Firefly

firefly.jpgI recently purchased the television series Firefly on DVD, after reading some comments made by Julian Sanchez and Glenn Whitman. I had not previously seen or even heard of this show, but I figured that it couldn't be that bad if these two fine gentlemen recommended it.

I was wrong. It was not bad - it was perhaps the greatest thing I have seen on television since... well, since a long time. I've only seen the first episode so far, but if the later episodes are anything like this one, just damn.

Firefly has been widely described as a space-western. It's set in the distant future, but the music, dress and culture are that of the Old West. This gives it a familiar feel. Lack of familiarity can be a problem with futuristic sci-fi: the setting can be so vastly different from our own world that it becomes difficult to relate with the characters and storyline. Not so here.

The space-western theme also helps avoid a common problem with westerns. Westerns simply bore me to tears. Yes, the scenery can be beautiful, but there is only so much of the great outdoors I can take, even if I'm sitting inside a comfortable, climate-controlled room while basking in nature's glory. And while westerns must necessarily focus on the characters (cause there ain't much else to focus on), it just seems like every western has similar characters, a similar setting, a similar plot (sheriff is corrupt, bad guy scares the cowardly townspeople, hero must face fate in a final showdown, etc). Firefly's space-western fusion is able to take the best of both worlds and avoid the rest.

Judging from just the first episode, there is a strong pro-freedom message underlying the story. The central characters, a crew aboard the starship Serenity, are smugglers, which immediately brings to mind Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. Fortunately, I have yet to see any sasquatchian walking rugs, around which a solid legal defense might later be made. As smugglers, the crew is constantly running from the law, and some of the paying travelers onboard the ship only add to the crew's outlaw status.

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But theirs is no ordinary government. No, this union of planets, The Alliance, is all-powerful, and seems like a cross between the Galactic Empire, the United Nations, and post-PATRIOT Act America. Or should I say, post-Civil War America, since the story takes place six years after a vicious civil war (the details of this war are still unclear after the first episode).

My only two complaints so far are that the DVD does not offer Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound - excusable, since it was filmed for television and not DVD, and that the writers commit a classic movie clich?. One of the characters, Zoe, gets shot in the stomach, but from the way her body reacts to the impact, it is clear that she is wearing a bullet-proof vest. Yet the writers still felt the need to have her unzip her jacket to show the audience that the bullet did not penetrate, apparently because we are too stupid to figure this out for ourselves.

Make that three complaints. I knew before buying it that the series had been canceled. I have no idea why, as the show is excellent so far and I've only heard good things about it. But I know that I will be disappointed after I finish watching the last episode. It will be like reading a good book with the knowledge that a sequel will never be written.

Well, maybe not. There is talk that the creator, Joss Whedon (whom you may remember from such television programs as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) is working on a Firefly movie.

One last thing. Although this is a futuristic space sci-fi, there are no aliens. This was a wise move on the part of the creators. One of the good things critics said about the movie Contact, even those critics who didn't like it, was that it avoided the problem many movies have with depicting aliens. (Incidentally, did you know that Contact was written by Carl Sagan?) I've found that in all but a few sci-fi movies, aliens are simply a distraction; well-developed characters do not need makeup and prosthetic devices to be interesting, Dirk Diggler notwithstanding.

All in all, highly recommended.

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I enjoyed the few episodes I

I enjoyed the few episodes I watched near the end of the shows run.

I'll probably purchase/rent the DVD somewhere down the road and watch it all in sequence.

As a Brit living in olde

As a Brit living in olde England, I have a problem. You cannot - yet - get the DVDs in a format compatible with my European machine. Drat and double-drat! However, I really hope the makers release a DVD in a format for us old worlders? Here's hoping.

There was a great line in

There was a great line in that episode, spoken by Captain Malcom "Mal" Reynolds:

"That's what government's for--get in a man's way."

Tom you can get DVD players

Tom you can get DVD players that play all regions and you er alter your computer DVD player to being unprejudiced about regions.

Micha I have always found westerns excruciatingly boring. I think the only Western I liked was Silverado. This looks rather interesting.

Does it have the same vide as Babylon 5?

"Does it have the same vibe

"Does it have the same vibe as Babylon 5?"

Having only seen partway through the 1st season of B5, which I find irritatingly statist, I would answer that question with a resounding "NO!"

Does B5 get better later on? Please tell me it does.

Its a "Space Western", which

Its a "Space Western", which is pretty much mostly "Space". Its more of a frontier show than a western, in that the primary conflicts for each show are those between the developed and the developing, the settled vs. the settling, the establishment vs. the establishing, etc.

The western-ness of it is mostly in speech mannerisms, the occasional horse, and the common tropes of westerns, but always there is a sci-fi undercoat to everything, so it shouldn't grate or be excruciatingly boring. In fact, I dont think there *is* a boring episode. Even the one I like the least is entertaining.

Micha - Re: your comment on

Micha -

Re: your comment on having known the series was cancelled before you ever got to watch it, I have to think that it's actually worse than reading a great book and knowing there's no sequel. This is partially because books are more often than not self-contained - most books are written without sequels in mind. (At least, this has been my experience as a reader and (in a more limited sense, at least so far) as a writer.) The nature of a television series, however, requires that the viewer be brought back week after week with something new, so every episode will leave room for more to follow. So there's a certain sadness inherent in the cancelled television series that can't be had in a book.

On another note, I think one of the greatest things about sci-fi is that pro-freedom messages are so easy to mix in without sounding preachy. You simply create a world where it's possible to show freedom in action - much like Robert Heinlein's Moon colonies, from whose inhabitants I first learned the phrase "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." I'm working on the beginning stages of a political/sci-fi novel right now where the middle third of the book takes place on Mars. It isn't at all difficult for me to find libertarian themes that I can work in during the Mars sequences, alongside the other things I'm concerned with getting into the story, all without being preachy. The freedom in creating a world allows you to discuss whatever you'd like - it's one of the biggest joys in writing this type of story.

And finally - maybe this is just the writer in me - what if when Zoe is shot, the reason she opens her jacket is to make sure the bullet didn't go through - to confirm for herself something that seems amazing to her? Perhaps the writers didn't so much believe that the audience was stupid, just that Zoe would be in shock and have to remind herself of what reality was at that particular point. Don't always assume a writer thinks you're dumb just because they engage in a cliche. People in the real world, like characters in stories, engage in cliche all the time for plenty of real reasons - that's the reason things become cliche in the first place.

Thanks for the heads-up on Firefly - I'll have to check it out.

I loved every episode, even

I loved every episode, even the supposedly "worst" episode, "Bushwhacked", though with a show this good, "worst" just means "less good than totally awesome". I really loved the interrogation scenes in "Bushwhacked". Joss squeezed a lot of character development into a few short scenes with that gimmick.

Hmmm...just now, reading the

Hmmm...just now, reading the episode guide for Firefly, I notice there are indentured servants in its universe. Funny, a big part of the plot of my novel revolves around indentured servitude on Mars. Ah, the joys of sci-fi!

funny, when i clicked on

funny, when i clicked on "galactic empire" I expected an Issac Asimov link.

Damnit. Your status as a

Damnit. Your status as a cultural divining rod is slipping. You did an entry on Farscape a few months ago. The entry ended with the sad realization the the series was being cancelled. I have been catching reruns when I can. I really like the show.

Now the same thing happens with Firefly. Why do I only hear about these things after they are gone! Why!

-sed