After spending last night playing the board game with a couple of friends I felt like it was the right time to talk about one of my favourite TV shows, Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” and the follow up movie “Serenity”. Back when I was in high school I came across this little gem while surfing channels late at night where it had been relegated by Australian commercial TV. After a couple of weeks of raving about it to my best mate at school he jumped on board and neither of us missed an episode. We were both crushed when we learned it had been cancelled and I ordered the box set from the US for about $70 (it did not appear in Australia until the movie was released). The release of “Serenity” in 2005 offered a bit of closure after we saw it opening week but still “firefly” remains for me one of the best TV series ever made especially in the Science Fiction genre which is often plagued by clichés and generic storylines.
A massive “Buffy” fan from an early age the fact that “Firefly” was the latest Joss Whedon project never really entered my mind back when I started watching even though his trade make wit makes the series. The storyline and character of Malcolm Reynolds played by Nathan Fillion grab my attention from the start as a roguish smuggler who was torn between his desire to make a buck and do the right thing in the ‘Train Job’. Immediately as a Star Wars fan I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with Han Solo (obviously a common feeling since the production of Han and Mal Associates t-shirts) which made me want to keep watching. Beyond this first impression the character is quickly revealed to be far more than Star Wars knock off as Mel is plagued by the failure of the independent movement and battle of serenity something that Han never has to deal with. However, there is more to ‘firefly’ than one character and it is the relationship between crew members and their little quirks that make the show, whether it is Jayne’s (Adam Baldwin) macho attitude, Wash (Alan Tudyk) playing with dinosaur figurines in the cockpit or Zoe’s (Gina Torres) badass solder routine it all create a tight nit feeling of family. The fact that all the cast returned for “Serenity” shows the joy they had working on set and this comes across in the performance as they seem to genuinely care about each other and naturally share banter which is the core of the show.
The main entertainment might come from the characters, but it is the unique premise of the series and the unusual combination of different genres that still shows a lot of scope for development and really set it apart from the rest of the genre. Starting with ‘The Train Job’ as the pilot was aired out of order the audience are left with a lot of questions even before the opening credits as the firefly transport Serenity roars to life over a western style bar brawl. On first impression this is a bit of shock but as you continue watching the genus of “Firefly” quickly reveals itself. The show is largely based on the separation of the wealthy on the central planets emphasised in episodes like “Ariel” or “Trash” and those who are forced to struggle for survival, it is therefore an extension of the inequality present in our own society. This also reinforces the reality that the ‘verse was recently torn apart by war and therefore the defeated communities also need to deal with economic and social recovery largely without the help of the Systems Alliance which is too busy policing the wealthy that supported them in the first place. After watching the whole series it’s clear that Whedon has tried to imagine a future based on our current world. This includs the proliferation of corporations in the form of the omnipresent Blue Sun which if you watch the special features is likened to coca cola but is probably more in line with Apple or Google today. Constructing a future based on the present is also behind the Anglo-Chino fusion that makes up the surrounding culture as the USA and China as the major economic and political powers of today would survive the destruction of ‘Earth that was’ and form a new culture as humanity spreads into space.
This gives the series its uniqueness, but I also found that it also creates a sense of realism despite the odd combination of horses and spaceships. Primary this is because ‘Firefly’ unlike most other Science Fiction series or films does not suggest that humanity in venturing out into the black would suddenly fine peace and become united since if history has shown us anything it is our undeniable capacity for conflict. Secondly, the Anglo-Chino fusion also does not assume that western culture has become the dominate and only human culture while also not going overboard and suggesting that cultural boundaries remained the same after the destruction of earth. The whole thing makes the world of ‘Firefly’ rich viewing based on a level of complexity only someone like Joss Whedon can create.
The movie picks up on these elements and follows one of the plot threads started in the series however due to the limited running time the complexity is simplified and never really explored. In a way that means the premature cancellation of “Firefly” by Fox leaves a lot of perspective plots undeveloped and in some ways, it is primed for a second run. Previously, Netflix has likened “Firefly” to other cult classics like “Twin peaks” with a decreasing fan base however my experience is that Browncoats like myself haven’t lost any passion and since 2002 when the show first aired increased in number (possible because we happen to sell it to anyone we think will like it). Perhaps that means at some point it will go the way of other classics like “Twin Peaks” and the “X-Files” but this could only work with the return of Joss Whedon alongside Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres and the rest of the cast and with all of which having moved on to more recent success it seems unlikely.
Regardless of the absence of any future, do yourself a favour jump onboard because the whole thing is like one mighty fine shindig. It doesn’t last long but you’ll be talking about it for years.