Author Topic: [Television] Firefly  (Read 3030 times)

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Offline Scurvy!Dreams

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[Television] Firefly
« on: July 28, 2009, 01:43:33 AM »
Firefly - The Complete Series (2002)
Created by Joss Whedon

I first watched Firefly on DVD starting in the summer of 2005. I'd been hearing the buzz for the short-lived 2002 series for a long time and finally bit the bullet, devouring the show just before the movie continuation “Serenity” hit theatres. It's a fantastic show that succeeds because it leans so heavily on creator Joss Whedon's two biggest strengths: characters and humour. Firefly is far from perfect, but I still think it's required viewing for any fan of genre television. I just wouldn't say that in public, for fear of being lumped in with probably the most obnoxious geek fan base there is.

Probably the most unique aspect of Firefly is the setting. Basically, it's a space western. Which is about as hokey and lame as it sounds. There are cool elements to it, but for every cool and interesting juxtaposition between advanced technology and the leftovers of a Sergio Leone film, there are just as many that don't work. Why would anyone go to the expense of creating a holographic pool table that plays exactly the same as, but offers no advantages over, the real deal?

The main problem is that I can't see what advantages this setting offers to the show. It sets it apart, but judging by its ratings and cancellation, apparently not in a good way. I guess its purpose is to show the lawlessness of these planets, but there are better ways to show backwards and run-down societies that aren't as ridiculous and unmarketable. Even Tatooine pulls off this look better and appears less dated.

A fun piece of colour used throughout the series is that all the characters swear in Chinese. The reason for this being that the galactic government is made up of an alliance between the two super powers of Earth That Was (as our planet is known), China and the USA. Thus everyone speaks both English and Chinese. For the first few episodes is pretty funny, and a nice bit of world building. But it quickly becomes annoying, as the actors struggle through 30-second outbursts of broken Chinese. That's small grapes though in comparison to the real issue that holds back this bit of background: Not a single Asian person appears in the entire series. Not one. If your universe is supposed to be built on a Sino-American alliance, maybe throwing in a couple of actual Chinese people would have worked better than ham-fisted bilingualism.

The look of the show, the sets and costumes, are as hit-and-miss as everything I've talked about so far. The titular ship is amazingly well realized. The set of the Firefly is about the only thing that absolutely works about the space western world, blending the two genres to create something that looks like it could belong in either. Most of all it looks like a real home for the characters: a warm and lived-in environment. In fact, most of the indoor sets in the series look pretty good. Sadly, it often falls apart when the story takes us outdoors. The towns the crew of Serenity visit look more like the work of a disinterested Civil War re-enactment society than they do of authentic old west builders, or even 20th Century Fox set designers. Sadly, budget and some weird decisions really take you out of the world during a lot of the outdoor scenes. The climax of the episode 'Shindig' is a great example. It takes place in a small forest clearing that would look perfectly fine except they decided to give it a more “otherworldly” look by surrounding it in copious amounts of dry ice fog.

I was extremely surprised by this, but I think the visual effects hold up amazingly well. Obviously they're not on par with modern movies, but for a 2002 television series they're more than adequate and wouldn't look too out of place on a 2009 Sci Fi TV production. Again, the ship Serenity looks the best, especially just flying through space. I find it pretty funny that the team at Zoic (who have since worked on Battlestar Galactica and Spider-Man 2, amongst others) turned in one the least dated looking aspects of the series.

What really makes Firefly a great show is the characters. Having nine main characters is quite the balancing act, but since they're the focus of the show they're handled perfectly. Every character is different and interesting, and the interactions between them are great and feel genuine. Even a lesser character like Simon who isn't terribly fascinating on his own becomes brilliant when he's paired with the crew of Serenity. The setting for these characters is just as perfect. Having them cooped up aboard the Firefly-class ship for long stretches forces them to interact and gives them and the writers little choice but to explore who these characters are and how they'd work together. It makes them into a real family that seems to really love each other and have a great rapport, even if they don't necessarily get along. This is communicated brilliantly by the actors, who by all accounts did form a great bond on-set, and it translates into a group of characters with great chemistry.

The relationships between the characters are all great, but it's the three romantic relationships that stand out. Zoe and Wash's marriage is done very well, with a maturity and relative lack of drama that is rarely seen on TV. It's kept interesting by some small fights that are generally handled quickly and sensibly, and the fact that Zoe wears the pants in the relationship even though Wash is a strong character himself. Typically in TV, if the woman is strong, the man is a door mat. It's nice to see a different take on that. Mal and Inara is a much more typical rom-com situation between two people who mask their feelings for each other in antagonism. While typical, it works because of the humour and Nathan Fillion's performance, and because the other two romances are so different. While Mal and Inara pretend their feelings don't exist, Simon and Kaylee admit that they like each other pretty early on in the story. That their relationship doesn't advance because Simon is so out of place and socially awkward feels right and is far less played out than if he were simply oblivious to Kaylee's advances.

