The Firefly legacy - Ten years later
|FEATURES - TV|
Still just as shiny as ever...
All too often, I find myself late to the party. There have been a vast number of television programs, movies, books and albums I don’t get a chance to partake of right from the start. Usually, I rectify the situation as quickly as possible, but sometimes, life gets in the way, and for whatever reason, it takes me longer than expected, at which time I all too often find out that it wasn’t worth the wait, and my expectations weren’t met. You see, back in 2002, work schedules and family issues had kept me from indulging in what was being heralded as the greatest science fiction phenomenon since Star Wars. I didn’t catch Firefly for a long while, always telling myself I would eventually see it, especially since every other geek on the planet was so rabid about how wonderful it was. Last year I even had an old friend exclaim that he couldn’t believe that I was allowed to write for a blog site that dealt with cult issues without having enjoyed one of the finest programs ever. Thankfully, not long after that my wife bought me an early Christmas present, the entire series on DVD. As I held it in my hands, I was nervous, mostly because I didn’t want my expectations to be stamped upon. I watched the series in only a few days, and those expectations were met and more. I cursed myself for not having watched this wonderful series before then, and have re-watched it again and again, each time enjoying it just that much more.
Firefly premiered on the FOX Network on September 20, 2002, and the world was introduced to a fantastic new universe from writer extraordinaire Joss Whedon. Whedon, who had already made his mark on the geek nation with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, presented a crew of a spaceship, Serenity, led by Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, played with perfection by Nathan Fillion. Mal was a Browncoat, a group who fought in the Unification War against the Alliance and their efforts to take control of the “'Verse”, the group of planets that were colonized by humans after leaving Earth, or “Earth That Was”, due to overcrowding. He is accompanied by Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres – Cleopatra 2525), his second-in-command and loyal friend from the war; pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk – A Knight’s Tale), who was hired on by the two and eventually married Zoe; Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin – V), a companion (future way of saying “prostitute”, but much more than that) who rents one of Serenity’s shuttles for her business purposes, even though she and Mal have strong feelings for each other; Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin – Chuck), a hired gun who is always looking out for himself in any situation; and engineer Kaywinnet Lee "Kaylee" Frye (Jewel Staite – Stargate Atlantis), a wide-eyed girl who is ever optimistic and seems to have an almost psychic connection to the engines. In the pilot episode, they pick up Derrial Book (Ron Glass – Barney Miller), a Shepherd (pastor), who works as something of a conscience for the crew. They also pick up Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher – Much Ado About Nothing), a young surgeon from a well-to-do family who is merely looking for passage to another world, and his sister who he smuggled aboard, River (Summer Glau – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), a gifted young lady who has been experimented upon by the Alliance, who are desperate to get her back.
In many ways, one could be quite vulgar and simply say it’s an amalgamation of bits and pieces of other popular sci-fi movies and programs. But it really runs deeper than that. You can certainly find archetypes of all of the characters in other sources, but the dialogue-driven story and Whedonesque quirks to the characters make them fresh and original. Mal could be compared to Han Solo, the smuggler with a heart of gold, a true space cowboy in every sense. However, Han’s own name reveals his true spirit, that of a loner. He’s never really comfortable with a crown, whereas Mal seems to revel in having a team, a crew to keep him company. It is true that Serenity needs more hands to keep her running that the Millennium Falcon, but even then, Mal seems to need the constant companionship. As for the Alliance, they are sort of a combination of the Federation of Planets and the Galactic Empire. At the core, they seem to have good intentions, wanting merely to give the population of the verse everything that one might deem necessary, like education, modern conveniences, and running water. At that same time, their benevolence is really a way to get everyone under their control so that they can make everyone just like them. The war that Mal and Zoe fought in was a war for individualism, for the chance to live their lives on their own terms. We have the core worlds, where everything is bright and shiny and everyone lives their lives in accordance with the Alliance and their philosophy, and then the outer worlds, some resembling the American Old West, some looking like large construction yards, and some just appearing like the prairies, with their small town look and farming communities.
