Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Firefly, the brief-lived tv show created by Joss Whedon and co., creators of Buffy and Angel, was just warming up when it got the axe. It starts off slow but eventually dramatically improves. If you want a crash course to prepare for the movie version, Serenity, in theaters at the end of September, I'd recommend:
  • the first episode on disc 1
  • the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" on disc 2
  • all four episodes of disc 3
  • and at least the final episode (if not all 3 episodes) on disc 4.

The show had many problems at first: bad theme song, never took full advantage of its backstory, all the planets look like the old west, the characters are confusingly scoundrels yet also noble heroes, some fo the characters don't work (Kaylee is annoyingly sweet, the doctor is bland), episodes end neatly with our heroes always winning fairly easily, and the future society doesn't make much sense, or at least isn't fleshed out. It's rough and macho, yet the geisha-like Companions are powerful and highly respected. It took me a while to figure out why this western was given the futuristic SF treatment, but the biggest reason is that the writers wanted to create a world in which women have a stronger role to play than in stories of the old West. Then, of course, there's issues of genetics and technology and old-fashioned space travel to play with.

For all its faults, the show also has impressive strengths: excellent parts for both men and women characters, of course, and a challenging, sometimes radical treatment of sex and gender, fantastic special effects, a strong sense of style, a winning cast (supporting cast members Alan Tudyk, pictured above, Summer Glau and Adam Baldwin are especially good), and some intriguing mystery. It's amusing that the characters swear in Chinese, a unique way of getting past the censors. (It takes most people a few episodes to realize they actors aren't just garbling their lines. Too bad the DVD subtitles don't translate, but translations exist online.) It isn't as good as Buffy or Angel, but then, how many shows are? And it really didn't get much of chance. It was improving when it got cancelled, and there's no telling how good it could have gotten. I was hooked by the end and wanted more, so I'm glad the film is coming. I hope the show's creators learn at least the lesson that they shouldn't hold back too much on their ideas: Shepherd's (Ron Glass's) backstory was only hinted at in 14 epsiodes, which was plenty of time to define him. River, the most intriguing and mysterious character, was only starting to cook, mostly in the fantastic final episode.

According to an online article:
"'Firefly' was an extremely expensive show to make," he told me and other fans at a recent convention. "It was over $2 million an episode, which is a ridiculous amount of money. It needed to draw in more viewers than it got in order for them to make it back on the advertising."

Fox needed "Firefly" to get considerably better ratings than even Whedon's hit series "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," because the standards for success on Fox are much higher than they are for the WB and UPN, DeCandido explained.
Insane. The writer goes on to argue that cable is better suited to support most SF than the networks, an interesting theory.

Song: "How it Ends" by Devotchka (featured in the preview for Everything is Illuminated


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