By T. Mack
Television shows come and go. Some overstay their welcome—I’m looking at you, Season 9 of Scrubs—and others are far too fleeting. One show that falls into the latter category is Firefly. This show, helmed by Joss Whedon (whom we love) and mishandled by FOX, had only 14 episodes in 2002. Yet, more than a decade later, the geek community still loves and actively embraces the characters, stories and culture of the show. Here are ten reason why…
1. It’s a Space Western!
Firefly gave us all the swagger and classic cowboy appeal of a western, but dumped it all in space to satisfy our yearning for futuristic science fiction. What’s not to love here? There are shootouts and advanced technology, cattle herding and planet hopping, trains and space ships! Seriously. It’s awesome!
Malcolm Reynolds is my very favorite cowboy without a hat. I think he might just be yours, too, after you see this. (By the way, the honor of my favorite cowboy with a hat goes to Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in Justified. Just in case you were wondering.)
2. All the Characters
It’s difficult to talk about these amazing characters in a grouping. Each one deserves its own “10 Reasons” and I’ve added that to my to-do list. But for the moment, we’ll lump them all together and mention the fact that each of them is dynamic, colorful and entertaining. Each one has many sides of their personality to be explored. Each communicates in a different and intriguing way from the others. They all have hopes, regrets and secrets. Every single one of them has something they’re running from or towards and it’s exciting to be on the journey with them. Everyone who watches this show tries to decide who their favorite character is and can’t always narrow it down to just one. However, each and every Browncoat (fans of this show) knows which character they’d want to be. For me, it’s Zoe, hands down! She is bad-ass. She is fierce. She is loyal, she can fight and she’s got a man who’s crazy about her. On top of all that, her priorities are in the right place and she’s got a quick and sarcastic wit that resonates with me. Most characters don’t manage to have it all, but this girl does. And I love her for it!
Do you want to know a fun game to play with these characters? Take any three character titles and plug them into either a sitcom title or the first line of a joke. Then try to decide what the show is about or make up the rest of the joke. For example: “Coming this Fall to FOX, The Captain, The Mercenary & The Mechanic. Life on the high seas just got more exciting!” Or try this one: “A prostitute, a surgeon and a preacher walk into a bar…” See what I mean? Hours of fun!
3. The Stellar Cast
Now that we’ve discussed the characters, let’s talk about the phenomenal cast of actors and actresses who play them. This cast does not have a weakest link. Nathan Fillion plays Captain Malcolm Reynolds with humor, depth and a deep, deep well of sexiness I just can’t even talk about without blushing a little. The way the character walks and talks is unforgettable. Gina Torres is completely bad-ass as Zoe, the ship’s second in command. She has a presence that cannot be ignored while she is on screen. She does a wonderful job of portraying Zoe’s fierceness and loyalty, as well as the perfect balance between her hardness and softness. Summer Glau’s portrayal as River is nothing short of legendary. She breaks our hearts as the broken little girl but makes us cheer as a graceful, brilliant and slightly-inhuman death machine. Adam Baldwin is hilarious as the dim and merciless Jayne. Alan Tudyk brings a joyfulness to the entire enterprise as Wash. Jewel Staite is sweet and lovable as the country girl, Kaylee. As a matter of fact, she was so lovable in this role that there is a scene in one episode where Nathan Fillion wraps his arms around her in an embrace that was neither part of the script nor rehearsed. I feel sure that she was just so cute he couldn’t help himself. Sean Maher is so great as the uptight Simon that you are inclined to believe the actor actually placed a stick up his butt before the cameras started rolling. Morena Baccarin is beautiful as Inara and makes you truly believe that prostitution is not only a dignified, but honored profession (more on that later). Ron Glass plays the role of wise, faithful, old black man so well that Morgan Freeman would be proud.
In the countless times I’ve watched this show, I’ve never been pulled out of any moment by something any of the actors did or said. I’ve never gotten a glimpse of another character they’ve played or stopped to think of them as the actor rather than the character. And that is the mark of great acting. When you love the actor, but look at them in a role and see only the character, that actor has done their job. These actors and actresses definitely accomplished that goal.
4. The Ship
Unlike Joss Whedon’s previous shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel, this one is not named for one of the main characters. This time, it’s all about the ship; what happens to her, in her and because of her to the people who call her home. Her name, by the way, is Serenity. She is a Firefly-class transport ship. As Mal says, “She won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon, but she is solid. Ship like this, be with you ’til the day you die.”
Serenity becomes a character in Firefly. With her rust and stairs and dark hallways and nooks and crannies that serve as bedrooms for the crew and passengers, she manages to find her way into your heart. By the time the movie comes around, it makes sense for it to be called by her name.