Because this is a series review I didn't want to talk a lot about individual episodes, but 'Out of Gas' deserves a paragraph of its own. This is simply one of the best hours of television I've ever seen. The story is told out of sequence and brilliantly interweaves several different stories. The heart of the episode is a tense and dramatic situation taking place in the present that could absolutely serve as a story of its own. Throughout that story Mal flashes back to various points in the history of Serenity, and we find out how the crew we see in the pilot came to be a part of Mal's life. Not content with being just a fantastic episode, it's also a perfectly placed episode within the series. It's early enough that the characters aren't yet totally familiar and we can learn a lot about them through the short background flashbacks, yet it's late enough that the investment is there and we care about the drama that unfolds. This episode is the best of the series, and up there with some of the greatest episodes from Whedon's other series.

How does Firefly stack up against the other Whedon-created shows? As a first season it is head and shoulders above the rest. Sadly we'll never know if it could have approached the heights that Buffy and Angel reached, though the potential is definitely there. The problem is that it never really sets out a broader story or really establishes what it's meant to explore, so we don't know where it was going. Buffy was about growing up, so until the later seasons we always knew the direction of the show. Angel was still about growing as a person, and about Angel's ongoing search for redemption. And even the muddled first season of Dollhouse has established some weighty themes for itself going forwards, exploring what makes a person who they are. But Firefly never really let us know where it was going. The characters are already pretty fully formed, and the one ongoing storyline was the mystery concerning River, but only Simon seemed to be interested in solving that.

While we may never know what heights Firefly could have aspired to, it was a damn good show in its own right. Even if it never became as thematically rich as other Whedon shows, it still could still have delivered a damn entertaining episode of television every week. I was never truly sold on the world they inhabit, but I absolutely loved the characters and their incredible sense of humour. It's a shame we never got to spend more time with them.



Ranking of episodes. Dashed line indicates significant difference in quality:

Out of Gas
---
Objects in Space
Our Mrs Reynolds
Jaynestown
Ariel
---
Shindig
War Stories
Trash
Bushwacked
---
Heart of Gold
Serenity
The Train Job
The Message
Safe

Offline ReaPsTA

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2009, 02:20:41 AM »
I wanted to be the first one to review a TV series, but you beat me to the punch in epic fashion. If you do a Battlestar review before me, I swear I will cut you.

I actually really liked the look and aesthetic of the show. Its budget showed, sure, but the world still felt realized just fine.

One thing I have to point out, from the beginning:

Quote
It's a fantastic show that succeeds because it leans so heavily on creator Joss Whedon's two biggest strengths: characters and humour.

I really agree with this. I like Joss, but I find his plotting somewhat questionable, and fortunately Firefly wasn't a plot heavy show.
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Offline Sigz

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2009, 02:21:53 AM »
I've tried watching the first episode twice, and I stopped somewhere in the middle both times. I don't know, I just can't get into it for some reason.
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Offline GuineaPig

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2009, 06:28:20 AM »
Battlestar >>>> Firefly
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Offline ReaPsTA

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2009, 09:57:34 AM »
Battlestar >>>> Firefly

I personally agree, but they're different shows that try to do different things.
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Offline Scurvy!Dreams

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2009, 03:51:29 PM »
I've tried watching the first episode twice, and I stopped somewhere in the middle both times. I don't know, I just can't get into it for some reason.
I think the first two episodes are pretty weak, but worth pushing past. I'd hesitate to recommend skipping them though.

I wanted to be the first one to review a TV series, but you beat me to the punch in epic fashion. If you do a Battlestar review before me, I swear I will cut you.
Heh, I'll keep that in mind. I'd like to do Battlestar season by season, but I don't think I have the energy to rewatch them. Maybe once winter hits and I can get in the right mood for it...

I really agree with this. I like Joss, but I find his plotting somewhat questionable, and fortunately Firefly wasn't a plot heavy show.
Absolutely. The weakest seasons of his shows (Buffy 6 & 7, Angel 4) are weak precisely because they put too much emphasis on plot. Another example is Buffy 4: it has an absolutely horrendous plot, but it's one of my favourites because the character arcs are so strong and they take the spotlight.

Battlestar >>>> Firefly
Duh. This review was initally going to take a more negative view, and one that took the "Brown Coats" to task for being obnoxious fanboys worshipping a show that doesn't really hold up to the best TV shows of this decade. But overall Firefly is a very good show, and it's hard to fault it for being "great" rather than "the greatest". Comparing it to Whedon's other work is much more reasonable.

Offline ReaPsTA

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2009, 04:36:50 PM »
I'm surprised nobody in this thread seems to like the Serenity pilot. I honestly think it's great and one of the top three episodes of the series. Probably my favorite pilot ever in fact. (Better than the BSG miniseries, though definitely not better than 33).

EDIT: Just to elaborate. It comes down to two big things.

The first is the structural design. Whedon told a single episode's worth of story in two episodes, giving the characterization much needed room to breathe. I hate watching pilots where every line of dialog is imbued with tons of meaning because the writers only have 22/44 minutes to introduce you to a whole world. Plus, it's nice that Book, Simon, and River don't know the main cast. It lets some of the exposition flow more naturally.

