Thursday, August 16, 2012

Die Young, Stay Pretty, #Firefly

What do Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Kurt Cobain and Joss Whedon's Firefly have in common?

I'll leave you to work that out for yourself but I have been immersing myself in Whedon's space opera for much of the last week. Thanks to the magic of Netflix I managed to see all 14 episodes in quick succession and then finish up with the feature film.

The series completely passed me by when it was first released, perhaps it never made it across the pond to European channels but regardless I have long since passed the age when I am surprised at missing yet another cultural phenomenon. I did later become aware of the series enduring cult status however. Despite being cancelled after one series due to lackluster audience figures Firefly has earned itself a regular spot in top ten lists of greatest Sci Fi shows of all time.

Of course that begs the question - how much did the shows early death contribute to it's legendary status. Are we worshipping what might have been rather than what actually was?  Watching the show with fresh eyes a decade after its original release I am happy to confirm that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Unlike many prodigies cut short before their time Firely had a brief rebirth in the form of the 2005 feature film "Serenity". This  ties up several of the open plot threads from the series and is recommended viewing immediately after the watching the series. Taken together the 14 episodes and  film can be seen as a complete work and well worth the viewing time. 

In some ways the show feels very familiar - whether this is due to parallels with previous fugitive spaceships (anyone still remember Blake's Seven?) or whether it comes from the wild west theme's that Whedon has blended so well into his Space Opera story I cannot say. Given that I enjoyed the show so much I don't really understand why it failed to pull a larger audience. Perhaps it was a matter of timing? Perhaps some viewers were confused by an anti hero captain who saves the oppressed with one hand while mangling folk in in spinning turbines with the other. The show does have a rather confused morality and can sometime feel like a cross between the Walton's and Reservoir Dogs. Some might attribute this to 21st century edginess but  I think it is entirely in keeping with the Western theme. You can find preachers hanging around with whores in any number of Westerns just like you can in Firefly.


Stropp said...

The story I heard was that Firefly was a victim of its budget. It wasn't that it cost too much against the standards of the day. The problem was that 2002 was about the time that the Fox network discovered that Reality TV was far cheaper to produce instead.

As I understand it, (I didn't discover Firefly until 2004) Firefly had a reasonable fanbase when it was cancelled, possibly bigger than Babylon 5 at the first year mark.

It's a bloody shame such a great show was cancelled just to make way for reality crap.

mbp said...

Well you can take some comfort @stropp from the fact that nobody is watching reruns of those 2002 reality TV shows while Firefly remains ever popular.

I agree it is a shame it was cancelled but at least the film gives some sense of closure.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I know, I know!

None of them survived long enough to jump the shark!

No, wait, there was "Serenity." Never mind.

Firefly was good, but like your other examples, I think people obsess over what might have been a bit much.

Fox didn't handle the show well, which lead to low ratings... and once you are at low ratings, the writing is on the wall.