on July 23, 2003
I despise television. I even gave it up last year, and now only see a few shows a friend and I watch together. "The West Wing". "24". "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".
Until last fall. Then I saw "Firefly", named somewhat whimsically about a cargo ship whose end lights up when it accelerates. But this is no flashy futuristic show about technical wonders, but rather a very nitty-gritty character study of nine very individual people.
Joss Whedon, who created "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel", had an idea for a science fiction show unique to that "Southern California born/spent time in Britain as a teenager" background of his: He read a book about the ground level grunts of the American Civil War called "The Rebel Angels" and wanted to do a TV series about the people who didn't make the history books: the people history stepped on. He wanted to do a story set in a future about a ship and where it went. Not a vast engine of war or a great vessel of exploration and diplomacy, but an old tramp steamer of a ship, so small it didn't even have a mounted gun, that made its way through thick and thin by taking any job, anywhere, no questions asked.
The nine people on board the Firefly-class ship "Serenity" aren't rich, famous, particularly smart or particularly gifted, for the most part. They all have pasts, and not all of them are comfortable about talking about themselves. They live in the aftermath of a major war that lead to the forceable unification of all of humanity, and not all of them were on the same side. The ship's name, "Serenity" is that of the climactic battle of that war, and they find themselves still trapped psychologically in a war that ended six years before. They have doubts, fears, old pains and new concerns, like where their next job is coming from and whether they'll live through it, because the few people that can hire them and will hire them have scant concern for ethics, the law or good manners. Sometimes your employer is more dangerous to you than the law you're trying to avoid.
And this is a show about the outskirts: there are laser guns, hoverships and advanced technology, but few can afford them. Big Dumb Bullets are still cheaper than Flashy Powered Blasters, and on the frontier reliability is more important than fashion, particularly when the other fellow has a habit of firing first. A horse will do you better than a powersled if you have lots of grasslands but no repair facilities or money to pay. A man dressed like a cowboy may have artificial organs and a revolver, or own a space station and need to pick up advanced medicines or even transfer a herd of cows. "Serenity" flies between the Core worlds of advanced technology and the newly terraformed Rim worlds, where people are grateful to have a wooden roof overhead.
It is this peculiar mix of the old and new that fascinates those looking for the unexpected: the comically serious and the deadly comical. Any given episode will shift you from adventure to terror, farce to drama, slapstick to deep thought and a sense of "boy, I didn't see THAT coming" without a sense that no-one is at the wheel, or that the screenwriter is merely playing with your expectations. More importantly, there are no "cheats": every action more deeply reveals the characters and who they are becoming. Unlike the broadcasts, this DVD shows the episodes, including three new ones, in their intended order.
"Firefly" is seldom what it first appears to be, either in terms of appearance or behaviour. No plot works out as expected, and people can surprise you. Joss Whedon indicated that "Buffy" was about growing up, "Angel" is about getting to work and "Firefly" is about being grown up and the choices you have to make as an adult. It's not like any other show you've seen: a story of the nine people who find themselves on board a ship, looking into the black of space, and seeing nine different things looking back at them.
Even if you've seen all the first season episodes broadcast on FOX and are waiting for the forthcoming 2005 Universal motion picture, this DVD has all episodes to date, including the three not previously broadcast in the U.S., and such extras as cast and creator commentaries, a blooper reel to equal any other show in history and a few other easter eggs here and there.
Like such great television shows as "Hill Street Blues", "Babylon 5", "Homicide: Life on the Streets" or "The Supranos", this will introduce you to people and places that will enrich you and your concept of the world. I still hate television. I'm buying this DVD.
on December 14, 2005
I liked Star Trek. But Star Trek was a sterile proto-socialist fantasy, without a comprehensible culture beyond starfleet itself.
I like Star Wars better, but despite the detailed world building it remained a fairly predictable space opera.
Firefly (and the Serenity movie) are the best damn science fiction I have ever watched on a screen. I can't believe that there is no more of this to watch. I will not believe it. I am going to think really, really desperate and evil thoughts until someone gives me another fix.
