In an attempt to further solidify my status as a science fiction nerd, I have spent a good portion of this summer working my way through some of the books and TV shows I missed while I focused on the more fantasy-driven Harry Potter and LOTR fests of my youth. Somehow, despite all of its hype and cult-fandom (including representation in shows like Community), I had never seen Firefly before. Now, I’m a fan of Joss Whedon (especially his run on Astonishing X-Men, the Avengers film, and the criminally under-appreciated Dr. Horrible special), so I was sure I’d love the show. And I certainly liked it, don’t get me wrong, but the show is a bit more flawed than I expected.
- Stylistic choices of making space travel and interplanetary colonies seem dirty, impoverished, and backwater. It makes for a more interesting
- A strong cast of characters, with diverse interests and backgrounds made for a dynamic universe with lots and lots of story potential, the biggest travesty is how little of it was tapped into when the show was canceled so early.
- Just how many story plot lines Whedon and co. developed in a short 14-episode season. Some examples of plot lines and concepts that had a lot of potential for great episodes: revealing more about Mal and Zoe in the war, the Shephard’s background and how religion worked in the universe, the Alliance’s inner workings and those evil mysterious men after River, and the political and wealth disparity between inner planets and outer colonies, just to name a few.
- A smart commentary on injustice, income inequality, and balance of power that was only just getting going when the show was canceled.
- The western twang was intermittent and not very consistent or believable; sure the wild west themes made a lot of sense, but there were a few too many cowboy scenes for my taste. Not to mention…
- That song. Not good, sorry Joss. I’m sure you loved it, but it was too heavy on the cheese for me.
- Some of the romantic subplots were clunky and forced. Mostly those involving the captain, as the Wash/Zoe and Kaylee/Simon dynamics were pretty solid.
- There were occasionally misogynistic plot lines and commentaries that seemed to go against Joss Whedon’s history on Buffy, as well as the generally strong characterization of all the show’s women: Zoe, Kaylee, River, and Enara (i.e. the bounty hunter in Ep. 14 was super creepy with Kaylee; the whole prostitution ring in the Western stakeout episode)
- Not quite enough multi-episode arc plot points. This may be more a sign of the times in 2002 than anything else, but it too often felt like the consequences of an episode’s arc were too self-contained, often making the Alliance’s memory seem a bit short.
- I’m not sold on the Mandarin slang interspersing the dialogue. I don’t think I get it.
Really, I think it just came down to bad timing. This show had a lot of potential, but people weren’t really ready for an oddball, morally-flexible, adventure in space in 2002. Even though Star Trek: The Next Generation had found plenty of success beforehand, 2002 was the era of police procedurals and Americana, like CSI and 24, as well as reality shows like Survivor, and The Amazing Race. If Firefly were to come out now, there would be much more of an appetite for the sort of worn-around-the-edges space adventure tale that Whedon spun. The show is a lot of fun and explores some good ideas. Of course, it was also famously canceled after only 14 episodes, when it was really seeming to get up some steam. Though the show was definitely not perfect, I will gladly join the bandwagon lamenting its early demise. Rating: 7 of 10 based solely on what was actually released, but I honestly think it had 9-10 potential and I wish there were a chance to show it!