5. The Theme Song
“The Ballad of Serenity,” performed by Sonny Rhodes, is the haunting and beautiful theme song to both the show, Firefly and the movie, Serenity, which gives closure to the show’s characters. The music includes a phenomenal mix of banjo, guitar and violin that somehow manages to be slow and soft, yet catchy in a way that makes you want to dance. The lyrics add to the magic with their air of determination, defiance and grit. Usually, when binge-watching a show, I eventually get to a point of skipping the opening, but Firefly is my exception. “The Ballad of Serenity” is worth listening to every time.
The lyrics, by the way, go as follows: Take my love / Take my land / Take me where I cannot stand / I don’t care / I’m still free /You can’t take the sky from me … Take me out to the black / Tell em I ain’t comin’ back /Burn the land /And boil the sea / You can’t take the sky from me … There’s no place I can’t be / Since I found Serenity / You can’t take the sky from me
6. The Dialogue & Humor
Like just about everything from Joss Whedon, Firefly includes smart characters who talk fast, make great use of sarcasm and are hilarious. Even when the situation is dire, the characters bring laughter. There are some occasional jokes and humor born of physical means, but there is no actual slapstick in this show.
The dialogue is witty and funny, but also real. Each character has their own dialect that is distinct and uniquely theirs. These people come from all over “The Verse” and Whedon remembered to make them sound like it. It’s enjoyable to listen to the characters interact, to hear how each of them forms their thoughts and words. And it’s great to get to laugh with–and often at–them.
7. The Prostitution
Joss Whedon certainly knows how to turn things on their head. On this show, the world’s oldest profession has become one of the most respectable in “the Verse.” Prostitutes are “Companions.” Not only is their trade legal, but they are considered revered guests in high society. Inara, the Companion living aboard Serenity, is actually the crew member who offers legitimacy to the ship and makes it possible for them to go places they might not have access otherwise. Acting as Inara’s ride means that the Firefly crew can dock and do their shady dealings without nearly as much suspicion. After all, they have a certified Companion on board. She is a dignitary, respected and revered due to the fact that she is trained in the art of seduction and sells sex for a living.
It’s not even a huge deal for most of the characters. Yes, it comes up and yes, it is discussed but the only person who really seems to have a problem with it is Mal. And, really, one suspects that’s mostly just jealousy.
8. The Comics
Another great thing about being a fan of Joss Whedon is the fact that your favorite Whedon show is likely to live on in comic book form long after new episodes have stopped gracing the airways. Firefly is one such series. Dark Horse comics offers a series called Serenity that bridges the gap in story between the television series and it’s movie sequel.
In 2014, the first series of comics was released that continued the story past the end of Serenity the movie. Picking up about 8 months after after the movie’s end, it offers new insights into where the lives of the crew headed and the changes in relationships following the events of the film. If you love these characters and wish there was more to the Firefly universe, I suggest checking out these titles.
9. The Horror
Reavers. I’m tempted to have this entire entry be simply that one word. But I realize that is not fair to those who have yet to experience Firefly. So to those individuals, let me say that I cannot tell you what is terrifying about Reavers. This is a nice place, a safe space and I just don’t have it in me to put their horrors into words here on this page.
However, I will tell you that the most horrible depravities of human existence are represented in the Reavers. The characters of the show will kill themselves before being captured by Reavers and kill others as a mercy if Reavers get their hands on them. It. Is. That. Serious.
10. The Movie
When FOX unwisely misused and abused Firefly by airing episodes out of order and cancelling the show before all 14 episodes were allowed to air, it was a blow for the fans. However, geeks can be seriously loyal and we fight for our obsessions. Due to this overzealous fan loyalty which included ad and fundraising campaigns as well as continued requests to bring back the show, Whedon was able to partner with Universal Pictures to release a movie, titled Serenity. The film brought back the original cast and created closure for the characters and the fans. While obviously not able to cover all the depth, story and ideas that Whedon had planned for a seven-season run of the show, the movie was at least able to clear up a couple of big mysteries that were left hanging after the show ended. Like its television predecessor, the movie under-performed during its original (big-screen) release. And just like before, DVD sales made the dollars that represented the fans true love of the material.
Whedon learned from his experience with Firefly. With his 2009-2010 show, Dollhouse, he didn’t wait for cancellation to steal the ending from him. For that show, he built a flash-forward conclusion into the end of both seasons so the fans wouldn’t be left hanging and a movie would not be necessary. While this kind of treatment may or may not have worked for Firefly, I’m okay with having the movie. Both it and the complete series now sit on my shelf, a featured part of my DVD collection and a source of much pride for this Sister Geek.
Do you love Firefly and Serenity? What reasons did I leave out of my list? Tell us in the comments below.