First off, let me assure you this: I’m no fanboy who slobbers over all things Joss Whedon. I don’t dislike the man, nor do I dislike his work. I have a healthy respect for anyone who can work as long in the entertainment business as Whedon has and still have a regular job doing what he does; it’s just that I – like the rest of society – just don’t necessarily feel his work speaks to me on the same level that it does to his respective fandom. BUFFY? I gave it a handful of episodes, and I just never cared for the characters. ANGEL? Seemed like a BUFFY rip-off, and I couldn’t figure out why the man would rip-off his own show. DOLLHOUSE – for all of its failings – had some real potential so far as I was concerned to catch fire, but it kinda/sorta just limped along reworking the same basic idea with each new installment. When it appeared as if nothing new was going to get added to that mix, I also tuned that one out, though I popped back in on a few more occasions to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t.
Now, FIREFLY was one I wanted to like. (Again, let me clarify that this had nothing whatsoever to do with Joss Whedon being behind it.) I love westerns. I love science fiction. I’d seen them mixed before to only middling success, and I hoped the program could bring something fresh, innovative, and exciting to the formula. When it originally aired on Fox (yes, I was one of the few watching those first few hours), it just didn’t strike me as anything special, nor did a few episodes I caught subsequently. But on a dare from a good friend of mine, I figured I’d take the time to go thru the adventures one by one and in the proper chronological order to see if I felt any different.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessarily solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
I think I can dispense with my normal review format as, having aired over a decade ago, the usual spoiler rules don’t apply. So instead of summarizing the plot – which is what I’d normally do in this space – let me get right into the nitty gritty: my thoughts on the pilot episode.
“Serenity” opens with a rather elongated character set-up that focuses nearly entirely on Mal (Capt. Reynolds) during his time in service to a cause; I hasten to characterize it as military service (it clearly is) only because, at this point, it’s largely unclear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. (I “get” that Mal is supposed to represent the “good guys,” but I generally hope for some clarification in the writing so that I know definitively which side is which and who populates said side. So sue me!) What strikes me as unusual about it is that, for its length, all that’s really established is that Mal prefers doing things his own way. No matter how you shake out the other details, it all invariably points to that single sign … and that’s something clearly learned as the show progresses on its own. Consequently, I just didn’t see those military scenes as being ‘necessary’ at this time and point in the program. (Of course, not having seen all of the hours, that could change; but – as I stressed above – I’m trying to come at FIREFLY entirely from the proper chronological order as the Browncoats I’ve spoken with about the show assure me that’s the only way the program’s wisdom becomes apparent.)
Sure, you may see another familiar face in there, but, overall, the sequence is dedicated to Mal.
As much as fandom loves Nathan Fillion, I (again) just don’t “get” it. Methinks much of this affection is due to the rampant love for the greater FIREFLY entity, but, for my tastes, he comes off as largely flat, almost too deadpan throughout his delivery. Characteristically, it’s almost as if Joss instructed him to channel Humphrey Bogart and Jack Webb (better known as ‘Friday’ from DRAGNET), and, at times, I thought his captain was more caricature than character. In fact, were I evaluating the program from what a position of what I know is coming, I’d almost be inclined to say that my disappointment with it could be due to the fact that I honestly never cared for his performance. (Again, haters, this is not to say I didn’t appreciate his character; rather, it’s Fillion’s work as an actor I call into question.)
As the rest of the program unfolds, the audience is treated to everyone else who makes up the crew or the basic thrust of this story; and it seems that they all fall into basic categories (I wanted to use “stereotypes,” but I do think a few of them stretch beyond the formulaic though not by much). You’ve got an engineer (Kaylee) who displays little to no understanding of, say, engineering; instead, she’s ponied up as a kind of fanboy’s dream – a girl who loves machines and (obviously) strawberries to the point of semi-sexual attachment. You’ve got a somewhat fallen/disgraced ‘preacher’ who doesn’t ‘preach’ any more … only he does. You’ve got a whore with (possibly) a heart of gold. So on and so forth.
At this point, I was certain that Whedon and his crew were entirely interested in tapping the Western genre, as I mentioned at the start. Because I ‘think’ this way, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Well, if he wanted to do a Western, then why didn’t he just do a Western?” Why did he, instead, choose to create a Western but set it in space? Was it because that’s what made the original STAR WARS so popular? Or am I missing something?
