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05/04/2004 Archived Entry: "Firefly!"

THAT'S IT, DEBRA. YOU'RE NEVER GETTING THOSE FIREFLY DVDS BACK. Two nights ago, reluctantly, I watched the 14th and final episode of Firefly, Fox's foolishly cancelled SF series. Knowing there would be no more, I wanted to draw the experience out (to savor it like good wine, as another newborn Firefly fan wrote yesterday).

When the last moment of the last episode ended, there was a hole in the universe. A space-ship shaped hole. An adventure-shaped hole. A freedom-shaped hole.

I just discovered Firefly a bit over a week ago, after Debra darned near chained me to a chair and made me start watching. I'd heard the buzz about the show for a while, especially when libertarian cartoonist Lux Lucre, a huge Firefly fan, died a couple of months ago. But it was a flipping TV series, and what could I care about that?

Well, I care. And I expect you will, too, if you don't already. If you haven't discovered this wonderful, tragically aborted series ... see for yourself. In fact, please buy for yourself and help support the effort to get this series the recognition and revival it deserves.

Firefly is hard to describe. Nine members of a Firefly class space ship traverse the universe, picking up smuggling jobs and dodging agents of the tyrannical alliance. But don't expect Klingons in 30 pounds of rubber mask. There are no aliens. Few whiz-bang technologies. There are, instead, horses. And cattle. And whorehouses. And trains. And sagebrush. And hodowns and shindigs. And bad guys straight out of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. And gunfights. Lots of gunfights. Because this is a frontier. And oh yes, the characters often speak -- and cuss -- in Chinese.

Yes, it sounds faintly ridiculous. And if you're after hard science or any attempt at a realistic depiction of a future 500 years hence, forget it. But if you're after a wonderfully woven story, with nine central characters you can truly care about, great settings, and -- above all -- wonderfully sharp, often very funny, always unexpected writing, then the $35 you spend for that four-DVD set will buy you something precious. Joss Whedon (Toy Story, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) outdid himself creating Firefly. I'm not a person who gets fannish about anything. But my second response on finishing the final episode was to go back and start to watch them all all over again.

I thought, "How could anybody cancel a show this excellent?" Then I Googled around and found out.

Fox put this show on in the fall of 2002 -- and botched it from the get go. If they had set out to destroy the program, they couldn't have done it more thoroughly. For starters, they aired the crucial first episode last. Without that episode, you might love the show, but you could hardly understand it. Instead they opened with an episode that probably made quite a few people go "HUH? Westerns in outer space???" Then they set about pre-emting and moving show after show, so even the gathering gaggle of dedicated fans couldn't find Firefly when they went looking for it -- or when they told their friends to look for it.

Then -- oh such a surprise! -- it didn't draw ratings. And Fox cancelled it. Cancelled it leaving us to wonder ... What exactly did the Alliance do to River in that terrible school, and what unknown powers has it left her with? ... Is Shepherd Book really the gentle, celibate missionary he seems, or is there something much more to him, as all those little hints imply? ... What will happen between the bold, witty, but emotionally isolated Captain Mal and the beautiful, intuitive "registered companion" Inara? And who are the icy, ruthless men who follow Serenity "two by two, with hands of blue"?

Oh yes, and will we ever, ever, ever get another chance to see Mal's nice, firm naked butt? (That scene, in the episode "Trash," was a hoot. But definitely one of the things that surprised me, after 10 years of not watching TV, was how rawly, openly sexual a TV series can be now. Firefly has its moments. They're tastefully handled, but this one's probably not for the little G-rated kiddies.)

My first thought after finishing the DVDs was that the Fox execs who destroyed Firefly should be slathered with honey then staked out over a red ant's nest. But on second thought, a far better fate would be to make them watch as Firefly catches cult fire and becomes the Star Trek of the 21st century -- but better than ST ever dreamed of being. Let them writhe in the agony of their own incredibly blind decisionmaking.


I should shut up now. But one more quick note. In my first mention of Firefly I said I didn't buy the notion of some sweet little girly (Kaylee) as Serenity's mechanic. "Bring back Scotty!" sez I. A friendly blog reader took my comments over to FireflyFans.net, where some folks told me in a nice, polite way that I was wrong. Okay, guys. You were right! Didn't take long to become very fond of Kaylee -- especially after that quick glimpse (in the episode "Out of Gas") of how she came to get that interesting job. LOL. I love it that Firefly can make a person laugh and cry in the same episode.

I'm even getting attached to the big, dumb, thuggish, sell-out-anybody-for-a-buck character of Jayne. (As Capt. Mal says, "Next time you stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face!")

Posted by Claire @ 09:53 AM CST

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