There is this guy in Hollywood, goes by the name of Joss Whedon, or just Joss to his friends, who has the distinction of being one of the rare people whose work I will always give a shot. It doesn't matter if I know just by the description of the show that I won't like it, I will still give him an hour or two of my time.
He has done a range of works from writing for shows like Golden Girls, Parenthood and Roseanne. He has a number of both credited and uncredited work in a number of big name movies such as Toy Story, Speed, Waterworld and X-Men. He has created Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and S.H.I.E.L.D Agents. He is active in the world of comics too and is known for his online media collaborations. His work tends to garner a cult like following. And I might be one of them.
Oddly though, I don't care about any of that. I learned all that moments ago from Wikipedia. I am not a Joss Whedon junkie, I don't go out of my way to follow his work and I probably wouldn't know him if I bumped into him on the street. And other than Golden Girls and Roseanne, I can't say I liked the rest of the shows, although Toy Story had an adult element that might be his.
So why does he get such special treatment from me? Why do I give his work a chance when really I don't know the man or his work from a hole in the wall?.
Because of his one show – FIREFLY! Deemed a western sci-fi type tv show I just knew wasn't my cup of tea, but I loved it, from five minutes into episode one. I was totally in love and hooked. And I don't particularly know why, I can't narrow it down to an easily explained sound bite.
My lifelong partner hated the show and thought it was stupid; to this day I question his taste in TV and apparently rightfully so, he still watches COPS, seriously!. It's a love it or hate it kind of show (I mean Firefly, not me and the lifelong COPS show watcher) and there is no in between or neutral. It's passionately love it, or passionately hate it.
Though I kind of blame the network for that reaction; they aired the episodes based on which they deemed more exciting, and not letting the series original order speak for itself and I could see how some may end up with the idea that it was disorganized with bad storytelling.
Still, when I hear about new work from him, I watch - waiting for the next Firefly to come out of that brain of his.
I wanted to be a part of the angry mob that formed and peaked with a petition to put it back on the air, I may be waiting for the next Firefly, but I don't mean a re-make of Firefly either. Despite how much I love the show and am limited to watching one seasons worth of re-runs, I would hate to see it brought back to the screen and slaughtered like a screaming pig.
Unfortunately, the appeal is nearly impossible to explain in a way that anyone who hasn't seen it would understand.
It is sci-fi (kinda) and western (a little bit) and modern(ish), the chemistry with characters is there (usually), drama and action (check and check), humour, serious and silly writing (in every episode), fleshed out characters (mostly), witty writing (always).
It's jammed with charm. You'll see.
Unless you have the charm of my partner, then you won't.
The Musical Score
If I am really honest with myself, I would admit that I was hooked from the first few chords of the show's theme song, The Ballad of Serenity, which by the way, is still the best theme song ever - it was unique sounding and completely appropriate to the show – blending western, oriental and villainous undertones.
In every single episode the music underscored the unspoken aspects of the story and characters history that were not revealed and were explained ... with music. The singing introduction actually was an introduction to the show and not just, well noise. It explained a complex background in surprisingly few words. And it's not just lil ole me who thinks this too:
"Old music from the future—the music of roaring campfires and racous [sic] cowboys mixed with the warm, pensive sounds of Asian culture and, occasionally, a cold imperial trumpet, heralding the ominous structural presence of a domineering government. Completely thrilling." Steve Townsley
I can honestly say, I have never enjoyed a soundtrack to a show as much as I did Firefly. And until Firefly, I didn't realize how music could add to a tv show or movie as I was a firm believer it was just a way to build up to something or to make noise to take up time, but this is not at all how the musical score in Firefly worked. Greg Edmonson, the composer, did a brilliant job with it.
Greg has stated on more than one account that his choice for the music was purely emotion-at-the-moment based and if that is true then that is the only way to go when picking music for shows on television. As one reviewer wrote,
"Edmonson has developed a specialized collection of musical symbolism for the series"
Each piece of music developed its own symbolism and in a few cases, certain characters had their own musical scores. One of the villans of the show, Niska, had the melodies of Eastern Europe with a muted technological drone sound through it, River and her brother Simon - siblings far from home never can return - had classical melody of piano and violin the image of family around a piano with the sad mournful tune of a violin – spoke volumes of their situation.
Even throughout the hour-long episodes, the music not only fits but adds a new 'unspoken level' to the show – it enhanced the narratives and intensifies the viewers experience – all without being overdone or tacky. The show was both dark and light-hearted, dangerous and silly and the music behind it captured that sentiment.
The Script and the Characters
The script is often called witty and it was.
