Everybody’s a Firefly fan these days, but I was there at the beginning, watching the show on Friday nights when most people, thanks to the barren time slot and abysmal marketing, didn’t even know it existed. The first episode that aired—not the pilot, yet another gaffe on Fox’s part—was just OK, but after the third one, “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” it was clear that Joss Whedon had outdone himself. I was hooked. Each new episode was like a little gem in a box waiting to be opened. Not since the second season of Buffy had television been that good, and—yep, I’ll come out and say it—Firefly was even better than Buffy.
But its whole existence was a struggle, and when Fox canceled the show after only airing eleven episodes, it wasn’t too much of a surprise. Firefly has only grown in popularity since—a movie is in the works, and over on Amazon the DVDs of the TV episodes is ranked #32 in sales, and has a solid five-star rating out of 811 reviews.
I managed to stretch out the experience of watching the DVDs over two months, instead of burning through all the episodes in one sitting, as some are wont to do. I did this by only turning it on while I was giving Ella a bottle, and forcing myself to turn it off at the first commercial break after she was done. I tried to savor every moment, especially those of the three unaired episodes, which I was seeing for the first time. It was a glorious, sad experience. Such a wonderful show. So much potential wasted. The movie might be good, but the setting, the characters, everything about it was designed for a long-term, ongoing tale; the movie can’t hope to capture what was best about the show.
You’d certainly never get what was best about the show by reading a summary. A western in space?? A rusty spaceship hauling cattle between planets?? Laser pistols and western twang? What saves it from being a mere gimmicky genre-mash is the care Whedon took to draft a coherent, detailed, authentic world—er, universe, or in this case, solar system full of terraformed planets. The circumstances that make it possible for there to be a western frontier dynamic in deep space simultaneously reinforce a believeable history. This is nowhere more evident than in the language everyone speaks. On one level, Fireflyspeak is another wacky, mannered dialect along the lines of Buffyspeak or WestWingspeak. But it also fits neatly into the setting, like the way that an Earth dominated by Chinese culture leads to a language sprinkled with expressions in Mandarin. In a sense, though, all this is just icing on the cake. Take away the slang and the spaceships and the special effects and you still have the golden heart of the show: a perfect ensemble cast.
(A brief confession, here: I have taken to using the Firefly expression “shiny” in everyday life. Consciously trying to emulate the language of a short-lived, defunct sci-fi television show probably elevates me to a yet higher plane of geekdom, if that’s possible.)
I thought maybe I’d use this entry to explain Firefly for those who haven’t seen it, but there’s too much to say, and most folks already know the deal. Go see it if you haven’t; what follows is just a fanboy list.
Best Episode: “Serenity,” “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” and “Out of Gas” are the main contenders here, with “Objects in Space” a clear fourth. OMR is definitely the most tightly written and funniest, but OOG and OIS win in the emotional-impact department. The pilot should win some sort of award for “Most Elegant and Seamless Introduction of a Complicated and Bizarre Setting and Tone While Simulatenously Telling a Fine Tale.”
Worse Episode: “Safe,” despite some lovely scenes in the beginning, because of the whole “she’s a witch!” routine at the end. It’s as flat as the show ever got.
Best of the Unaired Episodes: “Trash,” though they’re all good.
Favorite Character: Jayne. Duh!
Character That You Identify With Most Even If You’d Rather Not Admit It: Wash. Duh!
Best All-Around Scene In Any Episode: Last scene of “Ariel,” where Jayne’s trapped in the airlock and says “Don’t tell them what I done. Make something up,” and that’s what convinces Mal to let him live.
Cool Scene That You Know Would Have Been In the Show If Only It Had Continued: Jayne redeeming himself and saving River by totally kicking the shit out of one of those freaky hands-of-blue dudes.
Pet Theory: How about this: Inara’s pregnant, and that’s why she’s leaving the ship. The thing that tipped me off is Early’s line in “Objects in Space” as he and Simon are leaving Inara’s shuttle: “Man is stronger by far than woman, but only woman can create a child—does that seem right to you?” I wish I could think of a River line that hints at the same thing, because that would cinch it.
Coolest Firefly Site I Didn’t Already Know About: The Firefly Chinese Pinyinary, listing and explaining all the Chinese dialogue in the show.
Best News So Far About the Movie: That all the original cast members are signed on. The ensemble is complete.
Rumor About the Movie That Will Please Some But Makes Me Queasy: That David Boreanaz will be in it too.
Question for Gary Farber : Weren’t you, like, totally geeked when you saw “Ariel” and Simon talked about how they removed River’s amygdala?
I realize that by gushing this way about Firefly I’m only jumping on an already-full bandwagon. But it’s a fine wagon to be on. Shiny, even.