Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The New Yorker is finally bitten by Firefly

For almost quite some time now, people who know me and my science fiction sensibilities, have constantly asked me if I am a Firefly fan. Firefly is a sci-fi show, or more specifically a space western, that aired on Fox briefly from late ’02, into early ’03. The show takes place five hundred years in the future and focuses around the crew of the ship Serenity, as they try to survive the rough and tough galaxy by any means necessary. Led by the rogue Captain Mal, the crew includes the standard fare of any sci-fi group, including a navigator, scientist, engineer and the like. Created by Joss Wheadon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, and it was cancelled after only fourteen episodes or so, a couple of which, were never even aired. Firefly was one of those shows which garnered a huge cult audience, but didn’t make a big enough impression to the studio in its ratings. This was in part, due to much botched decision making by Fox, which included telling Wheadon at the last minute that the pilot was too slow, and forcing him to write a new first episode in the span of a weekend. As I hear it, this was followed by further disruption of the proper episode sequence, which naturally had the effect of a disjointed storyline. Ironically, the two hour pilot titled “Serenity” was the last episode to be aired on Television.

Despite all this, Firefly maintained a huge support base among sci-fi fans. Its cult following only continued to grow after the DVD boxset was released in late ’03. I remember going to Comic Con in San Diego the summer after the show had been cancelled, and listening to Joss Wheadon speak about a Firefly movie in the works during a panel discussion. After a year or so or wrangling, it seems Wheadon and his team found their champions in Universal Studios and some International financiers who agreed to fund and distribute the Firefly film, Serenity. The film, which was released on September 30th, has gotten very positive critical reviews but has limped a bit in the box office race, still about $10 million shy of making back its money.

Now for the punchline. Up until this past Saturday, I had never seen a single episode of the show. Despite the fact that Firefly has been critically hailed as one of the most smartly written and inventive science fiction shows to come out in over a decade (think Star Trek: The Next Generation), somehow it managed to slip under my radar. The show originally aired in 2003 B.T. (before I owned a TiVo), when my hectic work schedule precluded me from following any episodic on TV on a weekly basis.

You may be thinking as you read this, well it’s been out on DVD for almost two years, you have no excuse. But again, while I had heard it was good, I just never had the direct inclination to pick it up. Wheadon’s work is considered to be high quality sci-fi and fantasy by many, but I never really got on the whole Buffy train, however up my alley that show might have been as well.

When the Serenity trailer started making the theatre circuits a couple months ago, I was hit with an influx of verbal assaults from friends of mine, who told me that once and for all I needed to get my *** in gear and watch all the Firefly episodes so that I could be prepared for the release of the movie. But I didn’t. Call it laziness, call it trepidation, for whatever reason, it ultimately didn’t end up at the top of my priority list. After the movie came out, friends told me how terrific it was, and how I needed to catch it on the big screen before it was too late. People offered me the DVD boxsets at every turn, but I poo pooh’d them, telling them it was difficult enough having nine season passes on my TiVo as it was (Surface, America’s Next Top Model, Lost, Invasion, ER, Night Stalker, Threshold, West Wing and Desperate Housewives). When on earth was I going to find the time to sit down and watch twelve hours straight of a TV show that went off the air two years ago??

And then, finally, this past Saturday afternoon, two dear friends of mine paid me a visit and ambushed me. They closed my blinds, turned out the lights, and forced me to watch the two hour pilot of Firefly.

My enthusiasm for Firefly did not come instantaneously. While I was quite taken with some of the dialogue in the prologue of the episode, I was also fairly confused about what was going on. There was none of the handholding that you see in a lot of pilots with obvious Tvmaking, Wheadon plunges you into this world immediately and expects you to learn as you go and roll with the punches. Within the first fifteen minutes or so of the episode you are introduced to new characters, jargon, spacecrafts, locations, political climates and conspiracies, and societal structures. It is a bit overwhelming to say the least. Even after about fourty minutes into the show, I was still not convinced. I thought that perhaps the show wasn’t for me, or that I simply wasn’t a fan of Joss Wheadon’s work.

But then something happened.

Just a bit before the hour mark, the plot started to pick up a bit, and when my friends interjected offering to shut it off, I told them I was finally getting sucked in. In that hour, I suddenly realized that the characters had started to grow on me, and I already felt an affectionate familiarity for them. There was something about the performances of the actors, and the way the characters were drawn that was ultimately very engaging. Beyond that, there was a terrific chemistry between all the actors, something which I think is sorely missing from a lot of ensemble shows. I think in science fiction, it is particularly important to get good chemistry and interaction between the actors. In the same manner that an actual military vessel could not function properly with a crew that had weak interpersonal relations, a show cannot really fly without actors that play well off each other. Though none of the actors are very well known, the show seems incredibly well cast, and in particular I found myself a little slack jawed at the raw charima and charm of Captain Mal, palyed by Nathan Fillion.

