Ode to Firefly

It’s Friday Rambles time on Monsters and Mayhem, and today, I’m singing the praises of a show that changed the way I look at SciFi and television: Firefly.

When Joss Whedon’s Firefly first aired (during it’s one and only season–stupid Fox), fellow geeky friends of mine said, “You have to watch this show.” It’s a western. In space!” Well, I love a good Western (btw–if you haven’t seen Open Range with Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner, that’s your homework for tonight). And I love me a good space show. I’m old enough that I watched Star Trek: TNG when it was first-run on Sunday nights after the news. Yes. I really did.

Back to Firefly. It came out in September, 2002…and that’ s why I missed it.  In September, 2002, I had a toddler who, incidentally, now wears a size 7 men’s shoe and stands 5’5″ in his socks. But I digress.  In 2002, I was doing one of three things:  trying to keep said toddler from killing himself with a spoon, changing said toddler’s diapers, or working. If I had time, I slept. Then ate. Then read. In that order.  I wasn’t watching TV, because all the TVs in the house were auto-programmed to show The Wiggles. Moral imperative.

Fast forward nine years, when I had the time and energy to watch TV. I noticed Firefly was in my Netflix instant queue service. Half the people I run with on Twitter were always saying,  “Browncoat-this,” and “Serenity-that,” and “Jayne’s hat, LOL!”  so I decided to enlist my husband and figure out what the fuss was about.

We watched all fourteen episodes in less than two weeks. Yeah, we liked it. So what was it about this show that swept us up so completely, nine years after it went of f the air? Even though we knew once we finished watching those fourteen episodes, all we had left was a movie to tie things up. Why is there a special coming on this Sunday (November 11) night called “Browncoats Unite” on Scyfy, with a cast reunion, and it’s considered a National Geek Holiday in addition to an actual holiday (a huge shout out to our Veterans. Y’all rock!)?  Why did the Serenity panel at Comicon fill up the big theater–in 2012?

I have a theory–damn good storytelling.

“Earth that was.”

In that one line, I was sold on Firefly. I’d pretty much fallen in love, but that line solidified it. It’s just so simple, yet so dang perfect. In that one line you hear several things: 1) The Earth we know is gone. 2) The person speaking isn’t highly educated, and sounds a little bit like a West Texan. 3) There are humans alive in the future, but they live somewhere else.

Three words, and you have an entire backstory.

 That’s what impresses me most about the show–how complete it is. The world-building is extraordinary–no detail is missed. From developing their own slang (like calling space-travel “going out into the black”) to the mismatched technology between the Independents and the Alliance to costuming. Heck, I could devote an entire post to Jayne’s freaking hat. The costumers drew from Communist China, the American West, World War II and Samurai Japan for inspiration, and it made for a unique culture fusion that somehow worked. The clothing also added tiny details to the characters, from Inara’s gorgeous silks, to Simon’s stiff vests and wools, to Captain Mal’s brown coat to Zoe’s kickass leather vest. 

The writing is where the show really kills, though. The lines, delivered in perfect-pitch by a cast well-matched with one another, are genius. The incorrect grammar for the settlers, so reminiscent of Old West towns. The cold, cruel, indifferent lines of the Alliance soldiers.  And my favorite–the way the crew curses in Chinese. What a brilliant way to make a point, and get around the FCC (kind of like BSG developing the word “Frak” — which I tend to use). The stories are full of hope, danger, comedy and pain. And the show is quotable in the same way The Princess Bride is–there are multiple zingers, funny exchanges and oddball statements that leave a lasting mark.

Even the theme song is perfect. The first time I heard “The Ballad of Serenity,” I looked at my husband and said, “That was pretty cheesy. I hope the show is better.” I now acknowledge my blasphemy and find myself singing bits and pieces of the ballad in the car or the shower. I also tell my children, when they get a little wily, “You cain’t take the sky from me!” They have no idea what it means, but for some reason, it’s effective. You can take a listen here:

 

So now I’m a Browncoat, and proud of it. The funny thing is that I wrote a post-apocalyptic YA with western elements three years ago that I’m looking to bring back out. Fireflyshowed me that this genre-fusion can work. Thanks, Joss!

What about you? Have you watched Firefly? If so, what are your favorite scenes/lines?

One comment

  • A friend of mine loaned me the series on DVD some years ago, and I figured that I’d watch the pilot to see what the fuss was all about–I think I went through five or six episodes before I realized that I was going to have to be at work in a few hours.

    I agree, it was an incredibly rich cosmos, all those little worlds struggling to survive and developing in strange ways, the Alliance with its monolithic control of technology, the reavers (BTW, I really didn’t like what the film “Serenity” did to the reavers, I thought the treatment that they were given in the episode “Bushwhacked” was much creepier.)

    From a writer’s perspective, I think it’s a perfect example of how to write an ensemble cast, the individual characters were each so fully fleshed and the relationships between them were so real. Just to take one example, how the relationship between Zoe and Wash was colored by the fact that he was from the core and she was from the rim.

    As an aside, I wrote a blog post once about how the ensemble cast dynamic is universal, and the examples I gave were Firefly and WKRP In Cincinnati–if you think about it, they are very similar in the crew dynamics.

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