Give him credit: Stephen Hawking doesn't pussyfoot around with the little stuff. Instead, the theoretical physicist tackles two imponderable questions -- "The Meaning of Life" and "The Theory of Everything" -- as part of his latest Discovery Channel "Grand Design" specials, airing back to back on June 9.
Produced by Darlow Smithson -- previously responsible for "Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking" in 2010 and last year's provocatively titled "Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?" -- the specials again feature Hawking detailing elaborate scientific theory, using a mix of digital effects and recreations to illustrate his points.
Frankly, I'm not sure I could explain string theory to you, even after watching the special. But to Discovery's credit, these are big-brain productions that essentially turn Hawking loose to contemplate what we know along with what might be, essentially telling viewers to come along for the ride as best they can.
More than anything, the Hawking projects demonstrate science can be exciting, even thrilling, if packaged and presented properly, while drawing a big, bold line between the parameters of science and faith. At the start of every hour, Hawking notes that despite his physical confinement, in his mind he is "free to explore the most profound mysteries of the cosmos." And damned if he doesn't do just that that.
Like virtually every other cable network, Discovery has done its share of pandering to chase after male (and especially younger male) demos, but there are no crab catchers, motorcycles or gold miners to be found here.
So along with the channel's commitment to nature documentaries in the form of international projects like "Planet Earth" and "Frozen Planet," this is quite simply the best Discovery has to offer -- not the stuff that pays the bills, perhaps, but a symbol of the channel's highest aspirations.
I guess what I'm saying is if the "Sitting on my ass watching TV" portion of life has any meaning, I suspect it would look something like this.