralled. Because this is also a fun show. Did you know, for instance, that you could explain the origin of the universe through the idea of a Cosmic Cookbook, in which the three ingredients you need to build your universe are (a) matter (b) energy (c) space. And that the first two ingredients are actually one, or rather two sides of the same coin?

The episode also dwelt on the whole religion versus science debate. The Big Bang created the universe, but men of religion claim that it was God who created the Big Bang, and therefore the universe. Hawking has a rather simple explanation of why this is not possible: Time as we understand it did not exist before the Big Bang. So God could not have created the Big Bang because there was no time for him to exist in before that. Time began with the Big Bang.

What I'm trying to say is that for stimulating, illuminating, interesting, mind-bending viewing, I couldn't have done better than the first episode of Curiosity. Watch it.