by Jeanne Doherty, MLIS Day
I don't actually watch television, in part because the only channels we get in the basement are 4 and 5, and in part because even two minutes of commercial are usually enough to make me want smash in the screen with a baseball bat. What used to be my three favorite TV shows are all ones that I discovered before my baseball-bat tendency really made itself felt. Each of my shows has since been cancelled or cannibalized, and these days I just stay out of the fray.
Well, thanks to my slightly more tolerant friends, I now have a new series to love beyond all reason. Though, to be fair, I am not sure I would have heard of 'Firefly' if'n I had been watching the TV day and night during the period of time that it was originally aired. The poor show was moved around, aired out of order, cancelled repeatedly, and finally abandoned by the network after only 11 episodes. I encountered it three years after that, on a DVD set that includes three never-aired episodes, and numerous cast and crew commentaries. I was hooked from the first minute.
In point of fact, I haven't fallen that hard, that fast for a piece of filmed entertainment since the "she's dead, wrapped in plastic" scene from the 'Twin Peaks' pilot. I have loved science fiction since I discovered its existence at the age of eight, and 'Firefly' is the show that I had-unbeknownst to myself-been waiting for all that time. It reminded me almost immediately of the best things about C.J. Cherryh's 'Downbelow Station,' Joan D. Vinge's 'Catspaw,' Daniel Keys Moran's 'The Long Run' and dozens of other good books.
The flickering (and perhaps unintentional) callbacks to other science fiction worlds lend 'Firefly' a curious depth and sense of reality, but the show is not really derivative of any of them. Joss Whedon has done several things to make it feel fresh and new. He has cleverly equated the borders of settled space 500 years in our future with the American West circa the mid 19th century, without introducing any overtly cheesy "cowboy" motifs. His characters see themselves as outlaws, and most of them speak with a careful, formalized twang that is both Western and completely new. The actors' costumes are a lived-in mix of Earth cultures, and their speech is interspersed with creative exclamations in Mandarin Chinese. There are nine main characters, and it is their shifting relationships that really make the thing shine. Each episode has the requisite sci-fi adventure, but even the most mundane of capers is enlivened by extra helpings of wit, emotion and intrigue, and is graced by the excellent acting of the extraordinarily talented cast. It is, in other words, a gem of a cancelled show, and well worth the DVD rental price.
And if you do end up loving the half-season as much as I did, Joss has already completed a full-length feature continuation. It was released in theatres on September 30, 2005, but even though it is a rockety ride of a stand-alone adventure, it just didn't seem to find enough audience. It has mostly vanished from theaters, though you might still be able to catch it at Oak Tree or Meridian 16. The DVD will be out on December 20th.