Posted in Blog Posts, Flick Central

Firefly, created by Joss Whedon: a Television Review

Synopsis:

The year is 2517 and humanity had worn out the old Earth. So they have terriformed hundreds of other Earth like planets. Some, like the inner allied planets, thrive on technology and the protection that comes with being allied together. Others, such as those on the outer edges, are not so lucky.

For those who have the mind, and want the freedom, they will take just about any job. These rogues run anything from supplies to medicine to people to where ever their money will take you.

The crew of the Serenity (a Firefly class space vessel) is one of these such crews. While on Persephone, a planetary port, they pick up several passengers and a large piece of cargo that is to accompany one of the men. When they head out from port things get dicey for both the crew and their passengers when the contents of the package and the type of jobs the Serenity takes on are revealed.

General Information:

-Genre: Space Western or Science-Fiction Western

-Creator: Joss Whedon

-Length: 14 45 minute episodes with the Pilot running 2 hours with commercials (11 ran on FOX in the US during it’s airing from 2002-2003)

-TV Rating: TV-14 (due to nudity, sexual situations and discussions, violence, and references and flashbacks to war)

-Where to watch: DVD, Blue-ray, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, or check your local library for copies!

-Main Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass

-Page of Reference in RPO: 49

Review (contains spoilers):

I have been watching Firefly regularly over the last 15 years and I must say that when I started this project and sat down to re-watch the series it had been a few years since my last viewing. Sad I know.

I forgot just how good the writing was…but only when watched in the correct order (see Firefly, the Forgotten Fandom for more on that).

While watching through the character developments and the story lines all I can return to is how sad it was that this show got cancelled and we never got to know about so many layers of the characters.

Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is the guy in charge of the whole operation. He’s commanding, commandeering, a bit rough around the edges. A bit of a rogue and has a swashbuckling presence that wouldn’t be out of place in the days of piracy. Which is perfect. Because that is just what he is…a space pirate. Yet, he has a side that is unlike what he shows to the world. One that is loyal and dedicated to his crew.

Zoe Washburn (Gina Torres) is the hard kicking, straight laced sidekick. Joined by her husband, Hoban “Wash” Washburn (Alan Tudyk), these three form the main base of the crew. Zoe was Mal’s right hand during the war where they fought on the side of the rebellion and lost. Wash is the pilot of the Serenity and pulls off some insanely important moves that save the crew many times over. The relationship between the Washburn’s feels so real, so true. They balance each other well through their devotion to each other and their marriage is stunning throughout all the pressure put on it by being on the edge of the law.

Kaywinnet Lee “Kaylee” Frye (Jewel Staite) is by far one of my favorite characters. She is bright eyed, joyful, loving and innocent in so many ways. Yet she always feels authentic in her enthusiasm and her view on the world. She is obsessed with beautiful things but is almost always covered in grime from fixing her beloved Serenity despite what and how many times the Captain puts the ship in danger. Everyone in the crew (minus maybe Jayne) is very protective of and loves Kaylee deeply.

Which brings us to the last official member of the Serenity crew when we join them on Persephone as they pick up new passengers. Jayne Cobb (Alex Baldwin), is a sharp shooting, man’s man which works well for him in the backwater deep west feel of the outer planets. He’s an avid collector of firearms and always has a fist to spare in a bar fight with Mal. A mercenary by trade everyone knows they are always one good price away from him selling them all down the river which makes him authentic in the wild-card, ne’re-do-well, charming rogue sort of way.

Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) brings some dignity to the crew. She is a registered Companion which is basically a very legal and very respected high-end escort, seductress, sex worker, societal woman, and discreet assassin rolled into one. A 26th-century Giesha if you will. She rents a shuttle on the Serenity and gives the whole outfit a level of class that allows them to dock in places that would otherwise be off limits to the rag-tag band. She has her own secrets that unfold but that we never truly get to hear the climax of because the show was cancelled.

While in Persephone we see the crew pick up a set of new high paying passengers who all accept the risk of travelling under the radar of the Alliance and the danger that travelling the outer planets can entail.

Shepard Derrial Book (Ron Glass) becomes the spiritual leader to the crew in a round about way. He is the moral compass of the crew, whether they like it or not…and it often brings him in conflict with Mal and Jayne. We never find out where he comes from or how he was trained in combat or why he has an extensive knowledge of Alliance criminal proceedings that he occasionally uses to keep everyone safe. His mysterious past is part of his intrigue.

Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) is the most reluctant of the “new” crew members. He boards at the beginning of the show with a large piece of property that he watches the loading of with great concern. We quickly learn that this intelligent, well-mannered and quiet doctor is hiding the biggest secret on the ship. His sister, River Tam (Summer Glau). Seemingly law-abiding and tight-laced Simon snuck into the Academy she was sent to and drags her out, trauma and all. River is all but delusional when she appears…naked and in stasis. She struggles with her grip on reality, has insane fighting skills that seem programmed directly into her brain and some psychic abilities that are never truly explained. They find a tenuous place in the crew where Simon begins to fall in love with Kaylee and River starts to become more stable in the fairly unstable world of Serenity.

What we get out of all of this is ONE singular and beyond promising season of brilliant television. And that is it.

We get more questions than answers even with the follow up movie, Serenity.

This is what we walk away with:

Mal is a jerk and it makes for entertaining film particularly when his pig-headed attitude does things like get himself into a gentleman’s duel (with swords) or dressed up as a lady in his “pretty floral bonnet”. Inara’s depth and profession as a Companion are beyond intriguing. Add in a mysterious vial that we can only deduce later may be a medication of some kind and there are so many levels of intrigue within her character. The banter and budding relationship between the two of them remains one of the most irritating parts of the cancellation of the show. We could have seen so much more from this pair.

Shepard Book’s mysterious past may have been explained as would his need to save as many souls in redemption as he can. The biggest question is what happened to make him repent endlessly till his last breath? Jayne and his insane collection of guns would have made for some entertaining television, especially if we ever saw a time when he may have been offered enough to sell out the crew…and if at that time they were enough of a family to make him reconsider.

And speaking of family! Wash and Zoe and their incredible marriage! Would they have gotten their own boat? Or stayed aboard? Or would they have eventually settled down and started a family of their own?

What about River’s trauma and crazy mind powers? Does she ever recover or is she ever able to move on? And the romance that blossomed between Simon and Kaylee was nothing short of perfection. I wish we could have seen so much more of how their little group and their relationships developed.

Overall, a wonderful and delightful show that ended too soon.

It was followed by a single film to “wrap up” the story which will get a separate review (Serenity Review) with my personal thoughts about the ending.

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

(would be a full 5 if the series hadn’t been messed up by FOX’s airing schedule because we would have gotten MORE!)

Photo from Google… official DVD cover…

Posted in Blog Posts, Flick Central

Serenity, created by Joss Whedon: a Film Review

Synopsis:

The film opens on a new character, The Operative, going through files on Simon and River Tam which doesn’t seem to bode well for the siblings and the crew in the long run.

We rejoin the crew of Serenity as they continue their journey through space…but the ties are currently tenuous. Inara has left the boat, Shepard Book has settled in a community of his own, Simon and River are on the verge of leaving, and Mal seems to be dead set on pushing away most of the crew.

As they set out to do a new job, things get more complicated. What is a routine mission for the group, a bank job, turns sour when Reavers attack…and River is able to sense them.

Simon decides they will be leaving Serenity…but in a twist of events River is activated and knocks out the entire bar they are in while Simon is negotiating safe passage. This pushes Mal to the edge. And the film follows through this problem and its inevitable end at the mysterious “Miranda”.

General Information

-Genre: Space Western, Science-Fiction Drama

-Creator: Joss Whedon

-Length: 119 minutes, feature length film

-Film Rating: PG-13 (For violence, sexual situations, weapons, death and violent injury, implied rape and sexual assault)

-Where to watch: DVD, Blue-ray, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu (with a plug in), or check your local library for a copy!

-Main Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor

-Page of Reference in RP1: 49

Review (contains spoilers):

A less than satisfactory end to what could have been a long running and landscape changing show.

We are finally reunited with our beautiful crew, 8 months after the Tams set foot on Serenity. The movie starts by revealing some of the mystery behind River’s escape by the hands of her brother Simon. We find that someone is on the hunt for our beloved girl and that her abilities may not be what we see…the insanity, the trauma, the mental anguish and, as we find out, the deadly weapon that she has been trained to be.

We discover some of the mysteries and answer a few of the questions we have asked along the way.

