Firefly: A completely biased review

Firefly DVD image

As I mentioned in a previous post, I love this show.  This is the best TV show to ever be cancelled.  I am completely enamored of this series.  This is truly one of the best things to have ever been on TV.  The dialogue, the character development, the acting, the directing, the music are all fantastic.  Every time I see it, I get more nuance out of it.

For whatever reason, this show was not successful when it was first run on Fox back in 2002.  It was cancelled after only 11 episodes were aired (and, to help matters, they were aired out of order).  Since its cancellation, Firefly has enjoyed wild success on DVD.  To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only cancelled-after-less-than-one-complete-season show to ever spawn a theatrically released movie (Serenity).  Word about Firefly has been spread mainly through word of mouth and grassroots efforts dubbed guerrilla marketing.  People who have seen this show feel they’ve found something special, and I count myself among them.  I’m not generally a fan of science fiction.  In fact, I’m one of those people who used to roll my eyes at the idea of fan conventions, podcasts about cancelled science fiction TV shows and dressing up like your favorite character to go see a movie or some other gathering.  But this show is special.  It’s a fantastic combination of talented individuals who brought true passion to this project.  I love it.  I think it should be seen by everyone, everywhere, and as often as possible.

I’m going to outline some of what makes me so passionate about the show.  But I will tell you that nothing I say can truly capture it.  It simply has to be experienced.  If you do watch it, I implore you to do yourself the following favors: 1. Please see the episodes in the order in which they were intended to be seen, 2. See the entire DVD set before you see the movie, Serenity, and 3. Watch several episodes before you make a decision.  The order they were intended to be seen in does a lot for the experience, and the movie definitely comes after the series.  Also, the first episode, particularly, has a different feel that the rest of the series.  It was a pilot episode, and as happens in TV shows, things tend to change between the pilot episode and the rest of the series.  So, don’t judge the episode by the pilot (although it’s a fantastic episode).  See the first few.  Wait to get pulled in, because you will.  I have yet to hear of or meet anyone who made it through the second disk without getting completely hooked.  So, give it a shot.  And if I haven’t convinced you yet, I will expand upon some of the reasons to do so.

The characters (acting & direction)

The acting and directing in Firefly conspire to create one of the most successful onscreen ensembles I’ve ever seen.  The characters come to life with amazing depth.  Each of the nine characters are individuals with complex personalities and faults that make them more human.  When I first started watching, I had favorites — characters that really spoke to me.  But the more I watch the series the more I come to love each character for their own reasons.  Sure, it’s TV, so they’re (big damn) heroes, too (and that’s part of what captivates us).  But they each have qualities I can identify with, or that I wish I could.  On a very fundamental level, this show isn’t about spaceships or the future, it’s about relationships, family, love, safety and acceptance.  It’s about finding yourself and finding your place.  And the characters are such that we actually care about those relationships and the emotions they evoke.

The actors are phenomenal.  With the exception of Nathan Fillion, I had never seen any of the ensemble in anything before.  Usually, a show without a big name actor or two makes me a bit skeptical.  But my reaction after having seen Firefly the first time through was that I must not have been paying attention.  Certainly these people had played major roles in major movies or television shows before — I must just have missed them.  After looking around for a bit, I realized I had, in fact, seen most of them in something.  I had just never seen them in quite this way before.  I can’t think of another group of actors assembled for a television show that have been collectively so underappreciated (prior to their Firefly roles, of course).  The passion they take to the roles is evident onscreen.  They each played their parts without going to excess or stealing the spotlight.  Although some certainly may have had more lines than others, in any given episode, the “star” of the show would change, even between the interwoven storylines.  They played their parts skillfully and soulfully.  This show meant something to them, as well — and not just a paycheck.  They should each be in more movies and TV shows.  Especially Firefly-based movies and shows.

The directing obviously shares some of the credit here, as well.  Not being an actor myself (if you don’t count a play in the 10th grade, and I don’t) I can’t say for certain where the actor’s credit should end and the director’s should begin.  I am certain, though, that these tasks are woven tightly together.  I have to assume that the director gets some credit for the overall strength and consistency of the series, as well.  Really, anyone who had anything to do with the character development gets kudos from me.

The writing, the writing, the writing

Which brings me to the writing.  Wow.  The depth and nuance of the writing in Firefly is a source of continual amazement to me.  The characters (as I’ve said) are people I can identify with.  They bring out strong emotions, and take me on their journey.  The situations and adventures are reasonably realistic and definitely entertaining.  Making a space western set 500 years in the future something I’d describe as realistic is actually impressive all on its own.  Firefly is the wittiest thing I’ve ever known to be on TV.  And any writing that can be captiving and poignant the tenth time through is noteworthy.  It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it’s scary, it’s exciting.  I feel as I watch it.  And each iteration through I find something new.  It’s remarkable (obviously).  The writing in Firefly neither talks down to the audience, nor wraps itself in complications for the sake of pretention.  It’s smart without being smarty-pants.  In other words, you might learn something, but you might not notice.

The music

The first time through Firefly, I didn’t notice the music, per se.  Well, except for the opening theme.  By about the fourth episode, my husband thought, to save time, he should skip past the opening theme music.  He was quickly set straight.  For me, the opening theme is a fundamental part of the show, and I’d really rather include it in my Firefly viewing session (even now, on the tenth time through the series).  Other than that piece, though, the music didn’t stand out to me.  On subsequent viewings, though, I began to realize how much of what I felt while watching was related to the music.  The music for Firefly is beautifully composed.  I own the soundtrack, and am happy to listen to it over and over again.  I give myself extra points for being able to recognize the origins of the different musical segments.  ;-)   The music is unique and ideally suited to the Firefly universe.  It makes the highs higher, the lows lower, the scaries scarier and the funnies funnier.  Listening to it can take me right back to a moment in Firefly, and you can tell I like that.

The ‘verse

The universe in which Firefly is set, 500 years in the future, is casually known as the ‘verse.  It’s a great place.  No, wait, it isn’t.  In fact, that’s part of what is so great about the ‘verse.  It’s down & dirty, rough & tumble.  It’s living on the edge, life on the brink.  It’s hard.  The crew of our dear Firefly works for their living, and they work hard to make ends meet.  Somehow, that makes the danger more real, the triumphs sweeter, the relationships stronger.  It’s futuristic, but in its own way.  We get to know enough Chinese to offend (or at least confuse) an actual speaker of the language.  There are spaceships, of course, but generally, life is more like what we imagine life on the frontier of the American west to be, rather than the future in another solar system.  In a lot of ways, this makes it more approachable, more loveable and the only realistic-space-western-set-500-years-in-the-future I can imagine.  Like the ship and her crew, the ‘verse isn’t perfect, simple or sanitized for your protection.  But that’s what makes it an adventure.

So, yes, I love Firefly.  I think you should watch it.  If you do, let me know.  And if you love it, like I do, spread the word.  Stuff like this should be known, shared, enjoyed and hopefully, continued.  Grrr.  Argh.

6 Responses to “Firefly: A completely biased review”

  1. mom says:

    WOW!! I am so impressed.
    I love you both very much.

  2. Audra says:

    Great review! I completely agree!

  3. Cosmin says:

    a biased review indeed, but every word resonates so strongly with me :) I also did my best with a Firefly-post on my blog (in my language, unfortunately, and I’m afraid the little snippets of English it contains won’t do much good) and I’ve arrived to a similar conclusion – Firefly is such a personal experience it’s nearly impossible to put into words. we just have to spread the word – they can’t stop the signal! :)
    thank you for a great read.