Joss Whedon first captured our imagination with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which led to a popular spinoff called Angel. However, I somehow missed the Firefly series until the movie version, Serenity, came out.
It’s been only recently that I picked up the first DVD installment of Firefly, a series about a freelance transport/cargo spaceship in some Outer Rim territory and its crew. The captain of the ship, Malcolm Reynolds (Mal), was an officer in a failed rebellion attempt against the Alliance and carries a chip on his shoulder because of it. His able lieutentant, Zoe, played by the ravishing Gina Torres, is married to the ship’s pilot, Wash, but is often torn between her loyalty to her captain and her husband. Jayne is the ship’s man-at-arms, often trigger-happy, politically incorrect, and combative. Rounding out the original crew are Kaylee, the ship’s love-starved peacemaker who serves as the optimistic engineer, and Inara, a high-paid escort who conducts business out of the ship and seems to be torn between her calling and her feelings for the captain.
In the first episode, they pick up the remaining crew as passengers including Simon and River Tam, siblings who are on the run from the Alliance. River has been used as a human guinea pig for the Alliance’s scientific experiments in mind control and human performance enhancement. She is wildly unpredictable and wobbles between her childlike vulnerability to unstable psychopath to normal teenager. Her brother Simon was a wealthy doctor who sunk his money into rescuing her and now regards himself as her caretaker and protector. He becomes the ship’s doctor in return for their protection. The last passenger is Shepherd Book who comes on with no stated destination. He is a Shepherd, a missionary out to save lost souls. He also has a mysterious past and it becomes clear he wasn’t always a man of God.
Firefly is generally styled as a western. Most of the settings look like old westerns complete with tumbleweeds, sagebrush, and dusty saloons. This is explained briefly as planets that underwent terraforming to make them habitable, and they lack civilized technology due the sparse population of frontier planets. There are no aliens and very little unexplained phenomena which usually drive the sci-fi plot. It’s a refreshing take on a space-age society.
It’s a mystery to me why Firefly didn’t survive longer than Angel or Buffy, but for whatever reason we’re left with 14 episodes and a movie. In terms of potential for revival, you can buy the whole catalog for $50-60. Enough of that activity might spur producers to bring Firefly back into production.
If you like Spaceships and Westerns, you’ll love Firefly. The camera work is done in what I like to call “UN-steadycam” and the CGI stays out of the way of the story. The theme song is a catchy folk/country in the opening credits above. In my somewhat inconsistent rating system I would give it a Vulcan neck pinch and a Nanu, Nanu from Mork.