The real magic of the program comes out of it being Joss Whedon’s creation, and these characters are truly fleshed out. Everyone has a backstory, a history, and each of them is complex in his or her own way. Even incidental characters are often given some sort of real history, and are more than cardboard cutouts meant to pass on exposition and speed along the plot. The eighth episode of the series, “Out of Gas”, actually tells the individual stories of how the crew came together, and gives more insight to Simon and River’s past. The ship is barely holding together, having that “lived in” feel to it, which makes the ship itself a character all unto its own. In fact, that is one of the truly realistic aspects of this future. The only Utopian aspect to it is anything in the firm grasp of the Alliance, and even then, it’s not a place anyone would really want to live. The crew of Serenity is also remarkable in that we don’t have rehashing of other sci-fi crews, outside of small comparisons, the closest of any of them being Mal to Han Solo. If anything, it could be seen on the same level as Red Dwarf, only in that it’s a crew of misfits, and even that would be a stretch. Whedon really created the first extended space crew family, to be completely honest. There’s a lot of mistrust, deceit, and backstabbing that goes on, but in the end, they all have each other’s backs (with the exception of Jayne, but even then, he usually can be loyal to his shipmates – usually).
Alas, as good as Firefly was, it was doomed from the start. FOX executives were antagonistic from the very beginning, first complaining about the character of Mal, telling Whedon he was too gruff and dislikable. Then they refused to air the pilot episode “Serenity”, because it contained too much backstory and dialogue, and not enough action. The crew then went on to tape the second episode, “The Train Job”, in order to appease the devils, and give them an action-packed pilot for the program. (“Serenity" was finally broadcast in December of 2002.) Then with bad scheduling causing poor ratings, FOX only aired 10 of the 14 episodes, leaving fans with no real closure. Fans rallied and soon fansites went up calling for Firefly to be brought back, but to no avail. Firefly became just one more casualty of FOX’s mishandling of programming. But fans were to get an unexpected treat.
[The next paragraph contains spoilers for the film Serenity and the Serenity comic books.]
The rights to the series had transferred to Paramount, and Whedon found a new ally who was enthusiastic about the property. After feeling wounded about the cancellation of the show, he was to get the news that Paramount was interested in having him do a feature film based on the series. And in 2005, fans got some semblance of closure with the release of Serenity, a motion picture that went more in depth into who River was and why she was wanted by the Alliance, and we learned who the Reavers (a cannibalistic clan who merely destroy everything they come in contact with) really were, and why the Alliance were always so eager to deny any knowledge of them. Whedon has also since released several comic books in the franchise through Dark Horse Comics, known for their continuation of Star Wars comics and taking over comics in the Buffy series from IDW Publications. The miniseries Serenity: Those Left Behind in 2006, miniseries Serenity: Better Days and the single shot The Other Half in 2008, and miniseries Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale in 2010, which finally answered some long held questions about Shepherd Book’s past, as well as the single shot Float Out. Then this last May the short comic story Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 - It's Never Easy was released as a flip-book with a new Star Wars comic for Free Comic Book Day. While the first few comics take place between the end of the series and the beginning of the film, Serenity: A Shepherd’s Tale takes begins with Book being fatally wounded in the film, and him flashing back to his past, and how his decisions and actions led him to this point in his life. Float Out and Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 - It's Never Easy take place after the film, the first dealing with some former colleagues of the crew buying a similar ship and naming it after Wash in honor of him, and relating stories about the fallen pilot, finishing with the revelation of Zoe’s pregnancy, and the latter set during her pregnancy and dealing with an attempted theft of the ship.
Whedon has gone on record in recent years saying that that is where the future of Firefly lives, in comics and on video. He has no plans to bring it back past that, but he has always said that that’s “not never”. And after all, he’s a pretty busy man right now with his feature film career and working closely with Marvel on various projects, not the least of being the upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D. series, and a future installment in the Doctor Horrible saga. That hasn’t deterred fans, though, as the crew has recently found out at Comic-Con panels where crowds have filled the seats, all because they love the show. Ten years later, and there is still so much love for this program. A love that one would only usually associate with other franchises of cult status, like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, or any number of comic book heroes. That’s a pretty high amount of praise for a show about a bunch of space cowboys and pirates.
I would love to think that maybe there’s a lesson in all of this for the imbeciles that run the show at FOX, but I seriously doubt they would even understand, being nothing more than Da-shiang bao-tza shr duh lah doo-tze (see, the show was also educational). And for the many Browncoats out there still showing the love, keep on doing it. They can’t stop the signal.
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