Welcome to the first installment of Friday Night In! Today, I’m talking about a TV series whose premature cancellation (15 years ago!) did little to erode its lasting cult following.
Set in a future ruled by the tyrannical interplanetary Alliance, Firefly follows the roguish crew of the space vessel Serenity. Firefly fuses genre conventions of sci-fi and classic Western – a combination that might be played off as wacky and disingenuous in the wrong writer’s hands.
Thankfully, the creative lead on Firefly is none other than Joss Whedon. (Bless that man.) His work – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – is defined by action-packed fantasy that doesn’t lose sight of the ethical, emotional issues that drive a story.
Firefly is, thus, gritty and multidimensional: There are deep-space fight scenes and clever cowboy retorts, moments of grief and beauty in turns.
Here’s why Firefly (and Serenity) should be your date on a Friday Night In:
Complicated dynamics in an ensemble cast
Whedon has pitched the show, he famously said, “This is about nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.”
Serenity is captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a hardened war vet. To stay afloat in a corrupt universe, Mal, along with his fierce first mate Zoe (Gina Rodriguez), pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) and all-around-guns-guy Jayne (Adam Baldwin) execute unscrupulous jobs from the black market lords around the galaxy. To keep up the guise of legality, Serenity poses as a passenger vessel: They fly with Shepherd Book, a traveling missionary (Ron Glass) and Inara, a courtesan (Morena Baccarin).
The series begins when the crew unknowingly takes on a fugitive doctor Simon (Sean Maher) and his younger sister River (Summer Glau), on the run from the Alliance for reasons that they don’t fully understand – that will, inevitably, embroil the crew in uncovering sinister Alliance secrets.
(Did I get all 9 characters?)
From a writing perspective, juggling a large ensemble cast is hard. It’s hard to make them well-rounded, faulted, non-archetypal; to establish genuine relationships between them. Perhaps the greatest feat is that Firefly accomplishes just that.
My favorite dynamic of all? Wash and Zoe, the happily married couple on board. Here’s a moment where they discuss River’s spontaneous superhuman powers:
Wash: Little River just gets more colorful by the moment. What’ll she do next?
Zoe: Either blow us up or rub soup in our hair. It’s a toss up.
Wash: I hope she does the soup thing. It’s always a hoot, and we don’t all die from it.
Women who unapologetically kick ass
Zoe served in the war and is an unwaveringly loyal friend to Mal; she handles guns, throws punches, and makes tough calls every episode. Kaley’s the on-board optimist and a mechanical genius. River is literally a human weapon. The women of Firefly are heroes in their own right.
Joss Whedon’s speech “On Strong Women Characters” is worth reading in full, but it concludes as follows: Mimicking a conversation between himself and a reporter, he said, “‘So, why do you always write these strong women characters?’ Because you’re still asking me that question.”
But wait! There’s more!
If you remember, Firefly enjoyed a brief, glorious stint on cable in 2003. So the story goes, Fox bungled the marketing and other executive decisions, and the show was cancelled after only 11 out of 14 episodes had aired – out of order, no less (boo, hiss).
Whedon released the movie Serenity in 2005 as a continuation of the series. I watched Serenity for a screenwriting class my freshman year of high school. I was enthralled and wanted more.
In any case, if you’re like me, you never, ever want a show with lovable characters and a developed universe to end. Happily, there is an entire movie that resolves loose threads and provides a sense of spectacular (if bittersweet) closure.
Have I convinced you to give this show a try? Have you seen it already? How are you spending your Friday night?