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Firefly

Firefly

What She said:

She

Even today, 10 years later, we hear about the ill-fated television series Firefly.  I don’t really remember it being on TV, but apparently it aired on the Fox network from September 2002 to mid-December 2002 when it was cancelled after 11 episodes of its original 14 episode package.  All 14 episodes were eventually made available to the public, and you can readily view them on Amazon Prime or through another online video service.  Despite its dismal ratings, it seems the show had a bit of a cult following, and so there was much uproar after the show was canceled.  It never got its proper ending.  The result of all this hoopla was the 2005 film Serenity, which followed up on the TV series.  Just last month at Comic-Con there was a special panel dedicated to Firefly

So, enough about that, let’s talk about the actual show.  It’s a space drama meets western.  Strange combination, I know, but it’s the humor of the show that allows this to work.  I remember when that Cowboys & Aliens movie came out, I seriously rolled my eyes so hard that I gave myself a headache.  How could a crossing of genres like that actually work out favorably?  Well, in the case of C&A it didn’t from what I’ve heard (I haven’t seen it).  But something about Firefly makes the whole crossing of genres fun. 

Firefly

Firefly follows the crew of the Serenity, a firefly-class spaceship that travels around a galaxy doing transport-by-hire work.  I should clarify that this galaxy is not the one we’re familiar with.  You see, the year is 2517, and man has outgrown his native home, and so a large population left, went to another area, and set up shop on new planets and moons.  Some planets are more welcoming than others, and some bear some resemblance to Earth.  The inner planets are more colonized, while some of the outer ones are a bit rogue, resembling the American Wild West.  There was a war between the Independents and the Alliance what was won by the Alliance, and so it seems that the galaxy is under their control.  But they really only care about certain planets, hence the non-governed feel of others.  That’s just fine by the crew of the Serenity, who try to avoid the Alliance as much as possible.

So, let’s meet the characters.  The captain of the ship is Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion).  He’s joined by first mate Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres), pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne, “companion” Inara Serra (Morena Bacdarin), mercenary Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), mechanic  Kaywinnet “Kaylee” Frye (Jewel Staite), and a few others that are picked up along the way.  The additional characters are runaway brother and sister due Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and River Tam (Summer Glau) and a Shepherd aka pastor Derrial Book (Ron Glass).  The status of Simon and River causes much drama throughout the season, and the Shepherd’s background remains largely veiled, seemingly to be explored in future episodes that did not materialize.

Firefly

The show’s trajectory is largely week-to-week with some overarching storylines.  Each week, the crew seems to get in some sort of trouble or finds themselves in a dramatic situation they need to escape from.  Their lifestyle is fundamentally risky, as they walk a gray area of what is legal for the sake of making money.  Each character brings their own quirks to the table, which, when they all combine, make the group highly intelligent and self-sufficient.  Mal is definitely the leader of the bunch.  He’s both merciless and also a bit of a pushover at times.  Like almost everyone in the group, he doesn’t seem afraid to kill if the circumstance calls for it.  And yet he has a soft spot for what he considers right and just.  There’s a romantic story arch that never fully develops between Mal and Inara.  Zoe and Wash are actually married, although Zoe certainly wears the pants in the relationship.  She’s close to Mal, since they fought together in the war, and is highly intuitive and tough. 

Some episodes of the show are clearly better than others.  The better ones have tight writing, exciting storylines, and lots of good humor.  Even the less interesting episodes still have good laughs throughout.  The episodes that work best are those that are most adventurous and quirky.  I particularly remember two with guest star Christina Hendricks as Saffron as being quite enjoyable.  Each episode is an hour long, and it’s easy to get through the whole season because it was cut so short.  Don’t expect episode 14 to be even mildly satisfying, as it’s clear the show had no intention of ending at that point.  Firefly isn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, but in today’s reality TV driven crapfest, it’s refreshing to come across something that’s a bit “outside the box.”  I would have loved to have continued to watch this show in future seasons, but that’s a fading dream for all those fanboys out there.  It’s worth noting that this is a Joss Whedon production, one that he seems quite proud of.  You’ll see a lot of carry-over between the actors in this show and some of the others he has produced.

Firefly wavers at times, but overall has great comedy, fun action, and good special effects.  The end result is a decent show that certainly ended too soon.

Thumbs up.

Firefly

 

What he said:

He

Joss Whedon has had a real interesting career so far. He got his start as a writer on Roseanne, but his career broke out when he created Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show was on for seven seasons and even had its own spinoff: Angel.   Angel was a success in its own right. It lasted five seasons. This past summer he found more success with a little movie called The Avengers (review here); and Cabin in the Woods (review here) to a lesser degree.  Buffy came out in 1996, but there was a lot in between then and now that didn’t have much success.