Simon and Kaylee have feelings that we see flourish throughout the film. Wash and Zoe are still amazing together…and Mal and Jayne are themselves.

Though Mal seems more angry and more vicious in his words. Maybe its because Inara moved off of Serenity (for unknown reasons though we can guess that it is because of her mysterious illness and a major fight with the Captain). Maybe he’s just mad at Simon for his over-protectiveness of River. Or maybe he just has a bee in his pretty floral bonnet.

In the end, Serenity is a wonderful piece of science-fiction film. The fights are beautifully choreographed. River’s character develops in a way we never thought we would see. We learn the origins of the Reavers, how the Alliance has been negotiating and killing for years under covert operations.

But the things we lose are not only less than satisfying…they are devastating and are the one time I really feel that Whedon went for the shock factor in an unnecessary way. Wash didn’t need to die. There were other ways that he could have created the feeling that they may not all get out alive. And with his death we had all hopes of his and Zoe’s future taken away. For a shock.

And while we get a wrap up for somethings, like Simon and River becoming a real part of the crew. Mal getting back to himself. Inara coming back… Kaylee and Simon starting something. Jayne is Jayne.

The Alliance is beyond weakened by the broadcast Mal sends out.

As a single film, if you don’t know the show….its wonderful. A full story tied up nicely in a bow. But for the fans….its a difficult pill to swallow as the last time we will see our beloved Serenity and her daring crew.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

(because it’s a great stand alone…but left us wanting as fans…)

Photo from Google… promotional movie poster

Posted in Blog Posts, Flick Central

Firefly, the Forgotten Fandom…

(or how network television messed up what could have been one of the most incredible and landscape changing science-fiction shows of all time)

How to even begin… Oh and warning…this post contains SPOILERS for both Firefly and Serenity…

Firefly (and in turn the continuation film, Serenity) have been near and dear to my heart since I first saw the series over 15 years ago. I had just been on a Buffy and Angel binge when I had to see what other shows creator Joss Whedon had made and I stumbled across this gem.

Set in a dystopian future, this science-fiction western is perfection. A rag tag group of characters including a notorious and (slightly) dangerous captain, a straight-ish laced second, a gorgeous sex worker, an awkward but loving mechanic, handsome doctor and his (spoilers) insane sister…a god fearing priest….a gun-loving beast….and the crazy but charming pilot. I was hooked after the first episode I saw on DVD. And I devoured the whole series….

Only to find out that it ONLY RAN 11 OF THE 14 FILMED EPISODES! And there were ONLY 14 episodes…. What the heck?!?

I had to know what happened.

Firefly originally aired on FOX television in 2002 running just 11 of the 14 recorded episodes despite over 4.5 million people tuning in each night it aired and eventually receiving a Nielsen rating of 98th (think the Rotten Tomatoes of the 90s and 2000s though this system has been in place once before the advent of television)…

So how, despite all of the good, which included amazing reviews, an extensive sale of DVDs and later Blue-rays, winning a Primetime Emmy for their visual effects, being ranked FIFTH in the TVGuide of television shows cancelled too soon, holding insane accolades, being directed and created by an insanely popular filmmaker, AND having one of the friendliest and inclusive fandoms IN THE UNIVERSE, did this show just get shoved to the wayside???

I think it has something to do with HOW the episodes were presented on television.

As any good Browncoat (the term used to describe those of us in the fandom) knows, the DVDs that were released shortly after the cancellation of the show tell a pivotal story.

On every single episode, if one cares to look, is the air date of that episode. And they DO NOT coincide with what the fandom has come to know as the “correct” way to view them…you know…. how normal shows are viewed. With the Pilot episode first then subsequent episodes that build the character development and intrigue. That explain how the debonair but jerk of a captain becomes the loving head of the crew despise being incredibly rough around the edges. How his second in command follows without question and her hilarious husband tags along, and has for years. Why the three of them picked up the charming and quirky mechanic who loves all things pretty despite often being covered in grime from their escapades. The prominent and rich doctor and his crazy sister become involved in both the smuggling operation and part of the family. And how the renegade priest tries to save their souls regardless of his lethal past. Don’t forget the gun-loving brute force who (somehow???) saved a village and they renamed the place after him!

You learn about the characters, peeling away their layers, as a show develops. The episodes are ordered a specific way for a reason. The director and the writers are trying to tell a compelling narrative. Allowing characters to learn to trust each other or fall in love…to hate each other and call out their bad qualities…to hide secrets such as illnesses and insanely psychotic sisters…to become real on the screen.

