Saturday, June 12, 2010

Space Cowboys

The short-lived TV series "Firefly" was about just that - space cowboys.

The story of "Firefly" is both sad and uplifting - TV show is cruelly mistreated by network, despite coming out the box like gangbusters, is canceled before all of the filmed episodes can even be shown, fans band together, and somehow a multi-million dollar major motion picture gets made, to provide a coda to the story.

Last week, we again watched "Firefly" from start to finish (14 episodes), and it still amazes me how Joss Whedon was able to create characters that immediately meshed into a coherent whole. Most series, even the great ones, take some time to find their footing. Just watch episodes from the first two seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and you'll know what I mean. In fact, I'm not sure there was a single great episode (some very good ones, I'll concede) in those first two seasons.

But on "Firefly," the show hit the ground running - or would have, had Fox allowed it to. But for some reason, someone at the network thought it would be a good idea to show the episodes out of order, and not show the pilot at all. It may not have been the dumbest move in the history of broadcast television, but it was certainly among the dumbest.

Not all of those 14 episodes were great, but even on the less-than-great ones, the characters and acting more than made up for it. Every major character on the show - from Nathan Fillion's rugged captain Malcom Reynolds to Summer Glau's haunted River Tam - was fully defined, and interesting - which is always the key.

The morning after we finished (with "Serenity," the feature film), TV critic Alan Sepinwall began his summer series of reviewing old TV shows with a review of the first (pilot) episode, also called "Serenity." As he often does, he nailed it:

Watch the series in order, though (and then watch the feature film that followed, also called "Serenity"), and you see that it came out of the gate fully-formed. The characters, the world, the style and tone were all presented in "Serenity" exactly as they'd be throughout the brief run, and with such confidence and heart that it improbably vaulted past "Buffy" and "Angel" to become the most beloved Whedon show (at least among most of the Joss fans I've encountered).

If there was any justice in the world, the show probably would have been wrapping up a glorious run right about now. But as we know justice can be fleeting, so what we are left with will have to do. Do yourself a favor - go out and buy the DVD (it's cheap), watch, and then read along with Alan. You won't be sorry.


le0pard13 said...

I so agree with your take, Jeff. One of the all-time criminally ignored (by the network) shows in TV history. It had so much going for it. A splendid cast, an excellent conception, outstanding writing and unique characters. Yes, there have been westerns and space dramas on television, but never in such an original amalgam. Thanks for this reminder.

Jeff V said...

Off the top of my head, the only show I can think of that was treated worse was "EZ Streets" on CBS.