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WHY WASN'T I TOLD ABOUT THIS SOONER?
(WARNING: UNABASHEDLY GEEKY RANT AHEAD!)
Seems like every damn show I like gets cancelled. Most of you can probably to relate to that sentiment. Practically everyone I know has that one show they loved that was cancelled before enough of an audience discovered it. Most of the time, if they're lucky enough to have it on Tivo (or downloaded the episodes via BitTorrent) they watch and rewatch it, savoring those all too brief moments of brilliance like a rare wine. Sometimes (or in the case of my friends, quite often) they try to get others to watch and share in the misery of what's been lost.
Freaks and Geeks, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Get a Life, Jeremiah, Arrested Development, Joan of Arcadia, Square Pegs (my twin sister's favorite show of yore)... the list goes on and on for my friends and their lost loves that they just won't shut up about. Personally, I never got over the loss of The Powers of Matthew Star (not really) and the fact that the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon never got the finale episode out the door (seriously, I was one very pissed little boy).
The thing is, with no closure, that wound is always there... never really healed... always waiting to be reopened... leaving you no choice to annoy your friends about the unappreciated genius of Jason Bateman or who-the-hell-ever it is you won't shut up about. Shit, I still bitch about how the original Bubblegum Crisis ended with "Scoop Chase." The best OVA series of my early twenties (do the math on that one young people!) ends on a fucking filler episode?!? Gah! I could pull my hair out, but at my age, I'm too lucky to still have hair at all.
See, most of the time (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) when you indulge your friend and watch their beloved show, well... you just don't see it. Whatever it is that made that show connect with them, it just isn't there for you. Which is why I politely decline the invitation whenever I can.
Sometimes, though, that decision bites you in the ass.
I was wrong about Dead Like Me, and I was wrong about Firefly.
Two of my friends have been trying to get me to watch Firefly for ages now, and I've been dodging them and their DVDs like Neo on a rooftop. See, I vaguely remembered the commercials on Fox when it aired, and it struck me as some sort of spoof of sci-fi. The commercials made the show seem (to me, anyway) like a slapdash, "throw every sci-fi convention in a blender" mess -- a snarky hodgepodge of a show with that wiseass, FOX attitude sure to be a hit with the "ironically extreme" teens. In short, it looked like a train wreck. I'm a grown up and I like my sci-fi aimed at grownups, thank you. Plus, it had Joss Whedon behind it, and (spare me the hate mail, please) I HATE with a burning passion Buffy and Angel. Sorry, tried to get into them, but just couldn't stand those shows. (My shortcoming, no doubt, but there it is.)
Further (again, spare me the hate mail, please), the fans of Firefly are just so dedicated to their little show that they always creeped me out a bit. Like those rabid Trekkies when I was a kid, lobbying to get their show back on the screen through fanzines, homemade costumes, glue-on ears and the like, some of the "Browncoats" (as they liked to be called) are so dedicated that, for an outsider looking in like I was, it's almost like the Cult of Trek back in the 70s.
However, in a moment that must surely be fate, Amazon had the Firefly season set on sale super cheap one afternoon, and, looking desperately for some cheap entertainment, I bought it on a whim.
Can't even explain why I did it. Just a whim and a "buy it now" button.
Wow, did FOX fuck this deal up.
I won't bother detailing the much storied history of how the network screwed the pooch on an amazing show that it should have thrown it's full weight behind, the net is filled with rants aplenty about that. What I want to talk about instead is why the show struck such a chord with me. If that sort of thing doesn't interest you, just scroll down to the bottom where I've provided a download for a little-known home-made Firefly adventure game made by a pair of fans from Hungary and also some rare Firefly video goodness you won't find on the DVDs.