One of my favourite banter scenes was Kaylee and Simon discussing 'cussing' – Simon never does it. He counters with 'does it when appropriate' – despite nearly blowing up or dying several times it was never appropriate for him to cuss. Later, they walk into Canton – literally a town of mud – and see a mud sculpture of Jayne – the shows gun happy, payment focused not so strong on the thinkin' department character – where he's viewed as a hero and even has folk-songs in his honour. Simon cusses.
Witty, simple and not at all set up feeling.
A fair amount, or perhaps just the few I watch such as Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother, have characters that are ... extremely predictable. Sheldon Cooper will always freak out over something new and Barney Stintson will always womanize a woman, always. In Firefly, that was not the case at all and part of, at least for me, the attraction to the show.
Through out the entire series we see Zoey, the First Mate to Mal, the Captain, continually listen to him over her husband, Wash the Pilot, protestations. So when both Mal and her husband are taken one would expect her to save the Captain then save her husband. But what we instead see is a woman who is all heart and balls. She not only cuts off the villains joy at making her chose, she selects her husband, leaving Mal behind to be tortured, a little while longer. Many fans waited for Zoey to declare love for Mal, but this episode clearly shows there will be no cliché love triangle.
In another episode with Mal, who is literally the good guy gentleman in a den of thieves and murderers, try to convince a henchman of Niska's to take back money paid and call it even. But no matter how hard he tries the henchman won't do it. So Mal, the good guy who bends over backwards to get things done without killin' people, kicks him into a plane type motor and calls it a day. He may try to follow his own moral code, but knowing he isn't above murder gives his character more complexity than stereotypical good guy just trying to survive – he is hero and villan.
The ship's mechanic Kaylee is equal to an undersexed teenager, with optimism that just won't quit. Inara is a prostitute (legal and highly regarded) she is also beautiful, classy and educated. The pilot, Wash, you would expect to be organized, on the ball and mature. He is disorganized, plays with plastic dinosaurs and is a huge joker. Book, the religious man on the ship, was not full of peace and docility he displayed but was a fighting man. Jayne the gun totin shoot em up kinda guy who leaves the thinking to others was not all selfish and greed. Zoey was not all tomboy military but rather a woman with a big heart. Simon was a mature doctor who was out of his league living as a fugitive with his sister, River. Mal the complex dark and light, good and evil, right and wrong guy.
When you take nine characters all of differing personalities with unique backgrounds and storylines that have more than one story to it ... witty and vibrant writing is the only way to make it all work together in a cohesive, understandable and enjoyable one hour.
And that is exactly what Firefly did.
Best of the Best
Fourteen episodes are all that were ever made before the spat between Joss and the network saw it cancelled. The uproar after the cancellation (the petition) did help in getting the movie, Serenity, created. They couldn't use Firefly, cause the network still owned it.
I do believe that Joss really had no choice but to walk away and kill it all earlier, rather than after the network butchered the guts right out of it and made it like, well every other show out there.
Even though the best way to see the appeal of the show is to give it a chance and watch all fourteen episodes I realize time is a issue for most folks and that is unrealistic. If I had to choose one episode .. hmm, need a minute here to think.
While I think, I strongly suggest watching it in order, not the way it originally aired – it makes a huge difference. A number of Joss's Firefly cult fans are late-comers to the show and never seen it in the mixed up order.
There are only fourteen episodes, how hard can it be to pick one?.
Good screen writing has that effect on choices.
The episode titled Serentiy is easily the best introduction episode I have ever seen to a large-sized cast of characters in television. Distinct and memorable characters, back stories made for exploration in further episodes and add in the story telling and unique way the series was shot it deserves the best of the best title, but there were others.
Shindig was likely the silliest and 'fluffiest' episode. Jaynestown had a number of good chuckles in it. War Stories had action, fighting and torture in it, always make for good episodes. Our Mrs. Reynolds was a twist filled episode that introduced a character Saffron who was much-loved. Then there was Heart of Gold that explored the relationship between Mal and Inara and of course, gun fighting and a brothel. Out of Gas used some flashback techniques that were exquisitely done.
None of them compare to the beauty of the best of the best of the fourteen episodes – Objects in Space. This episode was the pinnacle of the shows brilliance from the beginning with the unique use of visual and audio to show how River sees the world to her pointing a gun at the crew sets the unreal tone
of this episode, the introduction of the fascinating bounty hunter, Jubal Early, who is eerily hypnotizing in his own bizarre way right through to the end with River attempting to convince him she is a part of the ship – which frankly by now, to the viewer (me) was totally in the realm of possibilities.
Everything that is Firefly, serious and silly, drama and comedy is embraced in this one episode. From the plot to the action, the visuals to the dialogue this was a flawless episode in a too short series.
And that is why I love Firefly.