I've recently finished a re-watch of all the episodes of Firefly and the sequel movie Serenity. It's certainly not uncommon for short lived sci-fi series to develop a loyal fan base that hangs on long after the series itself has finished. But Firefly may be the most extreme example.
The Cult of Whedon
Of course Firefly was always going to have an enthusiastic following. It was the brainchild of Joss Whedon. A man revered in fandom since he was also the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
I'm a big fan of Whedon's work myself. He has a unique voice and a real skill for character. However the first time I watched Firefly I wasn't impressed. It wasn't that the show was bad. It was competently written and there were good actors, but it just didn't resonate with me. The cowboys in space angle seemed over-played and I watched out of habit more than enthusiasm.
There's a simple reason for that and the reason is Fox. The network executives had no confidence in Firefly and messed around with the order the show aired in. The result was an introductory episode that was not only one of the weaker shows of the season, but also wasn't actually designed to introduce the characters or setting.
Obviously I wasn't alone in failing to connect with the show and Fox cancelled the show without even showing 3 of the 14 episodes. During it's short run though it had managed to generate some intensely loyal fans.
The Correct Order
In my re-watch I finally had the opportunity to view the series in the intended order and I was quite startled at what a difference it made. Where before I had trouble caring about the characters and found the western setting rather forced, this time round I was gradually seduced into it until by the end of the season I was disappointed to realize that was the last episode.
It's interesting and a little surprising, because of the face of it episodes of Firefly could be watched in any order. While there are some ongoing plot elements, each story stands on its own. But the significance of those apparently minor plot elements in building a cohesive universe turns out to be substantial.
In most cases I am accepting when a network cancels a show I like. Often they simply can't find the necessary audience regardless of timeslot or advertising. But with Firefly it's clear that Fox fumbled things badly.
Whedon took another stab at firefly with his 2005 movie Serenity. Essentially what we got was a big budget Firefly episode that tied up a number of the dangling plot strands from the series. The entire cast returned although some got relatively small roles and the movie still had that Firefly feel to it.
There's no doubt that it benefited from the larger budget and longer running time. But it's really not a movie that's newcomer friendly. There's too much background that people will miss if they haven't watched the show. And without that background it becomes a very run of the mill sci-fi flick.
There are still rumors about a Firefly revival. The most recent involved Netflix. Unfortunately, while I think there was a vast amount of untapped potential in the show, I also think it's time has passed. Better to wait long enough that it can be rebooted with an entirely new cast.
Or you could read the assorted licensed media...
- Saturday's Six: Why Firefly's early death was a good move (mutantreviewers.wordpress.com)
- James Hance Resurrects Firefly in Our Imagination (wired.com)
- Check out this cool Lego SERENITY ship from FIREFLY! (geektyrant.com)