OK, so I hate reviews that just say something was good and the network is evil for having cancelled it, no matter how true that is. A person reads a review not to determine whether someone they have never heard of likes something, but, hopefully, whether they might like it. So here is my pathetic attempt to describe greatness. Why I loved Firefly
1. Detailed world building. I can easily see how the worlds of humankind shown in this series evolved from the world of today. Any projection into the future is hazardous, but at least this series makes a reasoned attempt at such a projection. I see bits and pieces of the world we know, taken apart and reassembled on another stage, as, indeed, they will have been after the passage of 500 years. Whether it is the Chinese characters in the shop windows, the opulent, almost Raj-like feel of the Tam estate and the clothes worn there, the eclectic, practical, almost wild west garb of the outer worlds, or the oriental but not quite specific derivation of Inara's quarters, I can tell that someone spent a lot of time and energy trying to trace out the lines of this future society. Which leads me to
2. The emphasis on the everyday and practical. There aren't any aliens cluttering up the landscape. What's more, industrial zones look like there is active industry, rural areas have real farmers and miners. Laser weapons exist, but there is a realization that putting a high speed piece of lead through a person is likely to be just as fatal (if not more so) than burning them with a laser. (And I loved the "check battery" indicator on the laser pistol, too.) We also get to see what sort of goods a future smuggler smuggles, and its not always "spice" or precious metals. Firefly deals with medical supplies, concentrated food bars, engine parts, ceramics, seed, even a herd of cows for goodness' sakes. Anything real people might want to get that they may not have. They even talk about buying clay of high quality (though this is a cover) Which leads me to
3. A view of the future from street level. There are few worldshaking events in Firefly, and what there are are seen from the viewpoint of ordinary people, hustlers, dirt farmers, "mudders", mechanics (and, yes, prostitutes, but preachers, too). This show is not about ambassadors, jedi knights, queens, admirals or generals. I think it's significant that Mal was a sergeant in the Independent army, not even an officer much less a field commander. Which leads me to
4. Nine very unforgettable and well formed characters. None of them are particularly extraordinary people (ok, River is, but that's the exception that proves the rule. The series ended when we were just getting a glimpse of how extraordinary she is. The movie tells us a lot more. She is, however, still a "little person") All of them are complicated, all of them are compelling, and all of them could make a suitable paper about character development in a college English class. Sometimes I might think I like Kaylee best; her wide-eyed upbeat attitude, her poor white trash background (being as how that's what I am), her crush on Simon, or the bigger crush she has on engines. I think of her lying wounded crooning "there's my good girl" to the ship. Other times I can't help but like not-quite dumb as a post tough-guy Jayne, who always seems to want to kill somebody (and tries selling out fellow crew members once) but who wears the stupid hat his mother made him and agonizes over the young man who dies for him in "Jaynestown." Actually, I love them all, but I don't have room for more examples. (My daughter, the English major, doesn't care for Inara and Simon. I think she's wrong. The show would be different without them.) All of which leads me to
5. Real people dealing with real moral dilemmas. Mal likes to think of himself as a hardbitten criminal. Problem is, that in the course of the show he is constantly turning down jobs, backing out of them, protecting people with no hope of return, and doing other insipidly noble things. He drives Jayne to distraction, but Jayne is not immune to this malady either. None of them are. Shepherd Book may comment that he seems to have gotten on the wrong ship, and Kaylee may lightly reply to Simon's question about what they are doing with "Crime." but these are basically good people. The epitome of this, of course, is the fact that Serenity takes in Simon and River, despite the trouble this is bound to cause them. On the other hand, evil in the world of Firefly is both less obvious and more real. (Clue: The Alliance is evil). However, there is no leader in black robes with a maniacal laugh shouting out that here lies evil. In point of fact, perfectly good people might and do honestly see the Alliance as a force for good, as exemplified by Inara's statement that she supported unification. No, rather than being told that evil is here, we are shown it. The epitome of this is what was being done to River, but there is much more. "We meddle," says River in the movie. Darn right they do.
