Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fire Flying

Ni hao! I may be the last goram feller in the goram 'verse to find out about Firefly, but I think it may be the best goram vid on the whole goram cortex! Take a gander if you've a notion! It's shiny!

Translation: Hello! I may be the last person in the (ahem) gosh darn universe to find out about the television show Firefly, but I think it may be the best darn TV show available on the whole darn internet! Go watch it if you would like! It's excellent!

A high-speed internet connection is a marvelous thing; it allows me to waste time in ways previously unimaginable, visiting sites such as YouTube.com, CBS.com, and Hulu.com and watching classic (and not-so-classic) TV from years gone by.

My latest discovery is the late, lamented science fiction/Western hybrid Firefly which ran for only 11 of its 14 scheduled episodes on the Fox network in 2002 before it vanished from the network's lineup. There was such an outcry from fans that the show's producers decided to release the entire series as a DVD boxed set, which led in turn to a cast reunion and a big-screen movie, titled Serenity, in 2005. The movie was designed both to fill in crucial gaps in the characters' backstories and tie up loose ends created by the series's abrupt cancellation. The Firefly boxed set and Serenity movie are available for sale at Amazon.com and the Serenity movie is also available for rental and streaming internet playback to Netflix.com subscribers. I'd heard good things about the show for years but missed it during its original all too brief network run. When I saw it was available on Hulu.com, I started watching the pilot and was immediately hooked.

Firefly comes from the fertile, somewhat twisted imagination of Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off series Angel. I've never been a big fan of the horror genre in general or vampire stories in particular, so I was never a big Buffy watcher. The few times I did happen to catch the show while channel surfing however, I had to admire its truly original premise, smartly constructed plots, well-drawn characters, and some of the wittiest dialogue on television.

Those same characteristics are much in evidence with Firefly. As a brief prologue to the later episodes explains, in the 26th century when Earth's resources are exhausted, humanity begins moving out into space and converting other planets into replicas of Earth. The most powerful planets form a technologically advanced but corrupt and authoritarian Alliance and attempt to force all the planets to join. The "independents" or "browncoats" refuse, and a bloody galactic civil war follows.

After the browncoats are decisively defeated at the battle of Serenity Valley, the remaining independents move to the far fringes of settled space, where representatives of the Alliance are scarce and high technology is hard to come by. Hence, Firefly's vision of the 26th century looks and sounds a lot like the 19th--with a few twists. Characters speak a bizarre blend of Mandarin Chinese, slang invented for the series, and a rustic dialect of English that sounds as if it came from every Western movie ever made. In battle, characters are just as likely to reach for six-guns as they are for ray guns, and desperadoes on horseback coexist with stormtroopers in battle armor. The show's musical score is just as likely to feature fiddle, banjo, and guitar as it is the orchestral music or electronica that you might find in more conventional science fiction. The final image of the opening credits, a starship hovering over a corral, perfectly summarizes the show's blend of space opera and horse opera motifs:



Sergeant Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds is a survivor of the battle of Serenity Valley and an embittered browncoat. In an effort to start over again after the war, he's promoted himself to captain, bought a rusting, obsolete "Firefly" class freighter, dubbed her Serenity, and assembled a ragtag crew: former war buddy Zoe, as tough as any man, as his first officer; Wash, Zoe's wisecracking husband, as pilot and navigator; the eternally pert and perky Kaylee as ship's mechanic, who, despite her girlish demeanor, is a whiz with machinery; Inara, a highly trained and officially licensed "companion," or courtesan; and Jayne, the hired muscle, whose mercenary temperament leads him to try to betray his captain more than once.

In the show's 90-minute pilot episode, the starship Serenity picks up three more passengers: Book, a "Shepherd," or minister for an unspecified, perhaps pan-Christian denomination; Dr. Simon Tam, a brilliant young surgeon; and his sister River, a child prodigy whose mind has been cruelly damaged by horrific experiments at the hands of Alliance scientists. Simon has sacrificed his promising career to rescue River from the "Academy" where she was being tortured, and now the two of them are wanted fugitives. Somewhere in the deeply troubled recesses of her mind, River holds secrets that could bring down the Alliance.

Over the course of the series, characters grow, change, and reveal more sides of themselves. Mal, for example, has an almost Victorian moral code, and I mean that in the best possible sense. He can't stand to see a woman abused or mistreated; so much so that he'll risk his life and his crew to defend a bordello full of prostitutes who are being terrorized by a local bigwig. He hates the fact that Inara, whatever she may call herself, is a prostitute, and shows signs of being in love with her, feelings she may secretly reciprocate. When he finds he has stolen a load of desperately needed medical supplies, he'll risk his life to return the supplies to their intended recipients and willingly incur the wrath of the vicious gangster who hired him to steal the supplies in the first place.

Shepherd Book, for his part, seems to have more knowledge of military and security matters than a clergyman otherwise might, suggesting that he too has a troubled past. It's clear that Mal has lost his religious faith as a result of the events at Serenity Valley, and had the show continued, I would have liked to have seen the relationship between the two men develop further and the writers grapple more with issues of faith and belief.

In short, Firefly has a little bit of everything: plenty of action, quirky, unconventional characters, Emmy-winning visual effects, and--I almost forgot--bloodthirsty space-going zombies called Reavers--truly something for everyone :) If you like science fiction or Westerns or wonder what a blend of the two genres might look like, head on over to Hulu.com today and start watching. The browncoats need you.

1 comment:

K T Cat said...

I've heard about Firefly, but never seen a whole episode. I might just try it next time I sit down with Hulu ....