(last updated on April 29, 2014)
I finally got around to watching Firefly, Joss “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Whedon’s short-lived Science Fiction Space Western series. I picked it up on a whim several months ago after hearing some buzz about it being cancelled before its time…a mere 9 episodes aired on Fox, at random times and in random order, before it disappeared. The complete series on DVD includes those 9 episodes plus several ones that have never been seen. With over a thousand reviews on Amazon and a solid 5-star ranking, I was hopeful that Firefly would offer a fix for my post-Farscape depression.
The look of the show isn’t your typical SciFi fare. If you’re used to watching SF with obvious visual cues, you wouldn’t think Firefly was the sort of thing you’d like. On the surface, the show looks like a western, from the dress to the accents right on down to the revolvers and lever-action rifles. There are no aliens, just humans.
Superficially, comparisons that come to mind are Farscape, Cowboy Bebop and Enterprise. You’ve got the rag-tag crew on a ship that’s trying to keep below the radar of the oppressive bad guys. It has a similar rough-and-tumble aura…there’s no prime directive here to get in the way. What I like about the show is the cast of characters…there’s 9 of them, and it’s an ensemble representing, of all things, a family. Farscape’s cast, by comparison, has sharply-defined characters that seem to share the same space. Firefly’s cast feels more maleable, wearing on each other and exuding a surprising warmth that belies their criminal exterior. While watching, I suddenly understood how a friend of mine felt about running his company in a particular way…there’s a morality that goes with being part of a crew, and that’s important. It’s not the same as “doing the right thing”, which leads to some powerful moments in later episodes.
There are other interesting touches:
- Everyone speaks Mandarin Chinese (albeit badly)…part of the premise is that the two major universal languages are English and Chinese. Apparently they get away with some interesting swearing this way.
There was a civil war and forced unification of the independent worlds under “The Alliance”…the captain was on the losing side, is sick of war, and keeps flying out a little farther into the Frontier.
The Cowboy aura permeates the show, from the expressions to the environments to the props. The inner worlds of the Alliance, however, are colder and more opulent in the mandarin sense.
There’s also a nice contrast in Alliance technology and ships…it’s kind of a blend between the Imperial architecture of Star Wars and Singapore.
I also like the theme song…it’s a ballad, like Enterprise, but it’s terser and reflects that independent Western desire to be free. The Enterprise theme song, is more of a Guns ‘n Roses gospel anthem.. I like it too, but it seems bloated and excessive by comparison:
Take my love. Take my land. Take me where I cannot stand. I don't care, I'm still free. You can't take the sky from me.
- There’s a lot of Buffyverse actor cross-polination, if you like that kind of thing. Captain Mal Reynolds was “Caleb” in the last season of Buffy, and Zoe was “Jasmine” in the second-to-last season of Angel. Yes, I’m a nerd.
The spaceship CG is different from the normal fare: it simulates hand-held cameras in places, with rack-focus and depth-of-field effects. They’ve also chosen to show the action without sound…when a scene is in space, it’s silent.
Kind of a nitpick, but the show seems to have avoided any real attempt at portraying realistic use of firearms. Maybe it’s to show how casual everyone is with guns, but it makes me wince when I see the allegedly experienced crew sweeping each other, fingers on the trigger, as they idly chat and gesture at each other. You’ll shoot your eye out!
p>It’s an inspiring work that clearly means something to Whedon. There’s going to be a movie in 2005, which hopefully will re-kick off the series. I’m looking forward to it. It deserves to come back.