6. Contravention of stereotypes. I always thought that if a villain told me he was going to hunt me down and kill me, that, rather than walk nobly away, I would shoot him in the head. Mal does me one better. He kicks the guy into a spinning turbine. Another example: when Mal demands of a recalcitrant crew "Do you want to run this ship?", Jayne replies "Yes!", and all the flustered hero can think of to say is "Well, you can't." Not to mention other cool and different things enumerated above incidently, like the continued use of slug-throwing weaponry (and even non-laser swords and knives).
7. I can't enumerate all the really funny parts. Just one example is when Jayne wants to trade Mal his favorite gun for the woman Mal supposedly married while drunk. "She has a name," says Mal, and Jayne replies, "So does this! Vera . . ." (Vera sees action in at least two episodes. She is indeed a fine gun.)
The one thing I can't get my mind around is that this series is Joss Whedon's work. I am something less than a fan of his other work. I can't imagine in what corner of his brain he was hiding it; I just want to thank him for it. I can't believe I missed the series when it was on tv. I can't wait for another movie. Can somebody take the hint out there? I'm a bit desperate.
on October 17, 2003
Firefly was a show that came on the heels of Fox's usual brilliant decision-making--right after it cancelled my beloved Dark Angel. I first thought this show would be awful, but I sat down and watched it--and it was love. Truly. It's rare to find a show that can be taken seriously that also made me laugh out loud in every episode. The writing was extraordinary, and the actors/actresses were absolute gold. It was really like watching a movie each time around. Yet again, Fox shot itself in the foot and iced another good show. Nonetheless, at least the DVD is soon to come. At least they had the decency to do that. Come on, sing it with me: "Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. But I don't care--I'm still free. You can't take the skies from me..."
on March 21, 2004
I'd never heard of this show until I noticed the customer reviews while browsing through Amazon.com ... The response was so overwhelming that I HAD to check it out. It is without a doubt the best series I've ever seen. I was completely absorbed by the stories and characters, and watched the entire series in one sitting - I just couldn't stop. I hope another station picks up on this great show and carries it forward!! (and I can hardly wait to see the movie!!!)
on July 23, 2003
Fox has had its share of failed shows in the past years. This is to say nothing of their chronic ability to underadvertise and pre-empt their best programming in lieu of sporting events and mindless programming.
How Joss Whedon's Firefly managed to get a prime-time Friday night slot on Fox is beyond me. It was smartly written, well directed, extremely well cast and for its short-run had enough sub plots to keep you watching week after week. Firefly is, hands down, one of the best shows that Fox has ever aired. Why they relentlessly under-promoted this well-viewed show may never be known.
It is my sincere hope that now that Buffy is gone, Whedon manages to find another network that will pick up Firefly. It is too good to die.
on March 14, 2004
...1 - This may well be the best sci-fi show ever. My wife and I tried to watch it during its initial broadcast airing. It seems like Fox set this up to fail with it irregular airings, episodes out of order and the now infamous, let's not show the pilot that sets up the series until the very last episode. This show deserved so much better than the treatment it received.
2 - Could this have been Joss Whedon's best show? The characters were well written, the plots were well thought out, the actors could not have clicked together any better. The CGI effects were awesome (I still get goosebumps watching the "Serenity" flying through the atmosphere.)
3 - Joss Whedon's commentaries are among the best on DVD. Along with Mr. Whedon, four of the nine actors throw their two cents in and make for entertaining listening.
4 - Watching the episodes in order, the way they were meant to be in widescreen and with the bonus of unaired episodes at a very fair price makes for an excellent addition for your collection.
5 - The only downer was watching the final disc and getting down to the final two episodes. We knew this was going to be it. No new episodes (for now, one can hope, can't they?), some unanswered questions about the crew and passengers (hopefully they will be answered in "Serenity" the big screen film in 2005).
