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‘Firefly’ (2002): Review

Firefly-Cast-004

Created by: Joss Whedon || Written by: Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, Jane Espenson, Drew Z. Greenberg, Ben Edlund, Jose Molina, Cheryl Cain, Brett Matthews

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

No. of Episodes: 14 || Running Time: 616 minutes

This past 2014 winter break, I decided to take advantage of my final time off from undergraduate work to watch a ton of movies, television shows, and play some videogames I had been meaning to for a while. Stupid stuff like school and educating my brain had gotten in the way of critical pop culture analysis and entertainment.

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One big goofy family.

In the end, though, I completed several videogames and watched tons of great movies (totally worth it!), but hardly any TV shows. I’m just not as inclined to that medium as I am feature-films, despite the central art of both being essentially the same. Any television show, no matter how great, is a huge time-commitment. One great show that spans 60+ episodes can eat up many movies and videogames, so it’s often hard for me to work up the energy to watch a series from start to finish.

The one show I did watch all the way through over break was by far the shortest on my prospective list and perhaps the most championed by its cult fans. My criticisms of Joss Whedon’s body of work on this blog notwithstanding, I must say I’m glad I picked Firefly as the single series I checked off my list this winter. For one, I can now say I’ve seen a project so frequently and vehemently held up as a social pariah, unfairly truncated and cast aside by the ignorant 20th Century Fox, and two, the show is very good.

Shown partially out of order in its original debut and canceled after a mere eleven episodes aired (out of fourteen total produced), Firefly is a modern take on the sci-fi opera/space-western premise popularized by Star Wars back in 1977, yet in many ways it’s a show that was way ahead of its time. Nowadays in the “golden age of television,” where many critics and viewers consider mainstream television superior to most mainstream cinema, a time when television budgets, production schedules, and genre-blending universes are ballooning into the stratosphere, Firefly would fit right at home.

The show was in many ways limited by its ambitious scope, its extensive and multilayered sci-fi setting, and restricted budget —- things that would likely not be problems circa 2010 and beyond. Most of the series’ faults extend from its meager financing and limited resources: Much of the CGI is questionable, the hand-to-hand close-quarters-combat is laughable, and the storylines themselves switch genres so jarringly from science-fantasy to western at times that you think you’re watching two different shows.

However, all those noticeable but forgivable problems are just that, so forgivable and oftentimes forgettable, because everything else about the show is stellar. Whedon proves here that good screenwriting (telewriting?) and memorable characters trump special-effects and budgetary constraints every time. The show is well  directed and creatively designed, yet even that is background to the colorful central cast on display. Simply put, Firefly’s motley crew of social outcasts, unlawful rejects, and quirky losers are some of the most lovable, likable, and relatable characters I’ve watched in television or film.

While it’s arguable that no one character on the show is extraordinary other than Nathan Fillion’s Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, together they are the definition of a synergistic cast. Firefly’s crew has some of the best on-screen actor chemistry I’ve ever seen, and the ways the characters are interwoven and each actor builds on one another are brilliant. Some cheesy mannerisms aside (the Mandarin-English fusion curses are dumb), Firefly does its obvious Star Wars-homages justice and portrays a team of lovable misfits worth rooting for. The sets and props around them range from decent to passable at best, but the central figures and writing of the show are outstanding. Take that, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)!

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A good example of the show’s tonal genre-blending.. and shaky CGI :/

If you are like I was and are on the fence about Whedon’s labor of love, take it from me — a long-time Whedon-doubter (and to some extent, still am at times) — Firefly is worth the investment. It’s only fourteen episodes long, and combined with its followup feature-film, Serenity (2005, review forthcoming), it’s more like an extended miniseries than an completed TV series. If movies are rough equivalents of short-stories and long-running television shows more akin to novels, then Firefly is like a novella. It’s got some meat to it and it’s a great story with even better characters, yet you wish the author had the resources or permission to extend the story a good 200 pages (or 30 episodes :/ ).

In the end, while I regret that I ended up watching only one television series over my final undergraduate winter break, I’m glad I picked the right one. Firefly is flawed, no question about it, but it’s a great show that deserved far better treatment than it received.

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Firefly boasts an outstanding cast and well-written characters. They’re not just a team of social rejects, they’re a family, and you really feel that and all the accompanying warm feelings inside. Though the nature of the show’s universe is somewhat disjointed and poorly mishmashed, the sci-fi/fantasy/western genre-blend of Firefly’s obvious Star Wars riffs allow for surprises and twists in every episode. You never know what you’ll get in each chapter.

However… Firefly needed a bigger budget and more corporate love, and you can really see that in the show’s more ambitious set-pieces. Many of the props, cleaner-cut sets, and the haphazard juxtaposition of sci-fi and western elements are distracting. Some heavy-handed Whedon-social commentary occasionally pops into the foreground, and that Mandarin lingo is simply awful.

—> Firefly comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

? Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us?

Mal: You’re on my crew.

Simon: Yeah, but you don’t even like me. Why’d you come back?

Mal: You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this? (*walking away*) Dinner’s in half an hour!

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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