Firefly


Year 2002

Nathan Fillion as  Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds  
Gina Torres   as Zoë Washburne
Alan Tudyk as Hoban Washburne
Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra
Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb   
Jewel Staite as Kaylee Frye
Sean Maher as Doctor Simon Tam   
Summer Glau as River Tam   
Ron Glass as Shepherd Book
 
Director - Joss Whedon
Concept - Joss Whedon
Lion's Share of Blame   - Joss Whedon
Uncredited Contributor - Barack Obama (?)

 

 


"Firefly", which is a class of imaginary space vessel and also the name of a defunct television series, appears to be a lot of persons' darling. It was the "little engine that could", that gem of a show that was cancelled because it was too good to be allowed to be shown. Well, let me tell you, or in the vernacular of Firefly, let's me tellical yo, it's closer to Pigs in Space than Well Done Drama in Space. In fact, the muppets in Pigs in Space have consistent roles and easily zip out quips in way that Firefly should envy and emulate.

Now if you're an A Number 1 fan of the show, the following comments may upset you. But any argument against the comments will have to begin with, "You're right, but..." I know this for a fact because I've verbally jousted with A Number 1 fans and they always agree that I'm right, but...

Imagine a dysfunctional family in space. Not just typical dysfunctional family, you know where there's anger and drugs and poor career choices. No, I mean one where psychotic behavior is commonplace and personalities can be changed and exchanged as needed. Where writers operate with the main intent of making a normally reliable character suddenly be out of control every so often without any explanation.

How about a character that suddenly develops an anger management problem just for a scene or two even though they wouldn't normally swat a fly? It's all part of the lack of coherence that makes up this little rhinestone. Some people (fanboys and girls) call this sort of behavior "multi-layered". Most people simply call it certifiable.

What do Firefly, The Brady Bunch, and Gilligan's Island have in common? In every one of these series, events from one week, no matter how mind shattering, are all but forgotten the next. Is this due to short term memory loss? Or is it due to lack of imagination on the part of the writers where the simplest solution to a heavy handed plot device is to throw continuity out the window or airlock? This bad execution of a turgid concept always comes across as trite.

This is a show where torture means "ratings" but no permanent scars. Where death happens to everyone but the people on the ship…although they get shot a lot. Did you ever play the drinking game "Hi, Bob"? A group of friends with an intoxication wish would gather around a television and watch The Bob Newhart Show. In the exercise, every time someone said, "Hi, Bob", all the watchers had to take a drink. You can play this very game with Firefly by substituting the number of times the crew members get shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc. Warning! Only play with crew members. If you drink when just any old body gets shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc., you'll be out cold five minutes after the opening credits roll.

It's not a problem, for the characters at least, because they all heal as they've got the waters of Lourdes aboard. For example, in one episode, Captain Mal is told to strip. He's an ex-front line war veteran. As a result of serving in a war as well as getting shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc. episodically you'd think he'd have a couple of scars. Guess what? Not a mark on him.

No wonder he's abandoning his crew at the drop of a hat and then telling them he'll never leave them. (Sounds like Obama addressing the Naval Academy graduates just after cutting defense funding.) Nothing's reliable, nothing's permanent…except heavy handed plot devices.

Speaking of heavy handed plot devices, there's an episode called "War Stories" that deserves attention. Two crew members, the Washburnes, are a married couple aboard Serenity ("Serenity", and not "The Serenity", is the name of their cozy Firefly class ship - kind of like "Ministry" and not "The Ministry" is the name of an industrial band). The couple is suddenly having marital problems because the wife and the Captain served together in "the war" and unbeknownst to the viewers these two war buddies are constantly regaling others with their bonding adventures.

These unendurable trips down memory lane must have been off-camera because there's never any evidence of them in any episode before "War Stories". So, with this plot device firmly grasped like a truncheon, the audience is beaten until they confess to believing that the husband has to get involved in some bonding action of his own. Just being married to the woman and sharing their current sorties into being shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc. just isn't enough to overcome the wife's bond with the Captain.

Speaking of the crew, and character destruction, let's take a look at them. We've got Captain Mal (appropriate that "mal" means "bad" in French and Italian) whose ability to think about the effects of his actions is limited. In fact, like an angry plant, he simply reacts to his environment most of the time. Unlike a plant, most of his responses are wrong. He and crew members are constantly being shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc. because of his poor decisions. Yet his crew inexplicably follow him and are devoted to him. These people are damaged, and not just physically from being shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc.

