30 Day Television Challenge: Day One

A show that should never have been cancelled:  Firefly

Firefly never really had a chance.

A marriage between Space Opera and Western aesthetics, Firefly was always going to be a hard sell to mainstream audiences. Fox exacerbated things by mishandling the show from the start. In their infinite wisdom, Fox aired episodes out of sequence. They actually aired what was intended to be the premiere, which contained the majority of the back-story, about half-way into the season, leaving audiences confused. Moreover, when audiences did tune in, instead of watching what was marketed as a jovial action-comedy, it was actually a fairly dark character study. Add in some schedule changes and Firefly was left to rot.

Of course, Firefly experienced a great revival with its DVDs sales. Firefly fans, or Browncoats as they like to be called, rallied such that Joss Whedon managed to translate the hype into a film, Serenity. Browncoats have varrying opinions regarding Serenity, but I loved it. I think the biggest issue is that Browncoats went in expecting Whedon to satisfy whatever private version they had imagined, as opposed to just letting him tell whatever story he wanted to.

Mostly, I guess the issue fans have with Serenity is that it didn’t answer enough “questions”. Indeed, the Alliance is still as much of a mystery and we’re never told who those creepy scientists with the blue hands are. The movie sticks pretty much to the Reavers and River Tam in terms of he Firefly “universe”.

There is also a comic book series that I haven’t checked out. Perhaps they answer some questions?

It’s the “universe” that made Firefly such a great show, and that it was never fully explored is what makes it such a damn shame that it was cancelled before its time.

The show is set in the year 2517 in a fictional star system. Earth has become uninhabitable, so mankind set out and terraformed new planetary systems. The two most dominant political entities that emerged were America and China, leading to a occidental-oriental synthesis. As result, the people are of mixed race and speak both languages interchangeably.

This new political entity is known as the Alliance. The Alliance is trying to centralize all the planetary systems under one political rule, irregardless of what the systems want for themselves. The central planets are richer and are monitored more closely by the Alliance, whereas the peripheral planets are ignored by the Alliance and live without much law. This is where we see the Western aesthetic manifest. These peripheral planets are like the old American frontier, with Wild West type laws.

Before the Alliance’s rule was complete, though, there was a war between the Alliance and rebels, also known as Browncoats. The Browncoats fought against the rule of the Alliance and defended the right of autonomy. The Browncoats lost, however, and the war has left the peripheral planets scared. They exist without the same kind of wealth and technology that the central planets possess, and thus have to resort to black market trading.

Enter our cast of characters.

The title of the show is a reference to the ship the characters inhabit, named Serenity. Serenity is a “Firefly” type aircraft. It is the main set of the show and is a character unto itself. The characters use the ship to travel to different planets for various jobs. Serenity is much like the Millenium Falcon; a loveable clunker that can either outmaneouver an entire milary fleet or just cut-out and freefall at any given moment.

Whedon’s vision of the characters were “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.” Accordingly, we have nine different main characters that have varrying motivations, perspectives, etc. I won’t bother speaking about all of them, but here are some of note.

Serenity’s captain is the protagonist of the show, Captain Malcom “Mal” Reynolds. Mal is a former Browncoat who can’t accept that the rebellion failed. He refuses to adapt to the new rule and ekes out a living on the margins, taking dangerous jobs and operating within the black market. Mal is like Han Solo meets Jimmy McNulty; he is an idealist posing as a nihilist who loves mischief.

Arguably the most interesting character is River Tam, a telepathic genius who was subjected to tests and experimentation on behalf of the Alliance. River was rescued by her brother Simon who hides her on the ship in exchange for working as the ship’s doctor. River is not only telepathic, but also a military-trained assassin, which is more fully explored in Serenity. Unfortunately for her, the experiments scraped away her amygdala, leaving her schizophrenic, amongst other things.

However, I think it’s safe to say everyone’s favorite character though is Wash, the ship’s loveable pilot. Portrayed by Alan Tudyk, Wash is benevolent and funny. Also, he’s a kick ass pilot and is in a relationship with Zoe, the ship’s co-captain and another former Browncoat. Zoe is a babe with whom Tudyk has great chemistry.

(sorry, Mal, everyone loves Wash)

Firefly explores the problems of globalization, lawlessness, colonizations, and post-humanism. Mostly, it pits the needs and rights of the individual versus the agenda of institutions and regimes of power. The Alliance projects itself as a bringer of peace, law, and enlightenment. However, like most colonial powers, they’re a Procrustean bed, and will mutilate whatever doesn’t fit according to their framework. Moreover, they are willing to sacrifice the few in the interest of the “greater good”.

Aside from the Reavers and the plight of the periphery, River is the symbol of the Alliance’s moral failure. Even more, River is a symbol of the individual that has been crushed by the cogs of the system. River, with all her powers, is an exceptional individual, and the Alliance has tried to sublimate her, not just to further its own agenda, but also to quell her vitality.

Much can be said of Mal. Though Mal postures as a self-interested rogue, he often emerges as the show’s moral defender of the individual. Mal’s pirate lifestyle is a silent protest against the Alliance. Unlike Zoe, Mal cannot give up the ghost. Zoe seems to take the failure of the war in stride and is trying to make a living the best she can, whereas Mal revels in any opportunity to stick it in the Alliance’s eye.

Firefly doesn’t ignore the ambiguity of Mal and the problems of trying to live outside the system, but it does champion the drive to live life authentically, outside of institutions and systems.




~ by braddunne on September 3, 2012.

One Response to “30 Day Television Challenge: Day One”

  1. i have to agree, Firefly never had a chance thanks to Fox, which seemed to happen too often to Whedon. Thanks for your post.

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