TV Ain’t Big Enough For Good SF – Review: Firefly
REVIEW SUMMARY: 500 years in the future, mankind has reached the stars, colonizing and terraforming as they go. The crew of the trampship Serenity prowls the frontier looking for work (legal or not), trying to stay ahead of the Alliance police.
MY REVIEW: This is what good SF on TV looks like. Its funny, has great character interaction and good stories. Its a shame Fox screwed around with Firefly and cancelled it after airing only 11 of 14 episodes.
PROS: Strong ensemble cast, interesting world-building, focus on storytelling.
CONS: A weak episode here and there, small budget makes some scenes look cheap and unbelievable.
BOTTOM LINE: If you like SF, then you simply must watch Firefly. Either buy it or rent it. It won’t disappoint you.
Firefly had a short, turbulent run on Fox, airing only 11 of the 14 filmed episodes. I had heard quite a bit about Firefly and how good it was, and not just from Fred. So I perused a couple of fan sites and decided to rent the DVDs from NetFlix. I wasn’t dissapointed.
The DVD set contains all episodes, in the order the creator, Joss Whedon, intended (and not the order Fox actually broadcast). The fact that Fox wanted the ‘pilot’ episode to be heavy on the action (The Train Job) and not the actual pilot (Serenity) should tell you all you need to know about the cluelessness of the Fox suits and its no wonder people had trouble getting into the show. Here, Serenity Pts. 1 & 2 lead off the first DVD and provide plenty of the backstory and character background that is needed to understand the Firefly universe. Fox did themselves, and the show, a huge disservice by airing The Train Job first (although it too, is a fine episode). One of the main complaints people have about Firefly is the juxtaposition of SF and Western elements. That was easily explained in the real pilot episode as worlds on the frontier being terraformed and the colonists being dumped on them with a few head of cattle and just enough equipment to get by. The worlds on the frontier are truly western-style worlds struggling to survive.
The crew of the Firefly cargo ship Serenity prowls the spaceways between the worlds looking for work (and survival). They get into all sorts trouble, legal and not, most of which is really interesting. The crew consists of nine different members, all of whom have a interesting backstories. Because the show ended after 14 shows, we don’t really get to learn much about many of the crew. But the upcoming Firefly movie promises to answer a lot of questions. The crew is the strongest part of Firefly. It reminds me of the original Star Trek series in the emphasis on characterization and interaction among the crew. The fact that it works with nine differing members is a testament to the writers.
As far as the science fiction goes, aside from the occasional spaceship or trip to one of the Core Worlds, there is very little overt SF tropes. The size of the ‘universe’ is never mentioned, there is no discussion of FTL travel at all (although I don’t see how there can be many Core Worlds without interstellar travel), and the firearms look to be simple ballistic weapons like rifles and revolvers. Oh, and no aliens, either with funny foreheads or not. In fact, the SF elements take a back seat to the stories and provide a lot of context without being intrusive. A nice touch.
The only negatives I have with Firefly are probably a result of the small budget. Many of the FX shots just look plain cheesy. Mainly this consists of exterior shots of the Serenity on a planet where the ship just looked fake. I also think the budget was a factor in the choice of a Western feel to the show. Those sets, many outside locations obviously shot in the Californian desert, are easy to make, if they aren’t available already, and the wardrobe doesn’t require much in the way of future imagining. So while the Western feel fits with the storyline, it also detracts a bit by adding to the chintzy feel. Another gripe is that some of the episodes were weak storywise. For instance, in one episode, the crew helps the inhabitants of a whorehouse stand up the local strong man, who in this case is the head of government of the moon in question. Now, aside from the A-Team feal to this particular episode (except people do die), the governor-type guy just seemed like a buffoon instead of the head of government. He could only muster about 10 rabble-ish looking guys to help him take on the whorehouse gang. Just totally unbelievable. And there are a few moments here and there which make you go, ‘Come on, no way!”.
In spite of that, I highly recommend Firefly to any and all SF fans. Fox had a chance to create the next Star Trek, but shortsightedness and just plain stupidity got in the way. Run out and give Firefly a chance. You’ll be glad you did.
Filed under: TV
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