Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman

Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman (2010) – Morgan Freeman narrates physics advances and poses philosophical (and religious) questions about the universe.

I’ve been watching this show. Having a science background, it is like watching a train wreck in slow motion, backwards. In one episode, they bring on Will Wright and have him talk about how we’re all orchestrators in our own mini universes. Sometimes the camerawork makes me laugh out loud, like in one episode where the have two physicists flipping coins on two sides of a big laser or something.

But overall, the show is pretty interesting, and if you can stand the sensationalism, there is some great historical information. I liked the footage of the two guys sweeping bird poop out of a big antenna because they thought it was interfering with their signal – which is when they discovered that it was galactic noise coming from a black hole in our own solar system.

Anyone else watching Morgan Freeman (arguably) at his best?

Wait till you get to season 2. The show goes completely off the rails. From science fiction, to pure speculation, to outright fantasy. They ran through the “remotely plausible” in the first season, but there’s still air time to fill.

That’s a shame, really. There is so much interesting shit in the universe, and so many ways to explain and visualize things, that there should be no reason to go off into la-la land unless the creators of such shows think that everyone has already seen hours upon hours of History Channel and Discovery Channel specials about our universe and theoretical physics.

There is so much interesting shit in the universe, and so many ways to explain and visualize things, that there should be no reason to go off into la-la land

Why Sagan still rules. “To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

ive actually been enjoying this show. They do these hilariously redundant animated representations of the metaphors that physicists give them, and it’s always funny to hear morgan freeman tell some useless folksy anecdote at the beginning, but— as far as I can tell, as a layman— it still seems to be one of the most consistently smart pop-science shows around.

I’m interested: where does the show “go off the rails” for you? I havent seen all the episodes, but for example I thought does “does time exist?” was a pretty good one, probably on par with a scientific american article i had recently read on the same subject.

I’m not arguing that it doesnt overdo the visual stimulation. I’m also not arguing that it doesnt make me roll my eyes— how about how every genius physicist gets introduced through some everyman hobby of theirs? You’ll have a guy with a PHD in Particle physics, and he’ll conduct the entire interview with a guitar in his lap. “Oh hey, you just walked in in the middle of my jam sesh.”
For all its faults though, i still find it generally smarter and more compelling than any other modern serialized pop-science show. I dont think it’s veered into pseudoscience in any of the episodes ive watched*, though admittedly: a)I could be fooled, b) I consciously stayed away from an episode about a possible sixth sense.

Are there better (current) shows like this out there?

*possibly excepting the “god helmet” in the series premiere. Which just seemed like a pretty compromised experiment altogether.

Pretty much from the start (Is There a Creator?), but it gets particularly egregious in season 2 (Is There Life After Death? Is There a Sixth Sense? Etc.).

Really what I meant by the “off the rails” remark is that as the show went on, the number of times I would roll my eyes or do a face-palm during an episode steadily increased. To the point where I couldn’t take it seriously anymore.

Current shows (as in the last 5 years or newer)? Absolutely.

From the U.K.:
Bang Goes the Theory (BBC)
Wonders of the Universe (BBC) by Brian Cox. Visually incredible too.
Many of James May’s programs.

From the U.S.:
Nova Science Now (with Niel deGrasse Tyson, who rocks).
Surprisingly enough, the first two seasons of History Channel’s The Universe (by the start of S3 they don’t have much left to talk about but still keep going and going and …). If you’re looking for straight astronomy/cosmology/astro-biology stuff minus the mystical crap. Though not as deep or serious as the Brian Cox BBC series.

From Canada:
TVO Big Ideas series (all of them downloadable from TVO’s site). There’s a ton of talks on cosmology, alien life, life extension, quantum physics, energy, environment, etc. It’s a treasure trove, and without the sensationalizing and speculation that Through the Wormhole is so fond of.

Absolutely disagreed. There’s actual info in The Universe, yes, but from the very first episode it’s all couched in the History Channel’s current MO of “how shit can kill you.” Even seemingly innocuous episode subjects like Mars or the sun end up spinning off into dingbat shit like how Earth could one day become like Mars and how the sun could kill us all if all these particular things happen. Something like 1/3 to 1/2 of the episode about stars ended up talking about gamma ray bursts and other apocalyptic crap.

It’s actually probably better than I’m making it out to be but I initially tuned in hoping to see something along the lines of Cosmos and it turned out to be pretty heavily soaked in sensationalist drek.

The only one I can bear to watch is The Sky At Night, which I think is in the running for best thing on television (if you can fast forward serial killer looking people complaining about the weather in creepy night vision). Tried watching Brian Cox shows but there’s something about him that is just unwatchable in long form. Ah yes, now I look, here it is on wikipedia: “He also had some fame in the 1990s as the keyboard player for the pop band D:Ream”. However brilliant he is, that is pretty much all I see and hear when he’s on screen.

In TTWH’s half-defense, a lot of the mysticism crap in the episode about life after death(and in general) is kind of transparently there for “balance.” In any mainstream american show debating the existence of a soul, youre probably going to have to pander to that side a bit. Give them someone to champion their viewpoint.

Anyways, sincere thanks for this. I’m way psyched. Neil Degrasse Tyson is awesome. I’ll start working my way through the TVO site tomorrow.

You’re not wrong here. It is thoroughly drenched in History Channel’s tendency to sensationalize things. It is definitely the weakest of the series I listed (pretty much the Greatest Tank Battles of cosmology). Whenever I recommended it to family and friends, I always told them to watch selected episodes from the first two seasons. That said, it’s still better than Through the Wormhole S2.

Closest thing to Cosmos you’re going to get is Wonders of the Universe by Brian Cox.

Until Neil deGrasse Tyson gets cracking on that Cosmos remake/update.

Yes, that’s precisely it. And I can’t stand it. :(

And now that Matt mentioned Cosmos, I really wish someone made more Connections

I really enjoyed ‘How The Universe Works’, narrated by Mike Rowe on the science channel. There are only a handful of episodes (that are on constant re-run loop) and I don’t know if they’ll make any more.

Brian Cox on both Wonders of the Solar System/Universe is also very interesting.

If only they still had Feynman to link cracking open a safe with “unlocking the secrets of the universe.”

FWIW, my 6-year-old is totally grooving on the wormhole show - he’s watched every episode multiple times, and although much of it is way over his head (heck, “does time exist” was over my head :), some of the shows are right up his alley (like the show describing how alien life might evolve in different ways in different environments). And now he can rattle off random factoids like “time runs more slowly in a gravitational field”, without actually being able to back it up with math or anything :)

It’s definitely worth checking out - it’s certainly never dull, although it’s not going to help you with your dissertation or anything.

I always loved the old “Connections” series from 15 +/- years ago.

The first series of Connections actually dates from about 1980 (and it is by far the best). The later series (which were a half hour format instead of an hour, I believe) tended to retread the same ground, but it is still one of my favorite shows of that type. I wish things like that and Cosmos were on DVD for far cheaper than the ludicrous prices they often command. Cosmos and Connections are both great ways to present science and history to kids in a way that will actually show them how it can be both interesting and relevant.