Finally, there is a hidden easter egg in this release. Insert the fourth disc of the set, at the Main Menu go to "Special Features". On the second screen, highlight "Joss Whedon sings the "Firefly" theme", then press the left arrow key on your remote control. This will highlight an ornament in the background, press "Enter" and you will get to see Adam Baldwin singing "The Hero of Canton."
on April 20, 2006
I am a fan of the movies (sci-fi in particular) but passed on "Serenity" (the feature film based on "Firefly") when it was in the theaters. I heard it was based on a cancelled TV show, so I figured I wouldn't "get it." When "Serenity" came out on video, I decided it was time to have a look. Long story short -- I REALLY enjoyed it, and then did the next logical thing: I decided to check out the TV series that led up to it. That was a good decision on my part; a very good one.
"Firefly" is about a crew of good-hearted space pirates several hundred years in the future that are just trying to make ends meet. They have a ship, the Serenity, and pass their time going from planet to planet on the "outer rim" of civilization in the galaxy, picking up "jobs" that pay (i.e., stealing) and trying to avoid Federation authorities and the Reavers (some great bad guys).
Ok, so how is it? In a word, "Firefly" is fantastic -- mesmerizing (ok, two words). I couldn't stop watching it, one episode after another. ALL of the episodes are great; there ain't a clunker in the bunch. I can't remember being this hooked by a TV series since the "Sopranos" came out on video. I love the futuristic setting and the glimpses of how our civilization has progressed, the fleshed-out 3-D characters, the sharp dialogue, and the interesting situations that the crew finds itself in.
I have no idea how this show could have been cancelled. It could only have been done by someone looking at numbers, not someone who had actually watched the show.
The characters are especially good -- the kind you wish you could spend more time with and get to know even better when you are done watching. The cast works extremely well together and that's was one of the primary things that drew me in -- you can tell there were no big egos in the group and that everyone was having fun. If you watch the extras (for the series, and with "Serenity"), you will hear the same message from them directly. It sounds like they had a blast, and it shows.
It's just an added bonus that they're all easy on the eyes. You probably won't have heard of anyone associated with this series (except maybe Joss Whedon, the auteur, or perhaps Ron Glass, the actor from "Barney Miller" back in the 1970s), but you might be inclined to look them up on the internet after you finish watching.
They are all great, but Nathan Fillion stands out as the Captain, "Mal" (short for Malcolm, although I wouldn't be surprised if its a double entendre). He is simply a great actor, and I can't wait to see where he turns up next. Two other favorites of mine are Summer Glau and Morena Baccarin, excellent actresses and beautiful to boot.
The scripts are excellent too -- lots of word-play humor and, just as importantly, the characters say things that you would expect people to say in their situations. The slow-burn flirting between two main characters is handled particularly well.
In case you think I've suspended all critical thinking and become an unthinking sci-fi zealot, let me pick a few nits as well. First, technology does not seem to have progressed very far in many ways from what it is now. In particular, it seems odds that people ae still pretty much firing off 20th century guns when the shooting starts. Second, there is a fair amount of violence in many episodes and a fair number of people die. A couple times the three main "fighting" characters seemed to take death and killing people a little too much in stride. On the other hand, they *are* essentially pirates or bandits, life is cheap, and they do abide by a code that basically requires them to do everything possible to avoid killing people. But if someone tries to kill them first...
That's really about it when it comes to things that made me stop and think about for a minute...but those thoughts pass quickly and then I come back to thinking what a great show this is.
So who should buy this? I would recommend it to *everyone* except those who might have a problem with the violence, which gets heavy at times. You know who you are. There is a little swearing, but it's all in Chinese! (it will make perfect sense when you watch it). As a parent of two young children (ages 6 and 8) who are just getting into Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc., I briefly considered watching it with my kids, but the show is really intended for adults. Someday, though....
You don't see many products on Amazon that average a 5-star rating, especially when 2500 people have their say. You don't need to be a sci-fi fan, you just need to be able to appreciate high-quality entertainment when you see it. As you will see on Joss Whedon's humorous introduction to the series, this whole project was a labor of love. That comes through in every single episode.