Firefly may be the most interesting take on science fiction I've seen in twenty years or more. Taking the "sci-fi as western" theme to its absolute visual limit, the show is less about sci-fi as it is philosophy and politics. I read a review where the writer said something along the lines of "this show almost made me a Libertarian and a Christian and I was neither when I put the DVD in, such is the strength of this series" or something to that effect. And that's not far from exaggeration, now that I've watched it myself.
Firefly takes its premise and runs with it full gallop. Rather than present us with paragons of human virtue who moralize from a grand stage as Star Trek and so many other utopian visions of tomorrow do, Firefly works its magic from a small stage, it's characters are nobodies, people who have no effect in shaping their world (until the movie, that is... but don't get ahead of me), just everyday folk, like you and me, who try their best to get by in somebody else's sandbox. And it's those characters who make this show work.
I have not seen such a great, almost supernaturally in-tune cast since the glory days of Trek and the "Big Three" of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. It's spooky how much chemistry the nine primary actors had with each other. And these characters had such a great world to work in!
The notion of sci-fi as western is an old one, but I've never seen it interpreted so literally before. It seems obvious, in retrospect, but I've never seen it done in such a way. Moreover, it's presented in such a matter-of-fact way that the show never bogs down in technobabble. The ship has an engine. Engines need parts and gas to run. I don't care what the part does, or what kind of gas it uses, the basics are just fine with me. Going deep, deep into fakey techno wank is a great way to lose me as a viewer. It's a fine line, something Star Trek: The Next Generation understood (if imperfectly) and Star Trek: Voyager didn't. A show should be about ideas, not made-up pseudo-science that isn't even consistent from episode to episode.
And Firefly had ideas. Big ones. Joss Whedon, as I am given to understand it, is a liberal progressive, not a libertarian. But he produced a piece of work that is amazingly popular with those wacky, never-gonna-get elected group of almost-republicans-though-sorta-democratic party animals, the libertarians. (The best parties I ever went to were always thrown by either libertarians or anarchists -- no exceptions. Burgers, booze, guns, pharmaceuticals, and easy chicks... good times... good times...)
The people in Firefly want nothing more than to live their lives just a little beyond the reach of a well-meaning, but misguided galactic government that wants the best for everyone, whether everyone wants it or not. Presenting a political body that was both democratically elected (a parliment) and trying seriously to make the world a perfect place (despite the utter impossibility of that goal) as the villain, instead of another generic evil empire bent on destruction, enslavement and (usually) profit was a real breath of fresh air to me. The authority in Firefly is misguided, over-reaching, over-extended, and clueless about life across much of its expanse, but it seems to be genuinely trying to help its citizenry in the way it thinks best -- and though these efforts are producing the opposite effect of what was intended (this becomes even more apparent in the movie... but don't get ahead of me), the failures just inspire them to keep trying the same failed policies, only try harder! This is exactly what I've always suspected Trek's disturbingly omni-present Federation would actually be like if it were ever to come to pass.
Even more impressive, Firefly gets pretty damn existential sometimes. The notion that people too long in the overwhelming vastness of space in their fragile little ships will suffer from a sort of double whammy of both cabin fever and a Sartre-esque loss of self both tickles and unsettles me. THAT's puttin' your thinkin' cap on, boys! What a concept! People aren't evil just 'cause they like being evil (though that's sometimes the case), maybe evil is the only answer to your situation (ask the Donner party about that one), or perhaps you only seem evil because you cannot see that your efforts to help are hurting instead. Offering more help only renders more harm, making you no savior to those being hurt, no matter how noble your intentions.
THAT is sci-fi for adults.
But Firefly had something for everyone. Horse chases, gun fights, deep unspoken love, ruminations on family, knitting, spooky government agents, space cannibals, whore houses, and suspenders for people who think belts are for dandified city-folk. God! What a great universe!
Seriously, if I were a kid, I'd sure as hell want to play Firefly, not the crap that the Star Wars universe became after those deeply unsatisfying prequels. (I would feel sorry for George if I thought his giant piles of money didn't help ease the pain of the hack he's become.)
