TV Review | Firefly
Series summary: Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they evade authority agents out to get them. (IMDb)
Firefly is a strange show to watch these days, with so much content available and not nearly enough time to consume it all. For what still is a very good show to be cut short before it could really lift off stood out back when it was originally released, but considering that the same circumstances happen so often in these days of streaming, it means the show lacks that uniqueness.
Don't get me wrong, a show where our heroes fly through space on a weaponless ship, almost every planet resembles a slice of the Wild West and everyone speaks a mix of English and Chinese still has factors that make it stand out - it just doesn't feel like a special case anymore. At least this show got a movie to tie off as many plots as possible, unlike quickly-cancelled shows made today.
It also help that Firefly was obviously not written for streaming or even a great deal of serialisation, though certain plots and character arcs do carry across each episode. Rather than being effectively one long story chopped into smaller parts to make a season, this was made with each episode having its own story and made use of continuity to develop characters along the way.
As if that wasn't enough, it's also pretty clear that Firefly makes the same mistake a lot of shows still: setting up plot points for future seasons without any guarantee that those future season will ever actually come to pass. I'll talk more about this in the upcoming Serenity review, but it's an issue that does make you want to see more, but leaves you unsatisfied because you know you aren't going to get enough in just a single movie.
It's a shame, because each of the characters is so well-done and established as being incredibly unique, complex individuals that you really would like to see them explored more, especially with the constant tease of Shepherd Book's (Ron Glass) murky past and the potential romance between Mal (Nathan Fillion) and Inara (Morena Baccarin).
The characters work especially well thanks to how different they are and the fact that they all have their own quirks which means they can be put together in just about any combination and still make for an interesting scene. Even the two most similar, Mal and Zoe (Gina Torres), are still different enough with the former led more by his emotions and the latter far more pragmatic - unless things involve her husband, Wash (Alan Tudyk).
Every episode also has some really good material in it, even if overall it might feel weak. I'm not a fan of 'Jaynestown', but there's some excellent humour in there; 'Heart of Gold' has some great moments for Mal and Inara despite the main story being pretty poor; and even the weakest episode, 'The Message' still has its moments like Jayne's hat from his mother.
To be fair, the characters had to be great to help disguise how low the budget was for the series as a whole. The Old West locations means that a lot of the action can simply take place in the wilderness, with only a few places requiring extra efforts to portray a space-fairing human race centuries in the future.
Firefly is also pretty great with how it uses cinematography to help hide what is now dated CGI. There are a lot of crash zooms and constant changes in focus, which not only aid the CGI by hiding most of the flaws, but also aiding it by making it feel like the camera is desperately trying to keep extremely high-speed vehicles in focus - its a pretty neat trick that I'm surprised isn't used more today.
While a lot of how Firefly is structured feels a little off in comparison to current and more recent shows, one thing that felt surprisingly relevant is that all but two of the antagonists the crew come up against are white men acting as representatives of an oppressive government keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. Funny how some things never change...
Also, it should be noted the other two antagonists I have in mind are two of the best across all the episodes, with Richard Brooks playing the bounty hunter Jubal Early, an excellent and a worthy final villain for this aborted season. However, the star antagonist of the season has to be Christina Hendricks as Saffron aka Bridget aka Yolanda (YoSaffBridge as Mal eventually calls her), who provides two of the best - and funniest - episodes in the season.
Firefly won't be for all tastes, feeling distinctly dated in its structure, even if the show was cancelled early. While there is so much to like about the show, it was lacking that core forward thrust to the greater narrative than even an older science-fiction show like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I would end each episode satisfied with its conclusion, but then not be bothered about whether I watched another right away or put it off for a while.
Firefly is great fun to watch when each episode is taken on its own, but doesn't quite have the 'one more episode' appeal to watch as part of a binge. The characters are great, the dialogue and the humour are excellent - but with so many other loved shows proving just as short-lived in the past few years, Firefly just lacks that special something to make it stand out among so many others.