See, the issue regarding the prevalent use of the Western as well as various Western imagery throughout this first episode is what feels entirely incongruous to me. This is the future, right? Well, why would they have the props, tools, and clothing of, say, 500 years ago in a spaceship? For all of its artistic posturing, that idea makes absolutely no sense to me, so the fabric that Whedon presents as ‘charming’ ends up feeling more ‘surreal’ to me. A wooden table? Why would a spaceship have a wooden table – picnic style – in its mess hall? Why would they have pots and pans and utensils and cups and plates that look like they were designed centuries ago? Honestly, if someone could explain that point to me so that it made coherent sense then I might be able to approach FIREFLY from a vastly improved perspective, but, as it stands, the visuals only further derail my appreciating such uniqueness.
Those issues aside, “Serenity” (the TV program, not the movie) does have some nice touches along with some modest inventiveness. The plot moves along far too slowly for my tastes, and I was honestly very put off by the fact that Whedon (who penned it) actually lifts significant plot points from at least two other movies (48 HOURS and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) with which to earn a few laughs, but – come to think of it – most folks who appreciate Whedon’s writing probably weren’t even born yet to see how, as a writer, he’d simply shamelessly pilfered somebody else’s intellectual property.
Also, if a spaceship’s engines could actually pull off a Crazy Ivan within a terrestrial atmosphere, wouldn’t the G forces reduce the crew to pulverized jelly? Seems to me I’ve read that somewhere. Why didn’t that happen here? Well, Whedon proves he ain’t all that interested in the ‘science’ of ‘science fiction’ (which is again why I think it’s a Western, not a sci-fi show) as he is the ‘fiction’ of it.
And … Reavers? They come off as pirates here. Did we really need to incorporate yet one more stereotypical villain in a narrative already plagued by labels?
In closing, please don’t get me wrong: I’m not doing this – re-watching this program in its entirety as time permits – to further rag on a show I’ve already kinda/sorta ragged on. Rather, I’m trying to re-examine the property now that time has passed, and I’m doing so as I’ve been told by Browncoats the world over is the way to practically guarantee a different assessment than what I’ve had before. I didn’t dislike what I watched; rather, I just don’t understand all of the obvious fondness others have for it. This is my attempt to come to terms with it once and for all, and I thank you for taking the time to read my humble words.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. I’m certainly no Browncoat, nor would I be all that interested in joining their ranks at this point – please keep in mind that I’m trying to watch and review these episodes in the order “alleged” to be the correct one as planned by Whedon and not as they aired on Fox. Still, I’d seen this one before – it impressed me only a bit more this time than it did the first – and I struggled (as I generally do) when too many characters get introduced in so abbreviated a fashion. Stylistically, “Serenity” had some nice touches, but it had as many other ones I found utterly confusing. It isn’t hard to see why this one didn’t light a fire when it aired, but kudos for fans for keeping the franchise alive for a second chance.
Back in 2004, being a big fan of Joss Whedon's shows "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" and "ANGEL", I decided I'd better pick up his failed sci-fi series, "FIREFLY". My aunt bought it for me for my birthday, and I eventually began watching it. The pilot, "Serenity", runs 85 minutes and I was bored through most of it. Why had people been talking about this? A few months later, with nothing else to do, I decided to check out the rest of the series. Oh, boy, am I glad I did. "FI … more
Firefly was one of the most entertaining TV series of the past few decades. No doubt some will compare it to "StarTrek" however all of the versions of StarTrek pale in comparison to Firefly.Firefly's characters are intriguing and diverse. The show is loaded with hints and potential for incredible development of several plots.The DVD release of the first season will be the first TV series I will purchase on DVD. And it is certainly something I've been looking forward to since the show was cancelled. … more
As the 2005 theatrical release ofSerenitymade clear,Fireflywas a science fiction concept that deserved a second chance. Devoted fans (or "Browncoats") knew it all along, and with this well-packaged DVD set, those who missed the show's original broadcasts can see what they missed. Creator Joss Whedon's ambitious science-fiction Western (Whedon's third series afterBuffy the Vampire SlayerandAngel) was canceled after only 11 of these 14 episodes had aired on the Fox network, but history has proven that its demise was woefully premature. Whedon's generic hybrid got off to a shaky start when network executives demanded an action-packed one-hour premiere ("The Train Job"); in hindsight the intended two-hour pilot (also titled "Serenity," and oddly enough, the final episode aired) provides a better introduction to the show's concept and splendid ensemble cast. Obsessive fans can debate the quirky logic of combining spaceships with direct parallels to frontier America (it's 500 years in the future, and embattled humankind has expanded into the galaxy, where undeveloped "outer rim" planets struggle with the equivalent of Old West accommodations), but Whedon and his gifted co-writers and directors make it work, at least well enough to fashion a credible context from the incongruous culture-clashing of past, present, and future technologies, along with a polyglot language (the result of two dominant superpowers) that combines English with an abundance of Chinese slang.