Firefly is the tragic case of a show with excellent potential that was completely robbed


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There are times when a television network completely destroys a good show. Typically this is done by not giving it a consistent time slot, the required promotion or even airing the episodes out of order. In the case of Fire fly it was all of the above.

This is the tragic case of a show with excellent potential that was completely robbed of any chance by the short sighted network executives. Now at least with the release of the DVD the Fox network has atoned for some of this. Firefly was the latest effort to merge two extremely popular genres, the Sci-Fi and the western. Now this is not the first such attempt. Star Trek started that way, a Wagon Train in space. The film Outland also took on this combined genre.

With Firefly the western feel is far more overt. The cities visited are not super modern, they are broken down old west type towns even to the juxtaposition of the typical archetypes found in the old west, prospectors, Asians, fortune hunters and small time crime lords. At the helm of the firefly class transport Serenity is former army sergeant Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). He leads a rag tag group of people that scrape out a meager living ‘salvaging’ what they can from derelict space ships. In his crew are Zoe (Gina Torres), an army buddy of Mal’s, her husband and pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), the mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin) and the overly cheerful Kaylee (Jewel Staite). There is even the 'Ambassador' Inara (Morena Baccarin), actually a ‘companion’ a politically correct term for the ship’s prostitute. To round things off there is Shepard Book (Ron Glass), a man of the cloth that becomes the spiritual conscious of the group.

What works in Firefly is how the characters, although forced together, are given the time to mold together. The different back stories get to simmer, merge and combine while each are permitted to retain their own distinctive qualities. There is an undercurrent of spirituality, a sense of tradition and purpose set amidst the rough and tumble action sequences. Here is a television show that is written in an intelligent manner, perhaps beyond the abilities of those that where charged to bringing to the network. I found myself getting drawn into this world almost immediately. The writing in Firefly was such that was emotionally vested into the characters less than a third of the way through the first episode that I watched. It’s a shame the network never gave Firefly the proper attention it so richly deserved. So many people complain about what a waste land television is but when quality, such as Firefly, comes along it is all too often ignored.

This was an interesting selection for the cast, an eclectic bunch of actors that each brings something special to the table. Fillion is well cast as the captain. His portrayal of Mal is cynical, bitter and hard but with a human core somewhat lost beneath it all. As a military man that was ultimately betrayed by the side he fought for he is relegated to earning a living through any means possible. He also takes his role as leader seriously, fiercely loyal to his crew. One really inspired selection in casting was Ron Glass as the Shepard. While Glass is best know for television comedies like the classic Barney Miller, here he demonstrates that he has the acting chops necessary for roles that are more complex that the typical sit-com afforded him. Baccarin as the companion also brings more to her role than the typical television show would have permitted. There is a pride in her character’s makeup, although nominally working as a prostitute she holds to a sense of honor and tradition. Even Baldwin as Jayne breaks free of the stereotype normally imposed by a weekly television show. While he is the least likeable of all the characters he is necessary to supply contrast to the noble aspects of Mal’s character. Even the best scripts require a cast that can deliver and here, for a brief moment, we had such a cast.

Joss Whedon made a name for himself with the cult classic television show ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. Say what you want about the show, its production values were paramount. He cut his teeth in writing with such gigs as Rosanne, Alien Resurrection and of course, Angel. For one thing, Whedon does not write down to the lowest common denominator of the viewing audience. He shows respect for the audience. People watching television is capable of intelligent though, a fact lost with most series writers but Whedon knows this and created a world where you actually have to pay attention to the story. Firefly was television that did far more than fill the time between commercials. As the primary director and creative force behind the Firefly series he frames each scene more like a film than television. There is attention given to the effects of the lighting and set design. One thing that impressed me was in a scene where the crew was outside the ship. There was silence, an explosion with absolutely no noise. While most of us are used to sound in these situations here was a little touch of reality.

While Fox all but ignored Firefly when it was on their lineup they paid proper attention to Firefly on DVD. First the packaging, now I usually don’t give that much thought to how a disc is packaged, it’s the content that matters. Here, there is a slip case with a plastic case for each disc, a nice touch. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is clean although there were some edge distortion present. The color palette is purposely subdued; the use of sepia tones underlines the grim and chaotic conditions onboard the Serenity. While the audio is a modest Dolby Surround it does get the job done well. Fortunately, Fox decided to actually restore the proper story order here. The out of order disarray is gone and you can watch the Firefly series as it was intended, including the three Firefly episodes never aired. Since most episodes refer to previous ones this is important in helping the viewer understand the flow of the overall arcs and see the progression of the characters. The commentary tracks are straight forward and informative. There are seven commentaries included featuring the viewpoints of the cast and crew. Some of the back story of Firefly is provided in the making of featurettes that shows the details of the ship and interrelationship of the crew. Firefly deserved a lot better than it received. At least now Firefly is presented with pride and respect.

Movie Review of Firefly by Doug MacLean of

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