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 RATING:

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.

11 thoughts on “TV Ain’t Big Enough For Good SF – Review: Firefly”

  1. I was about to write a review of the DVDs, but see that JP has already done so, and a pretty good one at that, so I’ll just add a few comments.

    I give this series 5 stars, and now consider myself a fanboy of something. How this series couldn’t make it past a season while so much other sci-fi crapola thrives for years is beyond me.

    The characters are so likeable and the scripts are so well written. I find myself laughing out loud at least once during each episode. If the movie (due out sometime next year) doesn’t bring the series back, it will be a crime against humanity. This is hands down better than anything on the Sci-Fi Channel, so it should at least find a home there, if not on one of the major networks.

    A couple extensions to JP’s review. The characters in the show are thieves, and make their living by acquiring and selling contraband. They’re not totally unscrupulous, however, or at least not as unscrupulous as most of the people they run into.

    There ARE laser weapons, but they’re not common, which must mean they’re expensive.

    The crew is varied. The ship’s engineer is an extremely attractive woman – kind of reminds me of Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island. There’s a ‘companion’ (rather like a prostitute) who actually owns the ship, a preacher who won’t actually shoot people dead, but has no moral problems knee-capping them, a doctor and his enigmatic sister, the pilot and his mercenary wife, and Jayne, the gun-for-hire that throws his allegiance to whoever pays the best. He’s hosed the crew over more than once for money. But my favorite character is the captain. Unlike captains on other programs, he’s got some glaring flaws. However, when the rubber hits the road, you can count on him to do the stand-up thing.

    This show needs to come back in the worst way. Let’s just hope the movie makes that happen.

  2. Is it only available from Netflix? I’m dying for lack of scifi until stargate gets back online on the 7th (I think)..

  3. Well I got it from NetFlix, but it’s available at fine video stores everywhere. Note that I exclude Blockbuster from my list of ‘fine video stores’, even though they are everywhere.

  4. So what’s your beef with Blockbuster? Is it because they’re infringing on NetFlix territory, NetFlix fanboy? After all, it’s not like Blockbuster is owned by Costco or anything. :)

  5. My beef with Blockbuster is they unapologetically reamed America for years (i.e. due-the-next-day-3-day-rentals) and now that there’s real competition out there (yeah, Netflix), they’re playing catch-up. And let’s talk a bit about their selection. They stock three walls full of Deuce Bigalow, but do you think they carry a film like Avalon?

    Then there’s the check-out lines… So yeah, I’ve got a real problem with Blockbuster, and them playing Netflix copycat doesn’t make up for the years of bad behavior.

  6. I need to cut Blockbuster a little slack. My wife went there on New Year’s Eve to get a couple movies for Austen and his friends (it was an emergency, so we couldn’t use Netflix.) She just finally got to returning them last night (one was a two-day rental, so it was several days overdue) and there was no late fee. We figured that their now ‘No Late Fees’ slogan was a bunch of hooey, but it appears it’s the real deal.

  7. No, actually, it is mostly hooey. If you are more than 7 days late, BB will charge your credit card the full price of the movie(s) that are late. If you take them back before 30 days, they will credit your card the price of the movie(s) minus a ‘nominal’ service charge. So, you have 7 days, then they sock it to you.

  8. I was an avid watcher of Firefly from day one. When the show didn’t come on one week, I was sure it had to have been some kind of mistake. When it wasn’t on the next week, I searched the net for news and found out it had been cancelled. I was totally flummoxed. I guess the Nielson families and I just dont have the same taste in shows. Of course, I thought “Andy Richter Saves the Universe” was hilarious as well.

  9. I just watched the first 3 episodes from the DVD and I am totally blown away. This show is great. How can a show like this get cancelled yet the new Battlestart Gallactica stays on the air?

  10. Watched the 2nd DVD (next 4 episodes) and enjoyed them too – although not every show was as good as the ones in the first DVD.

    My only gripe is that the pistols and shotguns shooting lasers is just odd. Why would anybody make a laser pistol look like a Colt .45? I understand that the frontier has lots of cattle and so the leather outfits make some sense, but the guns are just strange. That audio for them is pretty cheesy too.

  11. Well, after an all-nighter with Disc 4 I thought I thought it was time I weighed in.

    Wow.

    This show had so many things going for it (outstanding characterizations, great stories and story arcs, drama, mood, look & feel, world-building, perfectly placed and delivered humor and yes, even music) that the minor faults it may have had (some unexplained physics or minor story disconnects) are totally forgivable.

    Unexpectedly, I thought every single episode was hugely entertaining. I say unexpectedly because only a small handful of science fiction television shows are worthwhile (which is why I passed on this while it aired), but Firefly schools them all. The one or two episodes that did have a weaker start (“Saffron” comes to mind) more than redeemed themselves by episode’s end.

    The story arcs (the blue hands, River’s condition and the potential relationships) were enjoyable and left me wanting more. I’m not sure how that would have fared watching it on a weekly basis, but on DVD it was effective. Speaking of the DVD, the commentaries that I managed to squeeze in were hilarious!

    Given that I found each and every episode to be so well done, rating this anything less than 5 stars would be an injustice. I just can’t fathom how it could have been more entertaining.

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