"Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane recently took a beating at the box office and on the Internet for his vulgar Western comedy, "A Million Ways to Die in the West," but the controversial ex-Oscars host is responsible for one of 2014's best surprises on television.
The existence of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" is almost inexplicable: A big-budget, hourlong science program hosted by a bona fide astrophysicist and airing in prime time alongside "The Simpsons." MacFarlane's "Family Guy" fortune helped fund the continuation of Carl Sagan's 1980 PBS series, "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," spearheaded by Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, and host Neil deGrasse Tyson.
For 13 weeks, Tyson has taken viewers on a voyage through outer and inner space with gorgeous photography, feature-quality visual effects and animated segments overseen by Kara Vallow of "Family Guy" and "American Dad."
Tyson is a gentle guide through the intimidating universe, though not one afraid of controversy; observers in the science world accused Tyson of inaccurately turning a 16th-century monk with dissenting ideas about the cosmos into a revered scientific hero, and Tyson touts many scientific facts that large portions of the American public do not accept as such.
But if you view "Cosmos" as a starting point for further research, or as a diverting, entertaining, nonessential science lesson, it's a pure delight to watch.
The season wraps up at 8 p.m. Sunday on Fox with "Unafraid of the Dark," an exploration of dark energy. (I don't know what that is either, but I'm hoping Neil enlightens me.) Just two days later, the entire series will be available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The latter of which is where I believe "Cosmos" will truly shine, preferably on a large high-definition screen and a loud sound system. MacFarlane, a huge fan of film music, recruited "Back to the Future" composer Alan Silvestri to provide "Cosmos" with haunting melodies that certainly recall Silvestri's earlier work for "Contact," which was adapted from a novel by ... Carl Sagan. Four volumes of Silvestri's "Cosmos" music are already available for digital purchase.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.