June 28, 2005

Firefly and Serenity

Last week I groused about Hollywood’s appalling lack of imagination. Today I want to thank Hollywood for saving us from Fox’s appalling decision to cancel Joss Whedon’s Firefly series - arguably the best science-fiction show in television history - before it could even finish its first year run.


Joss Whedon, as you may already know, is the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I never saw a single episode of either of those series, but if they’re anywhere near as good as Firefly I am going to have to get the DVDs now.

Firefly takes place in the future. It is not the politically correct utopian future of Star Trek. If you act like an asshole in Joss Whedon’s future you’re liable to get a fist in your face, if not a wrench slammed into the side of your head. It’s what you would get if you crossed Star Wars with a Clint Eastwood Western. And I mean that in more ways than one. As in Star Wars, the universe – most of the populated part anyway – is ruled by the oppressive imperial Alliance regime. The “good guys” are rogue rebels, smugglers, and thieves operating on the fringes of known space on frontier planets. And when I say “frontier planets,” I mean frontier planets. They’re Wild West outposts with horses, saloons, and laser-toting outlaws. It sounds ridiculous, but somehow it works brilliantly.


That’s the backdrop. Here’s the story: One group of smugglers who pilot and live on an outdated “Firefly” ship make a rogue’s living running errands (which often involve ripping worse people off) for big-shot criminals. They pick up a spooky young woman named River Tam, formerly a child prodigy who was abducted by the Alliance regime so they could conduct hideous, tortuous medical experiments on her. Her brother breaks his traumatized and brain-damaged sister out of the futuristic equivalent of Buchenwald and now they’re on the run from Alliance assassins. The Firefly crew is likewise hunted by the Alliance, now that they’re carrying fugitives, which only makes their little back-planet smuggling racket more complicated than it already was.

Fox cancelled the show before the first year was even up. They even brainlessly aired the two-hour pilot episode last. I have no idea why they pulled the plug, but Firefly’s fans pitched an epic-sized fit. They threw such a big fit that Hollywood decided to let Joss Whedon finish telling the story on the big screen. So Firefly will continue, in theaters this September, as Serenity.


I had not even heard of this show until recently. (I pay precious little attention to what’s on TV.) I heard about it from Patrick Lasswell who came over to my house and all but forced the DVDs on me.

“The movie is coming out in September,” he said. “And it is going to be huge. You need to be ready.”

I think he’s right. Firefly has developed a fanatical cult following since Fox replaced it with whatever forgettable series they replaced it with. The fans love it so much they’re working overtime on their own to promote the movie themselves. They’re even lovingly creating – by hand – their own posters, some of which you’re seeing here. (Thanks to fellow Portland writer M.E. Russell for the tip off.)


I’ve watched almost the whole series now, and I don’t think there’s a single line of bad dialogue in there. George Lucas should be utterly shamed by the existence of Firefly. It may not be as well known, but oh my God does it beat the pants off the hackneyed dreck he’s been cranking out lately. It beats Star Trek, too, for its gritty realism and its refusal to pull its punches and tell overwrought morality tales. The characters are fully realized human beings who live, breathe, grow, suffer, and change in the crucible of wrenching experience. It’s hard not to have sneaking affection for even some of the least likable characters in this story.

The Firefly universe isn’t necessarily one I would want to live in. It’s dangerous, rude, and oppressive. Still, it’s one heck of a place to spend a dozen or so hours, which is what you get if you order the DVDs. (I strongly suggest you do that if you have any intention of watching the story’s finale, Serenity, on the big screen.)

But even a dangerous, rude, and oppressive ’verse like Firefly’s has its free spirits, its lovable bad guys who – when you get right down to it – are really the good guys.


They certainly are the kind of people I’d like to hang out with if I lived in their world. I think I will cry if Joss Whedon kills off any of them in the finale.

A high-resolution trailer for Serenity is available here. Do go and watch it. I’ve seen it at least ten times by now, in breathless anticipation.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 28, 2005 8:25 PM
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