One of those projects was a show named Firefly. It only lasted 11 episodes before it was canceled. Unlike many of other failed ventures people actually wanted to see more of this one. DVD sales were strong and the show quickly gained a cult following. Fans refused to let the show go and rallied in support. Whedon knew there was still an interest and he tried to sell the show to another network, but couldn’t pull it off. He eventually turned it into a movie called Serenity, but that’s a story for another time.

Speaking of Serenity, that’s also the name of ship in Firefly. The ship is owned by Malcom Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Mal used to be a resistance fighter against the Alliance. The Alliance is a group of planets that banded together to form a military-focused government. They want all the planets to join them, but not everybody agrees. Those who don’t agree formed the Browncoat resistance. Mal was one of them and was on the losing side of the war. When the war was over, he bought his own ship and began taking odd jobs. Smuggling, robbery, and transportation of people who don’t want to be found are some of the service his crew offers. It’s a tough universe and a guy has got to do what he’s got to do to survive. Mal also has standards and won’t knowingly hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it. He isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he has to, but he avoids the jobs that could end up hurting innocent bystanders.

Firefly

Mal’s right-hand man is actually a woman named Zoe (Gina Torres). Like Mal, she is also a former Browncoat. She also needed to make a living when the war was over, so she decided to stick with Mal in his next endeavor. She is a lot like Mal and very loyal to him; which is why he makes her his second in command. She also meets her husband Wash through her work as a smuggler with Mal. Wash (Alan Tudyk) is the pilot of the ship and the exact opposite of Zoe. She is a calm in tense situations; and can usually fight her way out of them too! He isn’t nearly as competent with a weapon – or his hands – as Zoe is, but he laughs in the face of danger. He’s always good for a wise-crack or two. The saying opposites attract has never been truer; and it makes for an entertaining dynamic between the two characters.

Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is the ships hired gun. He does a lot of the more physical stuff Zoe does, but he doesn’t share the same loyalties to Mal as Zoe does. It’s actually something of a running joke. Jayne goes where the money is best and does not hide that fact. Besides money, Jayne likes guns, women, and lifting weights. He’s a big, dumb, but tough guy, and often the subject of a lot the more humorous aspects of the show.
Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the ships mechanic. She is a whiz kid when it comes to that kind of stuff. A real grease monkey if you will. She’s also one of the most adorable people you will ever meet (real or not). She is very naïve and has a positive outlook on just about everything. I forget the exact line, but there was this one episode where she was consoling someone over something Mal said and she called him a “big meanie”, “scary monster”, or something along those lines. It was truly funny. The character is pretty much a human puppy.

Firefly

The rest of the people on the ship are passengers. Inara is what’s known as a Companion; or as Mal calls it “a whore”. Yep, she’s a prostitute, but a really refined one, so it’s ok. She serves tea, discusses politics and current affairs, or simply serves as company if that’s what her clients want. Companions are looked at as a kind of a diplomat in the future. They are educated on the art of seduction and all that jazz. She rents one of the ships shuttles and conducts her business independently of the crews other ventures. There’s also some sexual tension between her and Mal. Shepard Book (Ron Glass) is a holy man. He’s a chill guy and surprisingly capable with his hands. He seems to also be on the run from something, but you never do find out what (I haven’t seen the movie yet if it reveals more). Interestingly enough, the people he seems closest to on the ship are Inara and Jayne. The final two passengers are Simon and River Tam. Simon (Sean Maher) is a doctor and River (Summer Glau) is his crazy sister. Simon seems like a real edgy guy, but we find out it’s because he’s simply protective of his sister; who the Alliance wants really badly.

Shepard

In their quest to increase their military capabilities, the Alliance dabbles in human experimentation. River is a child prodigy and the Alliance – under the illusion of educating them – performs all kinds of terrible procedures on her in an effort to turn her into something they can use to their advantage. So Mal – in addition to being a former Browncoat and thief – has yet another reason to fear the Alliance.

He also spends his time dodging local authorities, masochistic gangsters, bounty hunters (looking for Simon and River), ex-wives, and a group of people called Reavers. The Reavers are a group of humans who went mad after exploring deep space and have resorted to cannibalism and other similarly charming activities.

I had heard a lot about this cult TV show for years and finally got around to checking it out. I’m glad I did, because it’s pretty darn entertaining (said in my best Kaylee voice). It fits my definition of adventure; meaning it has action, romance, and laughs. The laughs are actually one of the strongest parts of the show. If it isn’t the bickering between Mal and Inara, its Jayne’s self-motivated – yet surprisingly funny – approach to life. If it’s neither one of those it could be something quirky Kaylee says, something crazy River does, or something snarky Wash blurts out. And if none of that does anyhting for you, you will get to see.

The sci fi/western blend works surprisingly well too. It may not seem like it would mix, but the way they lay it out and explain it makes sense.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on August 29, 2012.

Firefly