There are a few network scheduling and programming executives I’d like to meet, and politely ask why a few of my favourite shows have been cancelled or mismanaged over the years. Time and time again, shows which have obvious potential, and even mass-market appeal, if given half a chance would thrive and create something miles ahead of the current trend of reality TV and makeover specials. Firefly is one such show that was cut down in its infancy, loved by the geeks of the world (yes, that’s me), but scheduled and advertised so poorly it was always destined to failure in a world of 5 minute attention spans. Thankfully, it lives on via DVD (and a movie in September), all 15 episodes presented in the order they were meant to, in lovely widescreen, and shiny packaging.
By “politely ask”, I mean of course, “punch in the face”.
Firefly. It’s a the future, but you rustle cattle in your spaceship. Your spaceship in which you transport an intergalactic whore, help a possibly insane and dangerous girl and her doctor brother, and take whatever job you can to keep flying and keep away from the Alliance, the “Empire” of the Firefly ‘verse.
The overall series’ story revolves around River Tam, an initial stowaway (and sister to the ship’s first fare), who, brilliant as she was as a child, has been altered by the Alliance to be telepathic. Her brother has helped her escape and together they’re on the run from the Alliance – this is where they meet the crew of Firefly, captained by Malcolm Reynolds. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds is Han Solo, if the Millennium Falcon was really a pile of junk, and if he’d been allowed to shoot first. Uncompromising, not always the good guy, but ultimately just trying to get on with his life without any outside interference. There are nine main characters, which sounds like a lot, but when most of the action takes place on a spaceship, suddenly it’s not an issue. Malcolm – the captain, Zoe – his first in command, Wash – the pilot and Zoe’s husband, Jayne – the muscle, Inara – the intergalactic “companion”, Book – a preacher, Kaylee – the cutest engineer in the universe, Simon – the doctor, and River – the brilliant, schizophrenic, telepathic, killing machine sister of the doctor.
Don’t expect to be lowered gently into the Firefly universe – when we find the characters at the start of the series they mostly have pre-formed relationships and history; the world they inhabit is expansive and solid, has back story and customs. This may be jarring at first (they all swear in Chinese and have old-worldly English connotations), but as the series progresses, the connection becomes more and more realised, and the things which may have been annoying or confusing early on, now seem natural.
So, captain, first officer, pilot, engineer, muscle, doctor, schizophrenic, preacher, whore. The 13 episodes don’t always focus on one specific character, but throughout the series we’re given more than enough to come to love and hate them, but not completely know them. The storylines are usually consequential (not that they’re bad by any stretch of the imagination), but it feels more like a character driven show than say, any of the Star Trek spin-offs, which sometimes use technology driven storylines when it feels like they’ve run out of ideas for the characters. Firefly pushes the characters forward with every episode, and by the time you get to the end of episode 13, it’s a little disappointing to find it comes screaming to a halt. It’s funny, dramatic, serious and frivolous, all wrapped up in a future you find believable, surrounded by characters you want to root for.
Technically the DVDs are very good, widescreen and clear, little grain and nice Dolby (albeit 2.0) sound. It’s not overly effects intensive, TV rarely is, but the sound (or lack of it in space, something rarely heard – the remade Battlestar Galactica being an exception) is solid and well used. It’s one of those tracks which melts into the picture, and is unnoticeable, only because it fits so well into what you’re seeing. There are a few commentary tracks in the extras, three makings-of, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a few other bits and bobs. Nothing ground-breaking, but if you’re buying the set for the extras, you’re missing the point somewhat.
If you avoided Joss Whedon’s Buffy and Angel because you thought they were frivolous TV, and you did the same with Firefly, then (apart from having missed some excellent fantasy-drama) you really should give it a chance – it’s not as fantasy orientated as his other work, and is a very adult take on a possible future.
The only real qualm I have with Firefly is that at only 13 episodes, there just isn’t enough time to do the plot justice, but with a relatively large cast, and a big story to tell, something was bound to suffer. Mainly it’s just sour grapes because I know a full series would have been fantastic, and we would have found out a lot more about Book’s mysterious past, Kaylee and Simon’s burgeoning relationship, River’s powers and the will-they-won’t-they Mal and Inara. Thank God – I mean Joss – there’s a movie on the horizon, which will hopefully go some way to answering the unanswered.