And I'm only touching the surface here. These days, topics like religion are almost completely off-limits for popular entertainment unless they are handled in extremely subtle, allegorical ways. But Firefly blatantly bucked this trend by including a preacher among its cast (Evansville's own Ron Glass), and the writers were unafraid to make faith a front and center theme on the show. The noble priest had a shadowy past, the space-whore was a devout Buddhist, the amoral thug loved his mother, and the brave captain was an atheist (sort of). The notion of faith extended beyond the Divine as well. Faith in yourself, faith in your friends, faith in government, faith in the "rightness" of the universe and your actions within it: all were front and center at one point or another.
Damn, what amazing places this show could have gone.
But FOX, lacking any faith in this show (irony!), ran the episodes out of order, shifted the schedule about in a seemingly random fashion, and cancelled the production with no fanfare.
That they must have been taken by surprise when the DVD became such a big success is most assuredly an understatement. The fans had clearly been there all along, waiting for someone, anyone to notice them.
Even more astounding, with a never-say-die commitment, these stubborn fans raised hell until someone did notice them and, in a moment the likes of which I have never seen in my ENTIRE FUCKING ADULT LIFE, they convinced a movie studio to pony up the dough to give their beloved little show a proper finale on the big screen.
How fucking cool is that? Think about that a moment. Let it sink in. When was the last time short-lived television show got turned into a big motion picture? If you can think of an example that isn't Star Trek forty years ago, let me know.
Of course, that moment of triumph has come and gone. Firefly has been put to bed now and all those zany brown coats can finally get some well-earned sleep. As for myself, I just found the show and, in a way, I'm glad I discovered it after all the hoopla was over. I'm afraid that if I'd been in on it from the beginning, I'd be one of those zealots in a homemade costume picketing FOX to bring back my damn show, signing internet petitions, and haunting message boards day and night looking for some spark of hope that all my efforts weren't in vain. I'm not at all joking. Firefly is the first show in all my life that struck such a chord with me. I don't write fan fiction, I don't draw other peoples characters (unless money changes hands), and I don't make games set in any worlds other than my own. But if I were to ever tell a story using someone else's characters, Firefly would be it. Hell, who knows. One of these days, I may take some time off from Barn Runner and make a game set in this remarkable universe. Fans as devoted as these, there would be an audience for it, no doubt.
I try to tell myself that the short run Firefly had is for the best, that such a brilliant and brief show never had a chance to disappoint me, never had the chance to do anything but shine. I think about The X-files and what a turd it turned into over time, or how stale The Simpsons has become (movie notwithstanding). I think about Ron Moore's grand but sputtering Battlestar Galactica and how great it was that first season. If the Sci-Fi Channel had pulled it after those first few astounding episodes, I would still be talking about it ten (hell, twenty!) years from now, cursing short-sighted network executives for not giving it a chance, ranting how Moore would have never given up the reigns and handed his baby over to any old "writer of the week" while he worked on other projects. Instead the truth is that Galactica has lost focus and lost steam. And I'm losing interest.
That never happened with Firefly and I should be grateful for that.
Yet I keep thinking, "What if...?"
Thanks for reading.
"Yeah well, what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar."
- Jayne Cobb, Firefly
CLICK THIS LINK TO DOWNLOAD A FAN-MADE FIREFLY ADVENTURE GAME
BY TWO CRAZY HUNGARIAN BROWNCOATS
(Not affiliated with me or my games, so please don't e-mail me asking for a walkthrough)
CHASING THE FIREFLY
CLICK THESE LINKS TO DOWNLOAD THE
COMPLETE FIREFLY BLOOPER REEL NOT INCLUDED ON THE DVD BOX SET
(Use 7-Zip or WinRar to assemble the three parts)
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Essay © Scott LeGere, 2007.
And Nathan Fillion is so damn cool that I'm convinced that he's on his way to becoming this generation's Bruce Campbell.