This year was the 10th Anniversary of Firefly. Joss Whedon’s Western themed Space opera which we all feel was cancelled before it’s time and which fans would love to see return to our screens in some form or another. I’ve decided to look back on a show that so many people still talk about today and see just what it was that has left such a lasting impression.
Now before I start, I thought it might be a good idea to give some background on the show and its cancellation. My first ever encounter of Firefly was an article in a magazine that said the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer had now made a Vampire show in space (without sites such as Bad Haven around in those days, it was inevitable such misunderstandings would occur… cough…tell your friends about www.badhaven.com).
Ok, that wasn’t too bad, a slight misinterpretation of what a show was about. Fine, we can all deal with that. The next and possibly greatest stumbling block was Fox. There are rumours that the people who had green-lit the show had been fired and the replacements sabotaged the show to make themselves look better but this seems a little too conspiracy based for my taste. However, it can’t be denied that Fox’s handling of the show was appalling.
Firstly it was advertised as an “action-comedy” rather than the “character drama riddled with black comedy that was also a Western set in Space” it was (OK, even I’ll admit, Action-Comedy has a better ring to it). Also, that’s not too bad, it has a good mix of action and comedy so fair enough, if that’ll bring in the viewers then the show will speak for itself.
Coming this Fall: Firefly, a character drama riddled with black comedy, disguised as a Western set in Space.
Unfortunately they messed that part up too. Due to Fox finding the pilot “unsuitable” they aired the second episode first. This doesn’t even make sense, the pilot is there to set the tone for the series, introduce the characters and set up everything that will follow. What audiences got to see was a stand-alone episode for a show they didn’t have context for, about a random group of people on a spaceship who rob a train, with no knowledge of the dynamics aboard the ship, the mysteries that had to be unravelled or even who everyone was!
This isn’t the signs of a studio that was fully behind the show, so much as a studio that knew the end of the show was already in sight before it had even begun. Now the show performed modestly financially, critically and in viewer-ship numbers. However as we all know, it was cancelled after only 11 episodes (with 3 un-aired). The surprise came when it went on to become a cult hit upon it’s release on DVD. The rise in sales prompted people to once again take notice of the show and we were given a”second season”of the show in the form of 2005′s Serenity.
Tearing The Band-Aid Off!
Now here is where I may lose some of you so I’ll pre-face the next section with this “Even though I loved the show and film, I personally feel that what I’m about to say is true” (and feel free to dis-agree, just bear with me for the next section. There’s good stuff coming after, I swear.). Firefly isn’t the best thing that was ever made. Looking back on it now I can see that, the action scenes and effects could sometimes be pretty woeful.
The storylines are all good (and in some cases great) but are mainly stand alone with the River arc being something that is mainly sidelined with the knowledge that it is a story that will be told later. The one aspect that I think we’ll all wholeheartedly agree on is that the characters (and the actors in their respective roles) were spot on. This isn’t an attack on the show but me being brutally objective. The show was supposed to run for years and whilst it is a stronger first season than many other shows that I’ve gone on to love, Whedon obviously wasn’t going to give us it all in the first season.
We sometimes have a tendency to overlook that the first seasons of shows we love aren’t their strongest, everyone (cast, crew and audience included) is still trying to figure out what the show is and what makes it appealing. I’m by no means saying the show was bad, I’m just saying that it was a good show that had the potential to be great had it been given the chance. A fact that is only emphasised by the film Serenity. Now that there was a starting point and familiarity with the characters, the setting and the general storyline, Serenity absolutely blew me away. So whilst I have said, and stand by, my opinion that this wasn’t the best season of a TV show I’ve ever seen, when taken as a whole, (the 14 episodes and the film) this truly was one of the greatest Sci-fi stories ever told and I, for one, still miss it.
Here are the main reasons why:
Firefly takes the notion that “Space Operas”, such as Star Wars, are essentially Westerns in Space very literally. Whilst it feels like it shouldn’t, this blending of these two genres in a more obviously way than other “Space Operas” works surprisingly well. Firstly you have the nostalgic appeal of watching Cowboys getting involved in Bar brawls, riding horses (both living and in ship form) and shooting first and never quite getting around to asking questions.