The second is the unclunky writing. I like the BSG miniseries a lot, but it's so obviously RDM's first pass at writing science fiction that isn't Star Trek.* By contrast, Whedon already seemed perfectly acclimated to his universe when writing Serenity. The characters feel fully fleshed out, and it shows with the dialog. All the bad parts were either cut out of the script or in editing.

*RDM perfectly nailed the tone of the universe though in 33. I do kind of wonder where the massive leap in quality came from. I know he said he wrote it without an outline, so I guess he just felt more comfortable writing more naturally. Plus, there's less story, so it has more room to breathe than the miniseries.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2009, 04:45:42 PM by ReaPsTA »
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Offline Sigz

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2009, 04:39:07 PM »
I've tried watching the first episode twice, and I stopped somewhere in the middle both times. I don't know, I just can't get into it for some reason.
I think the first two episodes are pretty weak, but worth pushing past. I'd hesitate to recommend skipping them though.

hmm maybe I'll give them another shot then. I've heard so many great things about the series, and from people who's taste I normally respect, I feel like I'm missing something great.
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Offline faemir

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2009, 07:28:00 AM »
I've tried watching the first episode twice, and I stopped somewhere in the middle both times. I don't know, I just can't get into it for some reason.
I think the first two episodes are pretty weak, but worth pushing past. I'd hesitate to recommend skipping them though.

hmm maybe I'll give them another shot then. I've heard so many great things about the series, and from people who's taste I normally respect, I feel like I'm missing something great.

I had the exact same feeling, just push past the first two episodes and suddenly it clicks  :hat

Offline XJDenton

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2009, 09:25:35 AM »
Personally I found the pilot to be one of the best in terms of characters and pacing.

Offline Scurvy!Dreams

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #10 on: August 10, 2009, 01:29:53 AM »
I'm surprised nobody in this thread seems to like the Serenity pilot. I honestly think it's great and one of the top three episodes of the series. Probably my favorite pilot ever in fact. (Better than the BSG miniseries, though definitely not better than 33).

The first is the structural design. Whedon told a single episode's worth of story in two episodes, giving the characterization much needed room to breathe. I hate watching pilots where every line of dialog is imbued with tons of meaning because the writers only have 22/44 minutes to introduce you to a whole world. Plus, it's nice that Book, Simon, and River don't know the main cast. It lets some of the exposition flow more naturally.

The second is the unclunky writing. I like the BSG miniseries a lot, but it's so obviously RDM's first pass at writing science fiction that isn't Star Trek.* By contrast, Whedon already seemed perfectly acclimated to his universe when writing Serenity. The characters feel fully fleshed out, and it shows with the dialog. All the bad parts were either cut out of the script or in editing.
I feel like the pilot almost has too much time to breathe. The main story is done pretty well, just a little slower than I like. But it's the stuff around it that really drags the episode down. The Battle of Serenity Valley really doesn't work for me at all, and is really an awful opener. And I don't like the stuff with Constance, or the Reaver chase. You're right that not limiting it to 44 minutes makes it work better than a regular pilot, but I feel like 88 minutes opened the door to lesser scenes.

Offline Space Invader

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2010, 05:49:56 PM »
I really enjoyed the first two episodes, and I'm looking forward to the rest of Firefly. Next on my list: Battlestar!
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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2010, 05:59:36 PM »
So I finally gave the show a shot again a few months ago, and I was totally hooked. Watched the entire season in like 2 days. I'm also in the middle of season 2 of BG, which is awesome as well.
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Offline faemir

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2010, 12:45:39 PM »
I really need to watch BSG again...

Offline 7StringedBeast

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #14 on: March 05, 2010, 09:47:11 PM »
Oh man,  I love Firefly.  It's such a cool idea.  The things I like most about the show are the sets and the lighting.  The lighting is incredibly good for a TV show.  The characters are great too.  Also, SPACE WHORE!  This show is really fun.  I still have to watch the last episode and then I am going to watch Serenity.
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Offline Lowdz

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #15 on: January 26, 2011, 03:38:08 PM »
Excellent show and you bloody Americans didn't watch it!!! Thanks a bunch.  :rollin

Offline orcus116

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #16 on: January 26, 2011, 04:15:27 PM »
Lots of people watched it. FOX putting throwing it a Friday night timeslot killed it though.

Offline kingshmegland

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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #17 on: January 26, 2011, 04:20:16 PM »
Lots of people watched it. FOX putting throwing it a Friday night timeslot killed it though.

Yes it did.  I feel the same way now about Fringe.  I think Fox is killing the show now that it's moved to Fridays.
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Re: [Television] Firefly
« Reply #18 on: January 26, 2011, 04:26:57 PM »
Hey, I watched it, finally.  We worked our way through the DVD series in Whedon order, not broadcast order, and thought it was fantastic.  Then we checked out all the bonus stuff, then we watched Serenity, then all the bonus stuff for that.  Then I gave it all back to the guy at work who I borrowed it from.

I thought it was great, and I had no problem at all with the Space Western setup and all the anachronisms and inconsistencies it created.  It was a crazy, fun show with some excellent characters.  Also, I watch Castle now and finally get all the references.