Television

Bryan Cranston narrates ‘Big History’ exploration

 
 
Brian Cranston
Brian Cranston
Jordan Strauss / AP

Associated Press

Bryan Cranston has an authoritative voice, which by itself would qualify him to narrate Big History.

But there’s another reason Cranston is a fine choice for this new docu-series, which pledges to reveal “one grand unified theory” for how every event in history (13.7 billion years of it) is intertwined by science. Cranston, after all, starred in the recently concluded drama Breaking Bad as Walter White, the nation’s favorite former high-school chemistry teacher.

“Walt was a passionate teacher,” Cranston says with a laugh, “and even through the dastardly deeds that he found himself doing later on, he was still a teacher: He taught Jesse the chemistry of cooking meth.”

Breaking Bad is behind him, and now, in Cranston’s current TV project, he is as much student as teacher as he confronts each script for the 17-episode series, which premieres at 10 p.m. Saturday on H2, an extension of the History channel.

“The series uses science and history to show how various things that we take for granted these days had their origins thousands of years ago,” Cranston says by phone from the Los Angeles studio where he is taping his commentary.

Two half-hour episodes of Big History will air on premiere night.

The first, The Superpower of Salt, reveals its subject to be far more than the thing you cut down on if you have high blood pressure.

“New York City wouldn’t be the city that it is without salt,” Cranston says in the episode. Moreover, salt helped determine the road system of America and beyond: It “has silently engineered our global map.”

Salt’s all-important role in animal life was demonstrated eons ago by the genesis of the egg, a portable container for salty water that allowed a creature to leave the sea for dry land to procreate there. (The amniotic sack in the womb serves as a personal ocean for the fetus, he notes.)

The second episode, Horse Power Revolution, makes clear the noble equine’s legacy goes deeper than pulling a plow and toting Paul Revere on his midnight ride. It was early nomads in Central Asia some 6,000 years ago who first rode horses, Cranston reports.

Among many unexpected benefits the horse spurred was pants. Citizens of ancient Rome wore tunics, which were impractical for riding horses, as Roman soldiers must have realized anew while battling barbarian enemies who sported this sartorial innovation. The Roman cavalry soon got on board. From there, pants became the rage for clothes horses the world over.

Big History began as a course developed to help students better understand the world by revealing “big picture” connections between fields of study. A free version is available online at bighistoryproject.com.

“I love learning how a moment in history carries through to today’s life,” says Cranston.

Asked what kind of student he was, he recalls, “I was good when I wanted to be. And I could get enthused about any subject if a teacher made it come alive.

“That’s what this series does. It describes the relationship we have to our history. It explains how and why this is important to me. That’s what’s key!”

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