In hindsight, Firefly is a series that should have been a huge success – it had 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 on how to market it properly, airing it in a bullshit timeslot, episodes released out of order and for some reason promoting the show as a comedy rather than the drama it actually was. In 2013 Fox would repeat this ineptitude with the excellent Almost Human, but we digress.
By all accounts, the early cancellation of Firefly left the creators, cast and pretty much 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. Importantly another group of people were left absolutely heartbroken by the show’s cancellation – the fans, who did everything they could to get this decision changed. While this didn’t save the series it did lead to a feature film being released, Serenity was the big screen offering and named after the Firefly class ship.
We discovered Firefly largely by chance, at the time it was airing in the States we were quite heavily into Angel, another Joss Whedon show. Angel was excellent and it had probably one of our favourite character arcs ever in Wesley Wyndam-Pryce’s story (we wrote about this recently) so when we found out about a sci-fi show being created by the same guy we were instantly interested in checking it out.
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 body 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 two fugitives amongst them, one of whom is a girl who has been experimented on by the Alliance to turn her into a weapon and it happens that they would quite like to get her back.
One of the things that makes 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 around 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, with all the casting choices being 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 we 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.
The team’s 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. While the 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). It is this kind of character development that really drives the show although this may have ultimately been an element that played into its untimely cancellation. The focus on establishing a world and background in which to develop rather than playing to a crowd with let’s say, a shorter attention span – essentially it assumes that the audience is intelligent and doesn’t talk down to it.
With all that said we’ve also loved things that have come after the series, the film being an obvious starting point. Serenity was great, though it may not have had the same impact for those not already familiar with the characters and a love of the series. It does, however, do a very good job of offering some sort of closure which is something the abruptly cancelled series could not do. It also offers a reminder of how ruthless Joss Whedon can be as no character is really safe. In our humble opinion, it has the sense of adventure, action and the wit that we wish the Stars Wars prequels had been made with.
There has additionally been a number of comics books released that add to the whole mythology. There have been a number of 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. 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 we’re actually quite glad never got made. Information is detailed about Inara and how there had been subtle hints in the series to an underlying medical condition that was never revealed. Our favourite tidbit though is the revelation that Mal has been surrounding himself with people that represent aspects of his former self, lost after the war. Having now 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 this was included and makes me appreciate the show even more during repeat viewings (of which there have been many).
Basically it’s a show we love and while regretting there wasn’t more of it we are also glad that it never outstayed it’s welcome. There are a few shows 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, if there continues to be comics then I guess we can live with that and we will continue to recommend it to people as a matter of course. We’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 our 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 the team 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!