Then there's the pilot, one half of a married couple. The Captain can't fly his "boat", so he needs a pilot. The pilot appears fairly normal except he whines...fairly often. (He's the most likable of the group.) Then there's the pilot's wife. You know the one who bonded with the Captain during their time together in the war? She alternates between being a psycho-killer and a wife who needs to settle down and have children. Good parenting skills are evident in the way she wields her shotgun. Unlike the Captain, who doesn't deserve the title, the term "top kick" would fit this woman.

Who else is part of this space faring wreck? There's the engineer, a sweet little underage girl who had to ask her parents for permission to ship out. It turns out that she auditioned for her engineering job after she got caught playing the game of life, or at least conception Russian roulette, in the engine room. Except for that, she's practically a convent hopeful. Her character is a mechanical genius one minute and a weeping Whinny the next. She cries a lot…except when she's shot. You'd think it'd be the other way around, wouldn't you?

For many episodes, I liked her in the same way that a white knight likes a damsel in distress. But then about halfway through the series, we get her back story and find out that she's dropping her drawers for her predecessor just to get a look at Firefly's engine. Which writer or producer okayed this? An exposé into her psyche should have been used to make her a more sympathetic character and draw the viewers in. Instead, they gave the viewers a hypocrite slut masquerading as a virgin.

And this woman isn't the "companion" a.k.a. prostitute on-board. That would be Inara Serra. She is played by someone who looks to be about eighteen and dressing up in her mother's clothes, Despite this, the actress does manage to pull off scenes that I'd thought she'd flounder in. Her complex personal life involves being berated, abused, and underrated by Mal, but she's in love with him. Things must be really tough out there in Serenity land. Their relationship has all of the sexual tension of witnessing a middle-aged dad hit on one of his teenage daughter's friends. In another word - yuck!

Then there's a guy named Jayne. Can anyone be this dumb and live? Oh, he's not sharing his IQ and attitude with canines all the time; sometimes he grasps concepts above the dog mentality. Other times, to plagiarize Thomas Henderson, he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the "c" and the "a". He's the comic relief, I guess, which allows a lot of latitude regarding how smart he has to be in a given situation. He's also untrustworthy. But, you need to be clever to be untrustworthy, don't you? Well, I guess it's all relative to the intellect of the people you're trying to fool. In one episode, Jayne's attacked by someone whom he plans to betray. No one seems to understand why he was attacked. Denser than the concrete foundation of the Empire State Building…all of them.

There are some other characters, two of which are the loci of the series. But even these are treated poorly.


Here's an example of a typical episode. The captain has a flawed plan. Everyone agrees to it even though everyone, including Jayne, sees the flaws. At least one crew member gets shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc. Through unpredictable behavior on the part of everyone involved, the crew escapes. There is usually one well done scene and a couple of snappy comments.


Unpredictable behavior, huh? Here're a couple of examples. In "Out of Gas", a part on the ship goes bad. It can be repaired, but it will take time and there's only enough air for a couple of hours. So, the sane plan would be to get everyone but the person performing the repair to a place where they have days of oxygen (i.e. the smaller lifeboat like ships) until the part is fixed. Not here. Nope. Here, the smaller ships must be launched. Only the Captain can stay and he can't repair a burned out light bulb. He can shoot, stab, bludgeon, etc. the light bulb but the idea of replacing it goes past his limited imagination.

So, instead he sends out everyone out to their deaths on the little ships because there's no hope of rescue. He also sends a distress signal in case a passing ship might hear it. Previously, he had "Wash" (the guy with the bonding issues) plot a course using a route guaranteed to be isolated. You see, they're being pursued by the Alliance a.k.a. The Evil Empire. (The Serenity always goes to the Alliance in an emergency, so this premise is more unimaginative nonsense.)

A la Terry Prachett's one chance in a million, there is a ship in the area! It does receive the distress call. It does arrive. It does bring a spare part. Its crew does try to take over Serenity. They even shoot the captain…once…in his side. But then they pretend as if he never existed.

