The final story in the first episode this season is about Karl Iagnemma, a scientist and fiction writer. It goes into depth on his growing up, how he came to both a top engineer and respected author, and why the vast majority of people have difficulty managing these disparate activities.
Nova scienceNow has the wonderful ability to take stories that could rapidly devolve into hyper-specific scientific techniques and pursuits and explain them to the average viewer. This episode uses a lot of computer graphics to animate asteroids, space shuttles, and the insides of elements. In virtually every case the graphics are not what someone accustomed to multimillion dollar Hollywood films is accustomed to. But when used correctly (as with the example of the inside of elements) it makes no difference — they are clear and perfectly illustrate the show’s points. However, there are moments during the asteroid piece with Neil Tyson standing in front of a green screen where the effects do look cheesy and don’t add to the story or episode.
I found three of the four stories told in the premiere to be completely riveting. The one that I personally could have done without was the final one, on Karl Iagnemma. It’s not that Karl’s story is run-of-the-mill in any way, but I didn’t believe it to work in with what the rest of the episode was about. Karl’s story’s main focus is on him, whereas the other stories, while they do focus on specific people, use the people to illustrate the larger story, as with the overweight families that were discussed in the piece on the “fat gene.”
Even so, Nova scienceNow is a wonderful example of how to tell important scientific stories to mainstream America without dumbing them down and without talking over people’s heads.
Nova scienceNow will premiere Tuesday October 3 at 8 pm on PBS.