And that happens when you watch the episodes in the order Joss Whedon intended the show to be watched in. Grab the DVDs or Blue-rays and just watch them starting with the pilot and ending with Episode 14. This creates the smooth character arc and personality development that causes most people to fall in love with the show, even people who swear they don’t like science-fiction shows like Star Trek or Stargate.

But when you watch them in the order they originally aired with a clear mind the issue arises very quickly.

Who are these people? Why are they together? And why is Mal such an asshole!!??

Airing a show out of order causes chaos. Firefly (and many other improperly aired television shows) lost potential fans right out of the gate. The seamless blending of science-fiction space exploration, old western hijacks and outlaws, and stunning eastern design were lost because instead of learning why this odd combination of seemingly “decent” people got tangled up with a group of smugglers you get a bar fight and a valiant rescue from the crew which make no sense being together.

“The Train Job” aired first in September of 2002 despite Whedon and his crew telling executives at FOX that the episode “Serenity” which was a two hour pilot should be aired first. This shall henceforth be known as mistake number one. The episode opens with a bar fight. Which in the context of knowing the show and the characters isn’t unusual. But when it’s your first introduction to Captain Malcom it seems brutish, unappealing and down right jerkish. It isn’t until you watch the opening episode and get some more information (Mal was a captain in the Browncoat rebellion that was squashed and the man he punches in the bar was supporting the oppressive government that won the war) that the whole scene makes a lot more sense.

The second and perhaps most detrimental “mistake” that FOX made when airing the show was the time slot. Friday night. Against established shows that pull similar demographics such as Star Trek: Enterprise, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Joss Whedon’s hit shows Buffy and Angel, Charmed and even shows like Smallville and Sabrina the Teenaged Witch there was a lot to compete against in the time slots for Friday evenings. Add in cutting episodes short to run a sporting event and all you end up with is fans who don’t care or get tired of watching a show that never gets to end properly.

It’s no wonder why Firefly got cancelled.

The whole choice of airing “The Train Job” first makes sense in theory and would work for other shows. The action right off the bat is compelling and funny…the valiant rescue by the rest of the crew in the Serenity, the Firefly class ship they live and work in, is beautiful. But here all it does is underestimate the intelligence of the audience.

Science-fiction fans are sadly used to this. The cerebral idea of most sci-fi shows is difficult for non-fans to understand. Many shows have suffered from this disconnect of general audiences in the past. Star Trek The Original Series was nearly cancelled after its first season for being too complex. Stargate has always been a debate for the idea of intellect vs brute force. Farscape had its ups and downs because it combined alien worlds, cultures and languages with the idea of what home and family are.

But it is vitally important for all teams working on a film or television show to work together at all phases of the development. This is even more important when it comes to those at the upper levels of a company be it in marketing, advertising or upper executive positions. The decisions made by those not involved on the day to day of a set can have a devastating impact on the feel and acceptance of something to the general public. So please listen to the creatives on the team.

Otherwise, shows like Firefly get cancelled.

And it’s impossible to know what impact that could have had on the general science-fiction but I’d like to imagine the possibilities of what we could have gotten had the series been able to continue on its path and not only given us a single film to try and wrap up all the lose ends.

Would we get to see Zoe and Wash (our lovely and happily married couple) realize their desire for a family instead of how things turned out in Serenity, the film? What about Shepard Book’s mysterious background and how he became a preacher in a world of mostly atheist people? Would Simon and Kaylee have gotten married…I mean that last scene between them in Serenity looked like it was well on it’s way to that and more? What about River? Would we have gotten more of her trauma and working through it? Would Jayne return to Jaynestown with that killer hat? And the biggest question: does Inara die from her illness…and how does that effect the incredibly brash relationship between herself and Mal?

Theses and so many more questions could have been answered if Whedon had Beene able to continue the story. And who knows the greater impact the show could have had. It is shows like this and Stargate, Star Trek and Doctor Who…even Farscape that pave the way for new shows like Eureka, Warehouse 13, and new Doctor Who to continue to subvert expectations (a female Doctor!) and influence modern pop culture for years to come!

Resources and Research:

https://firefly.fandom.com/wiki/Main_Page

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_(TV_series)