Beyond that, the show has a terrific production value amd the design of everything has an original and unique feel to it. More than any science fiction show I’d ever seen before it really took that fusion of western and space into the next level, incorporating icons of both genres. There were spaceships and horses, smugglers who carried bio-medical cargo, and a prostitute with a heart of gold who could also handle her own space shuttle. There is also a sort of pan asian feel to the setting, which comes from Wheadon’s hypothesis that in the relatively near future China and America will be the two reigning cultures, and will meld together to create a new mass culture that most conform to.

In a word, this show is damn cool.

After watching the pilot, my friends being the devious little buggers that they are, promptly informed me they could not lend me the box set because it belonged to another friend of theirs who needed it back asap. (I never understood until now there was such a thing as a Firefly emergency). By Monday, I had caved, and ordered the boxset online, (in addition to the first season of sci-fi channels remake of Battlestar Galactica which I hear is also pretty strong). The more I think about the episode I saw, the more I'm convinced of its genius. My plan? To attempt to watch all the rest of the Firefly episodes this Saturday, and then go see Serenity on Sunday. It’s official, I’m hooked.


Anonymous Brian said...

I haven't read your review, because I'm in the same position as you are. I've had the first episode sitting on my computer for months. I'm going to watch it at some point... seriously.

I hope I enjoy it. Err... eventually.

6:11 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Watch it. Trust me, It's worth it

11:18 PM  
Anonymous DC Dionysian said...

Well finally. I mean Geeze. Took you long enough. Congrats on sticking out the pilot. I tried to get my roommates into it and they both bailed before the hour mark. Quite possibly a reason to get new roommates...

8:25 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I know, I know. It was a bit of a slog at first but definitely well worth it.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous nach said...

i watched about 8 or 9 of the episodes when it first came out. it was good, but i also only caught it on random weeks, so i couldn't follow the storyline all that well. i have a proud history of watching a few episode of almost every series that comes out including freaks and geeks/undeclared. but also lots of crappy crappy crappy brief series too like one about 3 boys who are the first admitted to an all girls school (forgot the name but the premise was really awesome).

2:07 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Rent the DVD's --i just saw another episode today and its really good. Impressive you were able to do all that tv watching in the days before TiVo. Freaks and GEeks is awesome. Another one worth renting the whole season.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous DoorFrame said...

Ah, poor Nacho, you tried to watch "The Opposite Sex" on Fox. I can't believe either of us remember that show.

That being said, I watched the pilot episode today. I felt the same anxiousness until about halfway through when the plotline with the rogue doctor finally picked up. The combination of wester and sci-fi felt surprisingly natural and well conceived. I'm a big fan of the captain, and the dialogue didn't really have the flair that Buffy had (even though I hardly ever watched it).

I'll try a few more episodes. I'm intrigued.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous DoorFrame said...

sorry, I'm "NOT" a big fan of the captain.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous nach said...

hehehe. brian, you're a genius! i can't believe you watched that show too. so far this season, i've also managed to catch a few episodes of greats like "freddie" and "everyone hates chris" and "related" and "prison break."

i think only 2 of those will continue.

my weekday nights are all about primetime shows, ny'er. now and before tivo. i guess i never had a life. remember those times when i'd run home from tues and thurs night art class senior year?

12:29 PM  
Anonymous nach said...

that and play chrono cross

12:30 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Ok, first of all, I can't believe both of you know about this "Opposite Sex" show or whatever it is. "Doorframe", glad you are intrigued, as your rightly should be. The rogue doctor did it for me as well. Why do you not like the captain?

12:44 PM  
Anonymous DoorFrame said...

I can't pin down what I don't like about the captain. I watched the second episode today, the train job. There's something that's a little bit too snide. I'll try to pin it down when I watch the third episode. I like the rest of the charachters though, so that's a plus.

Also, Ms. New Yorker, you look kind of like the companion... is that why you like the show?

8:52 PM  
Anonymous DoorFrame said...

Oh, also, did you notice in the first episode they did a "Crazy Ivan" by swinging the ship around real fast... is that a reference to The Hunt for Red October, or is the idea of a crazy Ivan a universal concept?

9:47 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

If the "Crazy Ivan" comment was an reference to The Hunt for Red October I would be thrilled, because I adore the Hunt for Red October.

I saw the train heist episode this weekend, and like it. The captain is a bit snippy, but he's also very aloof and unemotionally availible which makes him alluring in other regards.

As for the likeness between myself and the companion, flattery will usually get you everywhere, but in this case, I cannot say it has unearthed any underlying reasons for me liking the show. Besides my hair is straight now, and I've always fashioned myself more like Deanna Troi.

3:42 PM  

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