Astrophysics on Late Night: The Debut of ‘StarTalk’

Education Entertainment Featured Space & Astronomy Technology Television

ng_startalkOur scientist-in-chief, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made his return to TV with the debut of StarTalk on the National Geographic Channel. Based on his successful radio show of the same name, Tyson attempts to blend pop culture and science, featuring celebrity interviews interspliced with banter between comedians and scientists.

The premiere featured legendary Star Trek actor George Takei–speaking on a range of topics from the science of Star Trek to a poignant story of his family being imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. The interview was divided over the hour, so Tyson’s guests, astrophysicist and true Trek fan, Charles Liu and comedienne Leighann Lord could add in their two cents.

I loved the Tyson reboot of Cosmos and his numerous appearances on The Daily Show. Nothing beats his live talks, where he waxes poetic about all things culture and science. And he’s my second favorite follow on Twitter, offering hilarious math observations while making you think. In my book, the man does no wrong. But somehow, StarTalk falls flat. At an hour, the show felt bloated for the average viewer. Takei’s interview was spread out over four segments, leaving me with a total lack of continuity. Neil struggled in the role of the host, tending to overpower his guests with his own takes.

However, when StarTalk turned serious with discussions on the cultural implications of Star Trek–diversity, race, and unity through exploration–the show worked really well. Hearing Charles Liu offer his take of how Asians have bounced between stereotypes in the U.S. was a highlight, but one that was often overshadowed by too many short quips. The show had a few fun very geeky points as well–Tyson attempts to explain warp technology by folding his tie featuring the Milky Way galaxy, only to be corrected by Charles Liu (the warp field doesn’t warp space, it allows you to travel through subspace at faster than light speeds). Tyson is clearly skilled as an interviewer, and I look forward to future conversations with Christopher Nolan, Chris Hadfield, President Jimmy Carter, and more. Here’s hoping Neil finds a rhythm with his comedian and scientist co-hosts, because science deserves to succeed on late night.

StarTalk airs every Monday at 11/10C on National Geographic Channel through June 22nd.

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1 thought on “Astrophysics on Late Night: The Debut of ‘StarTalk’

  1. I had the exact same thoughts. I was really looking forward to watching this (and will still continue to do so), but was disappointed with the format of the guests watching a video of the interview. Perhaps this would have worked fine as an audio podcast, but it felt awkward in visual form.

    Also, as you mention, Tyson ended up talking over his guests several times. At one point, I think Liu was trying to say something that he was never able to. Tyson even talked over Takei at some points, but Takei seemed to take it in stride. They did both seem genuinely interested in each other’s company.

    There was also this weird fist/arm pump that Tyson did at the end of each segment when he said “StarTalk”. Again, you can get away with that in podcasts, but not so much on TV.

    But I’ll continue to watch, and hope that things improve as time goes on…

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