Author’s Note: I’m going to give all of you lovely readers fair warning: you will be reading the word “perfect” a lot during this review. I guess this might also act as a spoiler of sorts.
From Dead Like Me to Jericho, many great shows have come and many great shows have fallen before their time. Never has a show been so loved by its fans and so misunderstood by their network as the Joss Whedon creation, Firefly.
The show itself gave us the best synopsis in the opening prologue. So there is no need to reword it:
“After the Earth was used up, we found a new solar system and hundreds of new Earths were terraformed and colonized. The central planets formed the Alliance and decided all the planets had to join under their rule. There was some disagreement on that point. After the War, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple: find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”
~Shepherd Book (Ron Glass)
Premiering in September of 2002, Firefly lived a short and confusing life on Fox until the plug was pulled after only three months and eleven of the finished fourteen episodes aired. When ratings for a new show are low, it’s usually due to disinterest by the public in the content of the show, but the low ratings for Firefly were entirely the fault of Fox themselves.
If you were to watch Firefly today (just as yours truly did) via BluRay or Netflix, you would be watching the episodes in the intended order. If you were to go to the Wikipedia page and read the episode listing, the script order vs. the airing order is enough to catch your brain on fire. Even before the show started, Fox rejected the intended pilot episode and forced Whedon and Executive Producer Tim Minear to write an entirely new episode to serve as the pilot, “The Train Job.” Reading that doesn’t do any justice to the damage this caused. Firefly has a linear story and showing the show out of sequence made the plot hard to follow and left the audience blaming the writers for terrible storytelling, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Once you watch this show in the proper order, you come to realize that Firefly isn’t just a fun space opera, but a wonderfully written, serious character study (not the “action-comedy” that Fox advertised). The writers managed to perfectly balance drama, action, and humor, which is something we rarely see anymore on TV. Every episode delved deeper into the characters and gave us more reasons to love them without going overboard with backstory (keeping the past of Shepherd Book a mystery, for example, was perfect). There was a point while watching the episode “Ariel,” when I actually said aloud, “Ahh, man…” because I was actually disappointed with Jayne (Adam Baldwin). Even though the writing does some heavy lifting, the actors are the ones that make it work.
Firefly features an ensemble cast which benefited the show greatly. Every actor had nearly the same amount of screen time and felt equally important to the show. This is the first time that I can say with 100% certainty that the casting for a show was literally perfect. Every actor was sincere in the portrayals of their characters and almost instantly loveable. The only character I didn’t immediately like was Morena Baccarin’s Inara, a Companion (this is basically a high-class escort in this future). I thought Baccarin’s performance was stiff and lifeless. As the show moved along, I realized that was the point of the character. Inara was meant to be shown as a very proper lady so that when she did break down and show emotions, it would be that much more impactful. After the events of Firefly’s fourth episode, “Shindig,” I really began to care about and understand the character. That was in large part due to Nathan Fillion’s performance as Captain Malcolm Reynolds.
Nathan Fillion is absolutely adorable as Mal, the fearless leader and owner of Serenity, the ship. He’s brave and wise but also has a very ditzy side to his personality. When he finds out that he has secretly been married to a young girl named Saffron (Christina Hendricks), his reactions to the various situations are priceless. Fillion gives a very heartwarming and refreshing performance. Very rarely do we have a leading man whose personality is so relatable. If anyone else had been in this role, the character wouldn’t be remembered. Nathan Fillion’s role on the show was very important but really paled in comparison to that of Summer Glau.
The young actress was guest-starring on Angel when she caught the eye of Whedon. He called her in to audition and test, on the same day, for the role of River Tam. River is a highly intelligent child prodigy who has been experimented on by the Alliance. She is rescued by her brother, Simon (Sean Maher), and smuggled aboard Serenity. It would have been very easy to play this character as just an over-the-top crazy girl with hints of normalcy, and I’m sure most actresses would have gone that route. Glau, on the other hand, brings the role a heartbreaking innocence. There were plenty of times that I found myself saddened by just how scared she was to not know what was wrong with her and the toll she believed she was taking on her brother. Next to Shepherd Book, River was the most fascinating character on the show, but easily the most important.
I had a lot of friends tell me that I needed to sit down and watch Firefly, but it took me roughly 3 years to do so. To be honest, I feared that the show might not have aged well. You know what it’s like: You go back to watch a show, either new to you or one you loved growing up, and you find out how terrible the sets and effects were. My thought process was that older sci-fi movies already look dated, so an older sci-fi TV show would look awful. The last thing I want is to be taken out of the experience by some wonky set flaw or goofy-looking CGI. As it turns out, the effects of Firefly stand up today. I mean that literally, the effects that I saw in Firefly were leaps and bounds better than anything I’ve seen in… let’s go with Once Upon a Time. There was only one time that my enjoyment was interrupted by a very noticeable flaw: the baby in the episode “Heart of Gold” (when you watch it, you’ll see what I mean). A particularly nice touch that I’ve gone on and on about (just ask my wife) is the silent scenes in space. It seems that a lot of movies or TV shows just can’t stop themselves from adding unnecessary and inaccurate sound effects to their space scenes, even if it is scientifically incorrect. For me, besides accuracy, it brings a nice level of tension to the scene. There was one sound that I hated: the theme song.
Monday night was a bittersweet night for me. I was so excited to watch the season (series) finale of Firefly but was upset because it was over. Never have I watched a show that drew me in from the start the way that this show has. Make no mistake about it; Firefly was a perfect show that was terribly mishandled by its network. By rearranging the episodes, giving it a shitty timeslot, and cancelling it before it had its full run, Fox sent a message to audiences that this show wasn’t worth their time. I’m telling you this as someone who works two jobs, writes for this badass website, and generally has no time to spare: Firefly is worth every second of your time.
Now, if only there was a movie that could help with this feeling of want left after the premature series finale…
All Images Courtesy of 20thCentury Fox