Some weeks ago, I insisted that a friend of mine give the new Battlestar Galactica a try. He agreed, if I was willing to check out Firefly in return. It was a good trade.
Why is it that so many of the best shows on TV die quick, dirty deaths at the hands of network executives who just don't get it, despite clamoring fans and critically glowing reviews? Original Star Trek anyone? The fact that both series' were canceled prematurely may be the only thing that Firefly shares with Star Trek. Like Battlestar Galactica and the lion's share of post-modern Sci Fi, the days of space ships that resemble floating hotels, peopled by saints levitating two feet above the carpet are over. Though I am an avowed Star Trek fan, I still find myself saying, thank God and good riddance.
Firefly, created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel—both of which I have no desire to check out) is a blending of two primarily American genres—the Western and Science Fiction. While spaceships fly in the sky overhead, cowboys armed with laser blasters herd cattle and stumble out of saloons below. The dialog is laced with the vernacular of one too many John Wayne movies. Trust me, while it may sound dissonant, it works like a charm. You will come away wondering why no one fell upon this concept years ago.
Firefly follows the exploits of a band of interstellar smugglers. After a galactic civil war in which the United States and China have fused to become the world's last great superpower, Captain Malcolm 'Mal' Reynolds, a renegade veteran (on the losing side) now turned smuggler and rogue (basically Han Solo with a six-shooter), finds himself the commander of a small spacecraft named Serenity. Serenity bounces from planet to planet, smuggling cargo, pulling off small crimes and desperately trying to outrun and evade the authorities.
Serenity is inhabited by an eclectic crew--squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal--first mate Zoe, who fought beside Mal in the war; her husband and Serenity's comical pilot, 'Wash'; brawn-over-brains grunt, Jayne—yes, Jayne is a guy; a young and cherubic engineer, Kaylee; Shepard Book, the ship's resident priest; the stunning courtesan, Inara who is really in love with Mal; and two fugitives—Doctor Simon Tam and his deranged, yet psychical powerful sister, River whom he rescued from a government facility where, for reasons unknown to any of them, most of all River, she was undergoing horrifically invasive mental tests. The characters work, not only because of the strength of the actors, but because they inhabit established genre archetypes. The cast is an amazing synergistic ensemble—whose love and fun with one another is obviously a product of a genuinely enjoyable working environment.
Firefly is a delight of a show. Never taking itself too seriously and not afraid to layer on a bit of cheese now and then, the 15-episode series sparkles with wit and humor. While the stories themselves are not deep or profound, the writing certainly is. The massive sets are impressive. The special effects, chock full of pre-Galactica crash zooms and rack focus', are terrific. The music, a fusion of Asian and country/western, is spot-on.
Though the show was canceled by Fox despite a massive fan protest, it remains a cult hit. So much so, that it spawned one of the best-reviewed films of last year, Serenity (trailer). And thank goodness for it—without the questions the film managed to answer, Firefly's fans would be doomed to perpetual bewilderment.
I heartily recommend Firefly. If you're in the mood for fun stories, superb writing, creative execution and something you've probably never seen before, give this aborted series a try.