By Dennis Keithly
I made a New Year’s resolution. Let’s call it a “soft” resolution.
I decided this is the year I’m going to catch up. It seems the older you get, the busier you are. The busier you are, the less time you have to indulge in all your favorite geek passions. So, over the last dozen years, I feel like I have missed out on more and more. Therefore, this is the year that I start catching up.
All those wonderful super hero shows that Netflix has been releasing? I’m going to watch more of them. Those crazy science fiction films from the past few years that weren’t exactly family friendly? I’m there. This is where it begins. Taking a cue from Comic Book Noob, I’m dedicating some of my free time to becoming a “Better Informed Geek.”
Where to Start?
I don’t want to give the impression that I haven’t seen anything from the past few years. I’m a Star Wars die-hard. If it’s available, I’ve seen it. The Marvel cinematic universe? I’m all over that as well. I was thrilled with Deadpool last year and let down by the DC cinematic offerings of Batman vs. Superman and to a lesser degree, Suicide Squad. With that in mind, I decided to try something a little different. My first indulgence is Firefly.
I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Firefly!” Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t seen it either. It seems to have a huge following. At Dallas Comic Con last year, I saw countless references to it. So, I decided to give the premier episode a viewing.
What I Already Knew
I knew very little about Firefly. Of course, there was a starship, and I knew its name was Serenity. I also knew that the lead character and captain, played by Nathan Fillion. I’ve heard many people compare Fillion’s role to Han Solo from Star Wars, or at least state it was inspired by Han Solo. I also knew that Alan Tudyk, a darling of geek culture that provided the voice for K-2SO in Rogue One, had a role in the show as a character named “Wash.” Finally, I was aware that Morena Baccarin had a role. I must admit I was only aware of her from her role in Deadpool.
First off, the environment of Firefly surprised me. I had never paid much close attention to the details of the imagery I encountered for Firefly. My brief glimpses gave me the impression that the show was somewhat steampunk inspired. That really isn’t the case. Firefly is a western in space. Indeed, it contains many of the trappings of the classic western. The attire of the cast features pants, shirts, vests, hats, holsters and other accoutrements of the old west.
Despite the presence of motor vehicles and starships, citizens populating this galaxy frequently employ horses of all things. The show features a frontier doctor, Dr. Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher. It even has a frontier preacher, known as a Shepherd, Darrial Book, played by the recently departed Ron Glass. Even the soundtrack for the show lends a decidedly western atmosphere.
Next, the use of the starships was intriguing. This isn’t Star Wars or Star Trek. Fuel and upkeep are paramount to the crew of the Serenity. Like the Enterprise, there is an engineer, played by Jewell Staite as Kaylee. However, the Serenity's maintenance is much less formal than what you would expect aboard the Enterprise. Kaylee’s love for the Serenity is no less than Scotty’s for the Enterprise though. Beyond that, the ships of the Firefly universe, at least in the first episode, seemed far less armed. Instead, attacking vessels rely more on running down their opponents and boarding them. The climax of this episode involved the Serenity and its crew attempting to outrun a gang of savages. Weapons fire was never exchanged.
The world building accomplished in a single episode was remarkable. Granted, when viewed commercial free, this episode is 86 minutes long, so there is more time than a typical one hour show to establish an environment. However, in that 86 minutes, Firefly provides a prologue in which Captain Malcolm Reynolds (I know his name now) and Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) fight in the Unification War (I admit I looked that up).
Their side is overwhelmed by the Alliance in the war, and thus, he becomes a smuggler with Zoe as his second-in-command. Over the course of the episode, the western feel is neatly established through character costumes, titles, mannerisms, and technology (they use guns that look like six-shooters at times). Joss Whedon, the show creator, writer, and director, established a rich universe in the confines of a single episode.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen all of Whedon’s creations. However, I am very familiar with the Avengers franchise. Unfortunately, a movie like Avengers sets the bar incredibly high. So, I was slightly disappointed with the overall production of Firefly. This isn’t a fair criticism. For one, Firefly is nearly fifteen years old. Also, it likely didn’t have anything near the production budget of a movie like Avengers.
This relates to my second point. Most of the budget for this show seems to have been spent on special effects for the spacecraft. The sets, outside of the ship, were minimalist. It worked for the most part. It was only slightly distracting that this show seemed like it occurred on a backlot, similar to the original Star Trek, rather than on the plains and small towns of a frontier space colony.
The initial episode tells a satisfying story of a captain and his crew trying to make their way in a galaxy coming to terms with a recent civil war. Captain Reynolds is a determined man and loyal to his crew. His crew reflects that loyalty as they make their living smuggling goods and transporting passengers throughout the galaxy.
The tone of this show is somber. Although it has its light hearted moments, that isn't a label I'd use to describe the first episode. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for alternative take on the classic science fiction space odyssey. I’ll certainly watch more episodes, and just maybe I’ll blog about them here.
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