In hindsight Firefly is a series that should have been a huge success – interesting characters, excellent writing, a genuine sense of awe and created by Joss Whedon. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case as Fox didn’t have a clue how to market it, airing it in a bullshit timeslot, airing episodes out of order and promoting the show as a comedy rather than the drama it actually was, Fox would later repeat this ineptitude with the excellent Almost Human but I digress.
By all accounts the early cancellation of the show left the creators, cast and everyone who had worked on the show absolutely devastated. Nathan Fillion and Joss Whedon, amongst others, have often said how it was probably the favourite thing they’ve ever worked on. But on of those connected to the show another group of people were left heartbroken by the cancellation – the fans, who did everything they could to get this decision changed while this didn’t work it did lead to a feature film being created which was named Serenity after the Firefly class ship of the series.
I discovered Firefly largely by chance, at the time it was airing in the States I was quite heavily into Angel, another Joss When show. Now I thought Angel was excellent, and had probably one of my favourite character arcs ever in Wesley Wyndam-Pryce’s story (I may need to write about it at some point) so when I found out about the sci-fi show created by the same guy as Angel I was interested in checking it out and so when it was released on DVD when I was working at Virgin Megastore I picked it up as soon as I could (on staff discount naturally).
Basically the show follows a group of people on a spaceship as they travel around the galaxy doing less than legal jobs and staying one step ahead of the Alliance, essentially the governing dory of the universe. And this is where Firefly really shines as it builds a universe where the Alliance fought a war to force people to unify everyone under their rule, the independents who fought against this ultimately ended up on the losing side. The crew also happen to count 2 fugitives amongst them, one of whom is a girl who has been experimented on by the Alliance to turn her into weapon and it happens that they would quite to get her back.
I think one of the things that make it really stand out is the dialogue, which feels incredibly natural while also being sharp and witty at the same time, for instance they get round not being able to swear by cursing in Chinese. The characters are also amazingly realised, each character is unique and has their own motivations and quirks, and the casting choices are all spot on. Nathan Fillion is absolutely perfect as Mal, the captain of Serenity and main character. He’s a war veteran and fought against the Alliance, he’s an impressively multilayered character (which I will touch on later) and is fiercely loyal to his crew and everyone else is equally good, with even the guest stars integrating very well.
My personal favourite episode of the series is Out of Gas, the core story is of an emergency on the ship with everyone bar Mal being evacuated and while that main story continues you have multiple flashbacks over the course of the episode which show how members of the crew initially joined up on Serenity (not Simon, River and Book, who all come aboard in the pilot) and it’ this kind of character development that really drives the show. Of course this may have been an element that played into the shows cancellation as it really does focus on establishing a world and background in which to develop rather than being more interested in playing to a crowd with a shorter attention span, essentially it assumes that the audience is intelligent and doesn’t talk down to it.
With all that said I’ve also loved things that have come after the series, the film being an obvious starting point. Serenity was a great film, though it may not have had the same impact for this not already familiar with and with a love of the series. It does however do a very good job of offering some closure that the abruptly cancelled series could not. It also offers a reminder of how ruthless Joss Whedon can be as no character is really safe. In my humble opinion it has the sense of adventure, the action and the wit that I wish the Stars Wars prequels had been made with.
There’s also the comics books which add to the whole mythology. There’s been 4 collections so far, the first deals with tying up some loose ends between the end for the series and the film and the second follows the gang on a job that goes wrong. The third is of particular interest as it acts as backstory to Shepard Book, filling in the blanks brought on by a lot of hint dropping in the show and film, and the fourth collection is a direct sequel to the movie and deals with the impact of those events while setting up future story threads, such as River not being the only person to have been experimented on and the potential for another war against the Alliance. All in all definitely worth checking out.
Then there’s the Browncoats Unite 10th Anniversary special where a lot of new information can be learnt. There’s information about story ideas that people had, some of which were incredibly dark and I’m actually quite glad never got made, and information about Inara and how there had been subtle hints in the series to an underlying medical condition that was never revealed. My personal favourite though is the revelation that the people that Mal has surrounded himself with represents aspects of himself that he lost after the war, and having read a few theories about it the consensus seems to be that Book represents his faith, Jayne represents his greed, Kaylee his hope, Inara his heart, Wash his sense of humour, Zoe his loyalty and Simon his heroism, River seems to be a bit of a conundrum though with a lot of people pointing to her representing his damaged sense of self. Regardless of that it’s fascinating that a theme like that was included and it’s something that makes me appreciate the show more during repeat viewings (of which there have been many).
Basically it’s a show I love and while I regret that there wasn’t more of it I’m also glad that it never outstayed it’s welcome. There’s a few shows I’ve watched over the years that have gone on too long and lost the magic, either due to cast members moving on or just the writing owing the feel of what made the show great in the first place, if nothing else this is something that Firefly will never have to deal with and if there continues to be comics then I can live with that and I will continue to recommend it to people as a matter of course, I’ve managed to get a few people into it so far which is always reassuring.
The film has the distinct honour of having one of my favourite quotes from a film or TV series ever (though there are a lot of lines in both the film and series that would easily make a list were I to make one)
And really what’s not love about a show that takes its most violent character and gives him a hat like this: