Friday, July 30, 2010

Exfanding Review: Firefly and Serenity

Some things need to be stated right up front. That's just the way of things.

I am a Joss Whedon fan.

A big one, in fact. Still, I have never seen one of his shows as it aired on television. Even recently, and despite the fact that Dollhouse was on FOX for a year or two, I tend to be completely disinterested in whatever the man is doing, as he’s doing it.

Which is strange, since, as I said, I am a Joss Whedon fan. A big one.

Actually, let’s take that back--I do follow some in-progress Whedon--I read all of Joss’s comics as they ship. See? I really am a fan.

I guess I just don’t watch very much TV, is all. I don’t like commercials, and besides, pretty much everything on TV is horrible. And, on the off chance that something may not be horrible, I really don’t want to have to wait a week to watch the next episode.

Currently, the only TV show that I watch on a regular basis is HBO’s True Blood, which has no commercials. Still, the wait between shows is annoying, and re-watching season two on DVD has been much more enjoyable for me than was riding the season out as it happened. What can I say? I’m an impatient person.

But back to Whedon for the time being.

I think Buffy was one of the best ongoing TV series ever--and I’m not talking about best-ever “genre” shows, here. I’m talking, Best. Ever. It had pretty much everything I want from a story--deep, personal and emotional connections to the characters, a fun and funny, and alternatively horrific and deep, narrative, and elements of horror and the supernatural.

I think the drama of Buffy is on par with that of any show that’s been on TV in the last two decades. So, yeah. Kind of a fan. But that didn’t mean I watched the show while it was on television. I actually pretty much just scoffed at it while it enjoyed its nice, long run on the networks.
But then, after reading a couple issues of Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, I decided that I needed to try out a show or two of his.

Clearly, this guy could tell a story. So I bought season one of Buffy on DVD, watched the first couple of episodes, kind of liked them, watched a couple more, got a little more interested, got to the three-quarter mark, and couldn’t stop.

How had I missed this show? How had I ignored it for so long?

I bought the rest of the series on DVD over the course of the following weeks, and I proceeded to watch the entire series, one episode a night, and two on Sundays, for the next few months.

Buffy became my latest obsession. (Which, coincidentally, was the first name we came up with for this blog--My Latest Obsession, I mean, not Buffy--but we decided against it for some reason or another.)

Anyway, after I finished the very last episode of Buffy, I graduated to the Dark Horse series, and tried to follow Joss wherever he went (not literally). I watched Dr. Horrible many months after it was released online, and I loved it. I read Fray, and loved it. I continued on with Astonishing X-Men, and loved it.

I’d become a bona fide Whedon fan.

But I’d never watched Firefly.

That needed to be rectified. And so a poll was put up (or a hit number was reached and Nathaniel tricked me into believing that it was his turn to Exfand my horizons, though I can’t remember the last time I subjected him to one of my fandoms...), a decision was made, and there was a series to be watched.
Sure, it took us about six months to get through, but we did it. Well, I did it. Nathaniel had already seen the series, twice, I think. This past weekend, we finished the last episode and we sat down and watched the movie sequel, Serenity.

But all that’s inconsequential, because I was sold on Firefly after about five minutes of the first episode.

How had I missed this show? How had I ignored it for so long?

The world, the characters, the action, the drama. The funny. Oh, the funny. The Whedon twists, turns, and heartbreaks. The awkwardness of an awkward conversation. The gun fights with the laser pwew sounds.The horses in space.
Like Buffy, Firefly was world building at its finest and simplest. Here's the situation. This is what happened in the past. Here's what needs to be done to ensure our future. Here's how we're going to do it. Here's what goes wrong.

As with all of Whedon's properties, the ensemble cast of Firefly and Serenity --and their relationships with one another--worked brilliantly. Each character played off the others in a way that just felt real and organic.

And made me as a viewer feel like I was part of it all. A little sad/pathetic? Sure. But true, nonetheless.

Now, I could go into plot details and the like, but Nathaniel's excellent (and vintage!) post on the subject covers the basics, and besides, I stink at recapping/summarizing.

What I will say is this. I developed a stupid amount of affection for these characters. And, with any good story, it's not where the characters go, or what they do. It's who they are, and how they do things, that matters.

The main character--Captain Malcolm Reynolds--is a good guy. Until he's not. He's too human, too real of a character to be simply a good guy. He's not Batman. Or Superman. Or even Spider-Man, the everyday hero of the comics, with shades of grey and moral dilemmas and aunts to take care of and the rest. Still, Spider-Man throws on a costume, and he does what is right. Every. Single. Time.

Captain Reynolds, on the other hand, does not. Simply put, he is how he is, and that's why he does what he does.

His past as a soldier on the losing side of a war is essential to his being, and through red hot flashes of wrongness, there's an underlying morality and kindness at the heart of the character.

He just doesn't show it.

And so Mal does things he knows to be wrong, and he regrets, and he has to live with his decisions. He's a tragic hero that we root for, and despise, and ultimately root for again.

Jayne is an idiot. He's a fighter who drinks and punches too much and he thinks way too little. During the course of the show, we see what matters to Jayne--money, gold, money, women.

And yet we love him.

Somehow, Jayne's idiocy makes him endearing; his brutality makes him amusing; his total lack of concern for anyone who isn't him makes him real, and a threat, and a wonderful foil.

Wash is the funny one. The harmless one. The guy we can all identify with. Kaylee is the one with the good heart, the girl next door. As mechanic, she is quite literally the heart of Serenity. Zoe is the strong one; she makes things work. Without her, the crew--and the Captain--would be hopeless.

Shepherd Book is the reason, the moral fiber, and just enough of a mystery to make him both fatherly and dangerous at the same time. River is the enigma. Simon is the protector. Inara is the contradiction; the exemption to the rule.

The archetypes are all pretty conventional, very familiar, and yet they feel...different...somehow. And that's the beauty of what Joss Whedon brings to his work.

As we read, or watch, we feel like we've read it and seen it before. His work reminds us of the very best things we've ever come across--in sci-fi, in fantasy, in drama, in comics, in comedy--but they still feel new and fresh.

And that's the beauty of Whedon, and the beauty of Firefly.

I look forward to finding the next thing, years after it has ended in its original form, and asking myself, How have I missed this show? How have I ignored it for so long?


A Philosophical Nerd said...

Unfortunately, there seems to be a cultural bias against science fiction programming. Every once in a while you'll have a phenomenon like Star Trek, with six shows (including one animated) and eleven movies, or Dr. Who (going on its thirty-first season, I believe), but it's very hard for good science fiction shows to run a good length. Shows like Firefly, which gets canceled before it even finishes its first season.

I've never been much of a Joss Whedon fan, but my brother is. He's watched Firefly and Whedon's other shows (e.g. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dollhouse). But I'm a huge science fiction nut, so it's probably shameful that I never watched Firefly. As a result, I was indirectly part of the demise of the series as it's important for a show to bring in viewers. But I did watch the movie, Serenity, without actually watching any of the episodes (in fact, I'd never even heard of Firefly). But the movie was excellent, and now I've started watching the show. I can't believe I missed it the first go-round, but I probably would have been immensely disappointed to watch it only to be canceled before the entire season could even air.

AJG said...

Glad you've started watching the show, and I hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as I did.

I think I tend not to dive into shows on TV for fear of their being cancelled (or for fear of their jumping the shark, as NBC's Heroes did, several times).

Which is flawed logic, for sure, but I can't see myself changing my ways...