Hey, pirates! Shoot him again! Check on him! You're stealing his boat. Look for weapons he might still be able to use! But they don't, and Serenity's Mal happens to fall down next to an easily visible gun. Mal grabs the gun, faces the pirates, and... Well, he shoos then off the ship. Shoo, shoo, bad piratemen. Shoo, shoo! So these three men when faced with single guy at death's door decide to take action and leave. They what!? Yeah, they leave. Here's Mal, the only person aboard, two breaths away from the Grim Reaper, and the odds are three to one against him. The pirates decide that he's too tough for them and they walk away without even a whimper. Shoot, stab, bludgeon Mal again!

Here's a better one. A passenger has illegal innards installed so that he can smuggle them to another planet where they'll be removed and his original plumbing re-installed. Huh? How's his original plumbing supposed to get there? Makes no sense. In the months that it might take the smuggler to get to his destination, the original parts are supposed to arrive and still be in good shape for the swap. Whatever.

But, there's a bad Alliance crew of Evil Empire rogues suddenly hot on their trail and they're thinking that Serenity is transporting the parts in a corpse, not a live person. They want the parts for themselves. Must be good intestines, the kind that allow you to eat all the spicy food you want and these guys are Jonesin' for some kimchi. These bad Alliance people catch up to Serenity and fire a warning shot across the bow. Serenity makes up a story about not being able to find the brake pedal in order to gain some time. The Alliance crew buys this. Jayne is not part of the Alliance crew.

After some time, the Alliance ship fires another warning shot. Serenity says it needs to go to the restroom, so just follow. The Alliance ship accepts this. Really, dumb as a post Jayne is not part of the Alliance crew. Mal lost to these guys in "the war"? Serenity heads towards a nearby planet (there's always one nearby in this series when it's convenient to have one nearby) and wastes some fancy flying until they hide under a snow covered rock overpass. The Alliance ship starts becoming suspicious that Serenity might be trying to run away. Hey, has anyone seen Jayne in Serenity's cockpit? Where dat Jayne guy? Yoo-hoo, Jayne! Are you the captain on that Alliance ship?

The Alliance ship starts dropping depth charges or mini-bombs or something. These are not warning shots. They are intended to incapacitate Serenity. Finally!

A quick note on "special" effects, as in "special" education, or isn't that "special". The pursuing ship has exhaust like a Ford Falcon, all black and screaming anti-green. If you've ever seen a Flash Gordon serial where the spaceship exhaust is nothing more than a white cotton ball stuck to the tail of an aluminum craft hung from wires, then you get the idea. Only it's CGI and it's black and it's blurry. Back to the episode.

Mal has a plan! Someone's bound to be shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, etc. No, wait, it's close to the end of the episode. Nevermind. There's not enough time. They invite the Alliance crew on-board and one of Serenity's passengers, while being covered by three weapons, walks up to the Alliance men and tells them that they're bad and if they don't leave, they will be reported to the local not-bad Alliance people. (Remember, Serenity is running away from the Alliance and everyone knows this, so if they reported these guys then they'd be in worse shape than the Alliance guys would. Ooo, I bet it's a clever, deep message bluff for those who "get it".)

Hey look! There's Jayne with a gun. He's really not with the bad Alliance guys after all, although he's dumb enough to be.

So, the Alliance team has options.

One - they can blast their way out which may not give them the best chance of survival.
Two – they can take the nitwit who walked up to them hostage and demand a trade.
Three – they can leave and blast Serenity to bits using their ship and take the plumbing off of the person they think is already dead.
Option three was the original plan after all. I mean, why else did they bomb it earlier?

Let's see. These are bad dudes. Earlier in the episode they threatened to set a postal worker on fire for fun. They probably kick stray animals and belch after eating. What option would they pick? I mean the "get off of my boat" ploy had already been done in a different episode and the writers are cleverer than to revisit that hackneyed device a second time. Aren't they? To the mix add the fact that the Serenity crew has now witnessed the Alliance crew's bad habits; the renegades now have an extra incentive to kill everyone on Serenity so that no one can tell on them. But, it's toward the end of this episode and the decision has to be made quickly.Tick-tock-tick-tock.

Pick option four – the Alliance crew can leave and run away. I really did not see that coming because it's so lame.

