You might come to One Strange Rock for its host, Philadelphia's Will Smith, but you'll stay for the astronauts.
Smith, who lends his celebrity to filmmaker Darren Aronofsky's new 10-part series for the National Geographic Channel — and who works some random Philly references into next week's episode — "just epitomizes joy," executive producer Jane Root told reporters at a NatGeo press conference in January. "Everything he does, it's about how joyous the world is."
And he doesn't use just his voice. He puts his whole body into it, playing with dogs in one episode, boxing in another, all while helping to illustrate the forces that shaped our planet and allow it to support life.
The visuals in One Strange Rock, are beautiful, occasionally strange, sometimes even otherworldly.
Rock's true stars, though, are people like Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, whose description in Monday's premiere of his first spacewalk is breathtaking even before he gets to the moment when contamination in his spacesuit blocked his vision in both eyes, and he was told he'd need to let some oxygen out of his suit to clear it. The episode, which is all about oxygen and the Earth, is called, appropriately enough, "Gasp."
In next week's episode, "Storm," astronaut and engineer Nicole Stott opens a chapter on the violent forces that helped shape our planet by recalling the first time she saw a shooting star — from space — and Hadfield talks about hearing objects "ricocheting off the hull" of a spaceship.
In all, eight of the people who've been privileged to see the planet from a distance help explain its workings to the rest of us. Beyond Hadfield and Stott, they include Jeff Hoffman, Mae Jemison, Jerry Linenger, Mike Massimino, Leland Melvin, and Peggy Whitson, who last year set a NASA record, having spent 665 days in space.
What interested Aronofsky about the astronauts, he told reporters, was that "if they went up in space for eight days or 600 days, they all had a very, very similar experience. And I think when you're here on this strange rock, it's hard to look outside it."