Gone Too Soon: Firefly
by Jason Hughes, posted Sep 14th 2009 11:02AM
When I first started exploring this project, there were a few shows that I knew were going to be important to hit. This is the first of those. Firefly was Joss Whedon's sci-fi western series. The show mustered disappointing ratings in its short eleven-episode run on FOX.
Since then it's gone on to near mythic cult status. There was such an outcry of support from its loyalists, the Browncoats, over its cancellation that the producers made a feature film sequel. That movie, Serenity, answered a lot of questions about the future fate of the cast. Unfortunately, like the television series, it couldn't find quite enough people to show up and tune in to warrant a sequel. Nevertheless, the few morsels of Firefly we did get are enough to prove that this is one of the most innovative and enjoyable series ever to hit the airwaves.
What was it?
[Spoilers Ahead!] Firefly was an ambitious seven-year saga developed by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse). A hybrid of classic western and modern sci-fi, the stories mainly took place on the fringes of civilized society. The crew of the titular firefly-class ship Serenity tried to avoid both the organized government Alliance, as well as the ne'er-do-wells in the black, like the cannibalistic, savage Reavers.
As much as the show was about character, so much about each character was a mystery. Mal Reynolds was captain. His second-in-command, Zoe, was on the losing side of the war with him. Now, they run cargo and smuggled goods to make enough to keep flying.
Others on the ship included pilot Wash, mechanic Kaylee, hard-headed Jayne, and Companion (high-class prostitute) Inara. They took aboard Book, a Shephard with secrets of his own, and Simon, a doctor on the run traveling with his sister River. Her condition was the deepest mystery of the series, largely revealed in the follow-up film Serenity.
Why did it have to go?
The easy answer is to say that it just didn't have the ratings, averaging less than five million viewers. FOX aired eleven of the fourteen episodes in random order. Actually, it was the network making arbitrary decisions as to which episodes they felt would better play to the audience, completely ignoring the narrative Whedon was weaving about his world throughout. The pilot, that best introduced the characters and their environment, was the last episode FOX aired.
It's a tendency they repeated on Whedon's current series, Dollhouse. However, unlike Firefly, FOX has actually given a second season to Dollhouse and promised to butt out and let the series develop as Whedon intends. If only they'd had this kind of patience and foresight when they had Firefly on their network, we might be celebrating the culminaton of Whedon's seven-year plan last season, instead of reminiscing about a show gone too soon.
How do I find out what happens next?
The most obvious place to look is in the sequel film, Serenity. That jumps us to a future point in the timeline where Inara and Book have left the ship. The film delved into the River storyline, while also featuring the deaths of two of the core characters.
There have been a few Serenity comics. These take place before the feature film, keeping the cast in intact. The plan is to continue with a mini-series further exploring this reality, but Whedon has indicated he doesn't think a comic series official continuation would work for Firefly as it has for both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I disagree, though, as we'd barely scratched the surface of this rich world he'd created.
Where did the cast wind up?
- Nathan Fillion (Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds) led future GTS contender Drive for FOX, before landing a more successful recurring role on Desperate Housewives. He's currently the star of ABC's Castle.
- Gina Torres (Zoe Alleyne Washburne) had recurring roles on Angel and 24, before getting another regular post on the short-lived Standoff.
- Summer Glau (River Tam) went on to The Unit and The 4400 before landing the role of Cameron in GTS Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. She is set to rejoin Joss Whedon in the upcoming season of Dollhouse.
- Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb) had recurring spots on Angel, The Inside and Day Break, before nabbing the longest role of his career as John Casey on NBC's Chuck.
- Alan Tudyk (Hoban "Wash" Washburne) was notably seen as the pivotal character Alpha in Whedon's Dollhouse. There's no way we've seen the last of him.
- Ron Glass (Shepherd Derrial Book) has slowed his career down in recent years, though he still does occasional guest work.
- Morena Baccarin (Inara Serra) has had recurring roles in tons of series over the years. She's now landed a lead role as Anna, leader of the Visitors, on the forthcoming remake of V.
- Jewel Staite (Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye) went on to a role on Wonderfalls, before securing a regular gig on Stargate Atlantis. She is set to star in the film spin-off of that.
- Sean Maher (Dr. Simon Tam) is doing the guest role circuit on shows like Ghost Whisperer and Drop Dead Diva, as well as small appearances in several films.
So many people still care about Firefly/Serenity. Officially dubbed "Browncoats," it was the fans' faith and loyalty that lead to the movie in the first place. They keep the faith alive, along with much of the cast and crew, that a future film installment might still see the light of day.
Firefly ranks continuously on lists of best sci-fi shows, cult shows and short-lived shows of all time. It was even retooled for HD so that it could air on Universal HD, as well as get treated to a Blu-Ray release. In March 2009, Firefly was awarded top honors in the "Shows We'd Bring Back" category for the first annual Hulu awards, proving that the faithful are still strong.
When can I see it?
I'll do you a solid and give you the real first episode right here. Then jump over to AOL's SlashControl to check out the rest.
[via IMDb, Wikipedia, Browncoats.com and more!]