Firefly: A Perfect Cult Series

Taking a look at a personal favourite show…

Having fallen behind on my TV watching habit thanks to a rather large amount of work at Uni, I thought I’d fall back on talking about another cult series that I love dearly, Joss Whedon’s Firefly. This is a fantastic series that was criminally cut short after only the first season and has since gained a large cult following. I also recently finished watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you’re probably wondering why I’m not reviewing that instead, but Firefly is conveniently much shorter and so much quicker to go through, which fits perfectly with my limited time! Spoilers ahead.

Firefly is a blend of genres: part western, part space adventure, part drama, and it, like most of Whedon’s work manages to balance each genre superbly. The mixture of tones and style lead to a very unique feeling world which really lives and breathes. Most of Joss Whedon’s fiction is set in modern day earth, so it is interesting to see what he does with a world set far in the future. The characters use Chinese expressions, as it is the most common language besides English, the costumes are a mixture of modern business attire for the wealthy part of the Alliance of Planets, and more old-timey frontier clothes for the outlying planets. The series is full of little details which create an incredible atmosphere.

Set in the aftermath of a planetary civil war between the Brown-coats and the Alliance, the story follows Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew as they pilot the ship serenity into deep space, always on the lookout for their next job, and avoiding Alliance authorities every step of the way. The premise alone was enough to convince me to watch it. It really is a niche, you have to love both the western genre and the space exploration genre, which fortunately I do! The combination of styles enhances both, and the feeling both of familiarity with the setting and newness with the story and concepts makes for a very enjoyable experience. As the show progresses each of the characters gets explored in more detail and the way that this new world works is unpacked. If the show had gone on more could have been introduced, but what is already there is great fun.

The acting across the board is superb. I won’t be able to only talk about a few choice performances here as the cast are just too damn good. Nathan Fillion is alternately brooding and lovably charming as Captain Reynolds, Alan Tudyk is fantastic as the slightly more comical Wash, although he is also one of the more moral characters. Gina Torres is excellent as a very protective and loyal Zoe, the second in command. Morena Baccarin is calm and gentle, with an often sharp tongue and a very winning smile, playing the lovely Inara. My personal favourite character is Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin. The classic mercenary, Jayne could easily have been a simple thug, but thanks to Baldwins excellent comic timing, which can be seen better in Chuck, Jayne has plenty of funny moments and witty lines. His character is also very endearing. He is blunt and threatening, but deep down cares immensely for his crew, especially Kaylee. Speaking of, Jewel Staithe is a ray of sunshine, her portrayal of Kaylee is uplifting and heart-warming and her character is the most adorable person you will ever see. Sean Maher is perhaps the weakest actor. He has moments, but on the whole, when surrounded by such interesting characters, he has a tendency to get side-lined. Summer Glau is much more memorable. She plays River, an exceptional girl who has been experimented on by a shadowy part of the Alliance and spends a lot of the series adjusting to her life on the ship, and trying to come to terms with her abilities. As such she is very unstable. Finally, Ron Glass plays Booker, the resident preacher on the ship. Rather than being a self-righteous character, Booker is the moral centre of the group and often doles out advice to the rest of the crew. I enjoyed seeing a positive portrayal of a religious character, especially a Christian, as they tend to come off as pushy.

Of course, the show isn’t perfect. Despite the realism of the exterior scenes in space being shot in silence, the effect is unsettling and takes me out of the experience a little. As well as this the limited budget means that the space craft, while looking fantastically designed are very dated. The CGI doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. The budget also means that many of the Terra-formed planets we visit on the far reaches of space just happen to have very similar environments. Sand and grass. It would’ve been nice to visit a few more diverse planets. However, none of these things are too distracting for me to not recommend the show, in fact I find them quite charming. The visual style of the show is strong enough to overcome bad CGI. The costume design alone is gorgeous, and the sets and props are all very cool and blend frontier cowboy style clothing with grungy Red Dwarf style technology.

However, the costume and characters aren’t all Firefly has to offer. I haven’t talked before about Joss Whedon, but he is a rarely talented writer. His TV shows in particular always appeal to me. He is a master of writing witty back and forth dialogue and making potentially boring exposition sound weighty and important. The characters are written so well, they seem like living breathing people, not stale archetypes, which is always a risk when writing genre fiction. Whedon has a flair for dialogue, but also a knack for organic world-building; he knows when to give the audience more backstory, and also when to ease off and let the characters chat. It’s always a pleasure to watch his work.

Firefly is one of those shows that feels so unique and interesting that you must watch every episode. It was a crying shame when it was cancelled in 2002 after only one season. However, Whedon since went on to make a film wrapping up the story, and I would rather watch a short-lived show I can love, than 20 seasons of a mediocre series. If anything about the show has intrigued you I urge you to give it a watch and discover how awesome it is for yourself.

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