Tomorrow I am going to post a review of Serenity. But I realized before I post the review, if I am going to talk about Serenity, I have to talk about Firefly first. Serenity is one of those movies where you really can’t go into it without having seen the television series that preceded it. Firefly was created by Joss Whedon and I have discovered that there are in my experience, two reactions to anything created by Joss Whedon or even the mention of the man himself. You either love him or you hate him. There really doesn’t seem to be much of an in between.
Firefly was Joss Whedon’s brainchild after Buffy and Angel but before Dollhouse. I could pitch the show as the post-civil war American South and West set in space. America is still an extremely divided country in more ways than one. There are many places in the South where the Civil War isn’t really over. So, either this concept is a brilliant way to touch on those issues (not likely) or incredibly tone deaf (most likely.) This feels about as tone deaf as Hart Hanson making Seeley Booth the allegedly the descendent of John Wilkes Booth in Bones. In fact, Joss Whedon upped the ante on Hart Hanson by creating a bounty hunter character named after Jubal Early, a famous Confederate Civil War General. To create more tension, the character was played by an African American. (This was not a good idea.)
The controversy factor was high just with the concept. Add the fact that this genre of the western in space was untried added more risk to the venture. Then Joss and the Fox executives squabbled over some of the characters, including Zoe. Joss got his way. Fox didn’t like his pilot so they forced Joss to make a second pilot episode. Fox ordered thirteen episodes. It seemed a miracle that the show got made at all. The show was then aired out of order and kept jumping time slots. By the end of the season, the ratings were abysmal and two of the more controversial episodes, War Stories and Heart of Gold were never shown. Fox cancelled the show and that probably would have been the end of the matter, except it had garnered a not very quiet cult of fans who wanted more. And this was the age of the internet so they petitioned and they protested and they eventually got what they wanted, a movie to close up the loose ends that Firefly had started.
It wasn’t until a few years later and the comics started appearing and the rumors started leaking about what Joss had planned for the future seasons of the show at that time, that the fans finally started murmuring to each other that maybe they were better off with just the one season and the movie they had. There are still rabid fans out there. Beware the Browncoats.
Firefly is your typical Joss Whedon fare. An ensemble cast of characters who work together as a pseudo-family and exchange smart remarks, snark and bad jokes along the way. This tends to be the Joss Whedon formula. In this iteration instead of fighting evil or helping the helpless, they do crime. Dollhouse stepped out of this formula and wasn’t quite as strong for a Joss Whedon project.
Firefly is a submarine show. This was brilliant, recalling Star Trek, and its major weakness at the same time. Most of the action takes place on one set, the ship Serenity, to keep down costs. There are visits to planets and the occasional other ship. But the ‘verse isn’t adequately explored. The plots revolve around what odd jobs that Captain Reynolds is taking to keep money coming and the ship in the air and the two fugitives that he’s got hiding on his boat, Doctor Simon Tam and his little sister, River. Of course, every space story needs a good boogey man and in Firefly, there are Reavers. No one is quite sure what Reavers are or how they came to be, but the general consensus is that they are men who went mad on the edge of space and now are worse than demons. It’s better to die than be caught by a Reaver. Most of the story questions asked by the show weren’t answered before it was cancelled.
I enjoyed Firefly. I liked the space western concept even if the post-civil war America in space wasn’t exactly thrilling. They didn’t really do much with it except needle Mal from time to time. It stands up better over time in comparison to Buffy and Angel because it wasn’t so dependent on 21st century trends. However, due to the very nature of the show, the stories were more limited than I would have liked. We never really got to meet anyone on the ground for too long. Curiously, they still sell Firefly merchandise including games and bobblehead dolls. So there still is a market for the series or the concept somewhere.
If you like space stories and western style shoot outs with bar brawls and enjoy character snark and Joss Whedon style dialogue with a touch of horror, then I can recommend Firefly as a good show. If that’s not your thing, that’s fine. I completely understand.
Most of the problems with the show, unanswered questions, a broader network of planets and contacts, more time on the ground than in the air, could only have been solved with more time and more money. A chance that Firefly never had. Between actor and creator interviews, behind the scenes, RPG source books and even the comics, fans had a lot of fun coming up with their own theories on how things would end, plot wise or romantically. Of course, a lot of their theories turned out to be wrong when the movie came about. So much about a show and any creative endeavor relies on what the creator is feeling is right at that moment. In some ways, now that Joss is older and has had time to step away from the show, it would interesting to see where he’d take the series now. On the other hand, seeing where Buffy and Angel went after multiple seasons. I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got and create my own stories.
You can’t take the sky from me… indeed.