Well, one thing’s for sure. There won’t be a season 2 review.
Firefly really is a western in space, complete with all the typical characters that you would usually see in a western. The gunslinger, the priest, the doctor, the prostitute… Not only is the soundtrack filled with violins and banjos, but some episodes have standoffs, duels, train robberies and even actual cows. We could call The Mandalorian a space western, but Firefly really takes it awfully literally.
The in-universe explanation is that the Firefly frequents pioneer planets, at the edge of the civilized galaxy. But all of these planets are basically 18th century western America. They even dress the part.
The series is instantly recognisable as written by Joss Whedon. Not only the witty dialogue gives it away, but there’s his penchant for having a story centered around a woman with special powers, as he did in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alien Resurrection. Here we have River Tam, not an easy role at all to pull off but Summer Glau makes it work. All characters on board of the Firefly get decent screen time and their character traits are immediately clear and recognisable, while maintaining enough room for growth. It is deftly done.
Does it look dated? Yes, sorry. That’s not to say that the series isn’t an awful lot of fun, because the stories and the interplay between the characters are wonderful. But the digitally rendered spaceships and the intro theme song are terribly late-90s. The indoor sets are good though, spacious with vertical moment too, but the series didn’t earn its reputation through its visuals.
The episode that really won me over was one where Cap Reynolds finds a woman on the ship who claims to be his wife. At first, this causes all sorts of tension between the crew and I feared that the whole episode would annoy me with this forced drama, but then the story takes some u-turns and concludes it all magnificently so that the crew becomes an even tighter group with a much more interesting unspoken love in place. It’s great writing.
Then I started to notice that every episode showed that quality of writing. Some TV shows need a couple of seasons to get into their stride, but Firefly hits it out of the park right away. The characters appear fully formed, as does their camaraderie. The episodic stories are well written, with funny and original ideas. Never was an episode predictable and they always wrapped up in a way that just felt right.
Now I’m going to watch Serenity (2005) and cry over the void in my heart.
Serenity (2005) review
Two years after the unfortunate cancellation of Firefly, we are given a feature film as a sendoff for the characters and the universe that was so briefly established in the series. It is a fine film, even without having seen Firefly; but if you have seen the series, it would heighten your experience immeasurably.
The film also presents itself as an introduction to the crew and their backstory, like a summary of what Firefly’s first season was about and likely meant to garner a renewed interest in the show for a possible second season (which never came). But, seeing this movie it is not hard to understand that newcomers weren’t immediately taken with it.
The crew is a lot snappier than in the series. For the film everything had to be more intense, so everyone’s yelling at each other like stressed-out raccoons. There are no standout characters to latch onto. Mal (Nathan Fillion), the purported main character, walks around with a perpetually angry and depressed face. This irritated me because the Serenity crew began to feel like family during the TV show.
Serenity is ultimately a bit disappointing coming from the series. Too much running and screaming does not leave space for the kind of clever storytelling that the show had. It does not deepen the characters or their relationships. On the positive side, seeing the ship and crew supported by a bigger budget is very satisfying and the main antagonist is very good. It is a solid space opera adventure, gives a bit of closure and the show deserved that much at least.