Then you also have the fun and wonder that can only come from Sci-Fi, Star ships travelling through space, advanced technology and the sense that you never know where they’ll end up next. It’s also a pretty different but interesting look at how resettling on other Planets would work. When Terra-forming of other planets starts, will we go in with all the knowledge and know-how to get everything right? Off course not, it’ll be more like the pioneering days of the old west. People struggling to make something of the land/planet that will end up benefiting their ancestors more than themselves.
The fact that the “government” entity, now that Earth is no longer the only planet to rule, is a coalition between China and the U.S and the universal language is Chinese is a touch of brilliance (and quite astute in these financial times where China has shown itself to be one of/ if not the leading Super-Power). Another thing that brings the feeling off the pioneering old west into play is that the show is set after a civil war (granted on a galactic scale but a civil war nonetheless). The fall out from that is much like the fall-out of any civil war as things start to change under the rule of those who won and those left over from the losing side realise that everything they fought and bleed for means nothing.
Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion):
Hell, I’m 75 percent sure I’m straight and even I’m in love with this guy!
Now it’s easy to look at Fillion’s Reynolds as a cheap and cheerful cash in on another Sci-fi rogue and I think we all know who I mean. Yep, you guessed it, Rygel from Farscape……..what? You don’t see it……fine then, I’ll compare him to Han Solo I guess. They both have chisel jawed good looks (Reynolds himself even admits he’s “too pretty to die”), they both operate outside of the law when the chance presents itself, they’ll both do the right thing (even if it takes them a while to get round to it) and lastly, they both have a love of their spaceship that verges on being a romantic Sub-plot.
Great Kid. Don’t get Cocky!
It’s easy to do this and I’ll admit that watching Mal getting up to Hi-jinx and always having a quip at the ready is definitely one of the main reasons he’s so popular. But when you scratch beneath the surface, there’s so much more to him than just a cut rate Han Solo. One of the best things about Mal is that, underneath the quips and Devil-may-care attitude, he is a complex and dark character (one of the things that lead to Fox considering him a “problematic central character”).
He cares deeply for those on his ship, though this is usually shown through subtle gestures and biting mockery rather than open affection. I feel this is because he is essentially a man adrift, he picked the losing side in a war that cost him everything and now has no place to call home bar his beloved ship. Serenity, which by it’s very nature, will never allow him to stay anywhere long enough to plant roots.
Kicking some-one into an exhaust port. Mal’s perfectly justifiable reaction to anyone claiming Greedo shot first.
Also, and this might just be me talking, I enjoy the fact that he is a man who murders people. Now this might sound a bit macabre but bear with me. In an age where heroes are slowly becoming more emasculated and audience friendly, (Hell, to add more space rogue comparisons, look at how Han Solo’s shooting a bounty hunter first has caused so much trouble) what makes Mal such a refreshing character is that he is one of the few “good guys”on TV who exhibits a moral ambiguity that can sometimes leave you unsure how you should feel about what he’s just done.
In the show and film, he murders at least 4 people who any other hero may have forced to surrender or let go, because that’s what the good guys do. Mal’s main driving force is that he will do whatever is necessary to protect the people he loves and is unafraid to take his revenge on those who have wronged him. I think the moral “grey area” in which he lived is one of the biggest contributing factors to why people love him so much. The rules say that good guys can only kill bad guys. That the hero must be above the actions of his enemies. Whilst Mal does have limits when it comes to certain areas, he is unafraid to kill a man to protect his crew, to make a point or even if he thinks it’ll give him a cheap advantage.
I’m not sure about you, but I’d much rather see a man flirt with being considered evil by doing what he deems right at the time than a clean cut hero who will follow the rules even when they contradict what he’s trying to achieve (The best example I can think of is 24′s Jack Bauer. For a man who went rogue at least twice a season, he would never kill, or even seriously injure, someone considered “good”, Cops, etc, in the eyes of the viewing public for fear of negative audience reaction)