Here's another episode. A brothel on an as yet unvisited planet calls on Serenity for help. In a poor man's version of Unforgiven (the writer's are nothing if they're not plagarists), Serenity's crew arrives. The story? Well, there's a bad man in town. He's rich and doesn't share his wealth. That's the first argument for killing this guy. (Was Obama ever a screen writer before entering politics?) Could there be something else that makes this bad guy worthy of being killed? Let's see. He impregnated a girl and wants to raise the child. Oooh! So evil! Why? Per the episode, "It's her child." Apparently, the father is not allowed to have any say in the matter. In fact, he should be murdered for wanting to raise his child. If there's any more to it than that, it didn't come across.

Oh, and the bad guy is demeaning to prostitutes. Nevermind that Mal calls the companion a whore on occassion, that's just good ol' psychotic Mal and since he's The Captain his behavior should be overlooked. The writer of this episode attempts to convince the viewers that full scale violence and death are warranted because the "bad" man has money and wants to raise the child as his own. Apparently the rights of a father are the same those of a passer-by in this wacky, fun-filled universe.

So far, this story line is merely ludicrous. It moves into the realm of heavy handed when it turns out that there's a member of the brothel who'd have his child for him without any qualms. All he had to do was ask, or pay, or something. But that's not good enough for this series! The bad guy had to impregnate a different woman and then demand to raise his child in order to give the plot an excuse for advancing a Serenity love relationship between Captain Mal and a friend of the Companion. Talk about ratcheting up the ol' sexual tension...not.

So what's good about the series? A lot of people seem to like it. The theme song's good. The words, the pace, the music, all come together to tell you what the writers and cast members wanted to do. It's also what works against the show. If Firefly was intended to be a parody, a few script changes would've made it great. But, it's intended to be a show dealing with "serious" issues. Well, if you're a fifteen year old male they're serious - short sighted but serious. If you're older than that and still think in these terms, you should run for President of the United States.

The show is a series of what the writers and director obviously thought were great scenes. The problem is that there's no hook, plot, or continuity to hold these scenes together coherently. It's also obvious that the writers had no idea where to take their stage of indulgence. The characters don't evolve as much as twitch. And I'm sure the producers added "helpful" ideas along the death crawl path of the series. I can imagine one saying, "We're not getting enough female viewers. Have that captain guy show off his muscles." Poof! Mal's nekked in one episode.

At about episode eight, the "Out of Gas" episode, there's a feeling that maybe there's some potential. Maybe someone received a vision about how this shouldn't be a series of stand-alone vignettes but rather an ongoing story and the possibility of a long term story looks like it might have had a life in this episode and the next. But then it dies and is replaced by more self-indulgent clap-trap.

Also to the good, the actors are quite convincing at portraying their quad-polar characters. But, since they're all amoral and psychotic, I ended up only caring about the River character. For example, there's one scene in which Mal threatens to kill Jayne. I was wishing it wasn’t an empty threat. Not just because the character started grating on my nerves, but it would have meant the addition of some depth and the onset of the "no character is safe" from the Damocles blade audience tension builder. But, just like everything in this series, the threat was empty.

The plot holes, the concept of personal integrity, the cargo hold, the rules of grammar, the rules of physics…all nonsense. Speaking of grammar, apparently all characters can talk in broken English, more like Eenglese, but are fluent in Chinese. Let's examine this... Fluent in Chinese (Fluent in Chinese? Hmmm. Is this another piece of evidence for the "Obama was involved" conspiracy theory?) but talk in poor English. Clever or contrived? Distracting or immersive? Nonsense or hubris?

As for the extras on the DVD set – oooh! The concept of selecting the extras does work, but the content dropped out of a tall cow's back end. Click here to read about those pies.

The only things I can think of to justify the enthusiasm of fan-boys for this mess are:

1) It was something different on television at the time.
2) It's tough to write a story arc in a series of episodes so cut it some slack (although many television series have succeeded with an on-going story arc).

The movie that is based on the series, or the one where the evolving concept was given life, isn't too bad. It's at least fast paced enough so that you don't feel too betrayed at the end.

This is only listed as "Under A Rock" rather than "Nasty" because it was, after all, made for television. Also, it only stepped up and claimed two categories for a classification of nasty. Those were lack of any laws of reality and continuity gaffs.


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