So, why are you still reading this? :)
on November 13, 2008
Only caught the series AFTER it was canceled, and have become a browncoat, to the point that, yes, I actually do wear a brown coat I bought when Serenity came out. It's a series worth checking out. The chances you'll become that much of a nerd are very low, so don't be afraid. :)
Picture quality is high compared to the original DVDs, detailed and clearer, though since the series is fairly dark at points, there's some definite noise (looks like film grain, actually) in the black backgrounds (at least on my set, a Mitsubishi). Despite initial rumors, special effects sequences remain at 480i (upconverted) instead of being re-rendered to 1080p. That's occasionally annoying if you're looking for it, but otherwise not. Sound is greatly improved.
As others have pointed out, the set is shy on new extras, which is too bad. Enjoyed the extra commentary and the partial reunion, would have appreciated more.
Packaging seems decent for a blu-ray multipack. One review complains about the packaging, but I found it efficient and not problematic (case opens with one middle piece. Middle piece has a disc on each side, third disc is on the back of the open case. I've seen worse: some mass-DVD multipacks with two dvds overlapping each other so you have to remove one to get at the other...)
Worth the money if you have a good HD set. If you're not sure, rent the first episodes from Netflix or Blockbuster.
on October 17, 2003
Buy the DVD; you won't be sorry.
One of the best things on TV recently, Firefly deserved better than the shabby treatment it got from FOX. While it is a SciFi show, like all great SciFi, it transcended the genre. Tight writing, solid acting, and beautiful camerawork made this show a standout. Flawed human characters thrown together in extreme situations made it a show that could have become a classic.
I'm still bitter over FOX's poor treatment and rapid cancellation of this show. It's no wonder that TV is a wasteland with dumb decisions like this one.
Now, let's get that feature movie deal going...
I got both "Firefly: The Series" and the movie "Serenity" for Christmas. The former is the late lamented television show that was the brainchild of Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" (which explains why the title "Joss Whedon's 'Firefly'" appears a lot). The four-DVD set "Firefly: The Complete Series," includes all 15 episodes of the series, which is set 500 years in the future and reminds those of a sense of television history that "Star Trek" was originally sold as "Wagon Train" to the stars, because the western elements of this series are as strong as the science fiction elements.
Since this is a Joss Whedon creation the obvious question is what sort of twists did he put into this one? The most obvious is that this is a science fiction series without aliens. Apparently there was nobody out there after all (or else they are hiding really well). The other major twist is that in the future there were just two superpowers, the United States and China, which explains why the characters tend to curse in Chinese now and then. I think if more people had known that there was a television show that was more explicit that "South Park" that would have meant high enough ratings for "Firefly" to survive. Finally, you have to appreciate that if this is Western set in outer space it is one that existed after the Civil War. Clearly Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) has the die-hard spirit of a bitter Confederate veteran.
From my perspective the only real problem with "Firefly" is that it lacks a strong story arc for this abbreviated first season. I might be making too much of this, but one of the strengths of Whedon's other shows was that he always makes excellent use of story arcs, using by wedding a first half story arc to another one in the second half of season. The closest things we have to driving story arcs are (1) the mysterious Alliance forces trying to capture River (Summer Glau) and her brother Simon (Sean Maher) and (2) Mal and Irana (Morena Baccarin) wasting time insulting each other instead of getting on to business (so to speak). Both of those are clearly there, but things were progressing too slowly for my taste. I know Whedon had some big payoff for the first one, but he was keeping it awfully close to the vest and if this revelation is not a major part of the planned movie, I will be totally surprised.
The strength of the series is in the characters of the crew, all of who are realized with some degree of depth. My favorite was Kaylee (Jewel Staite), who was smart as she was cute, a killer combination in my book. Captain Mal Reynolds was the most fully realized of the crew, mainly because he had a pivotal role in most of the episodes, but with the rest of the crew of "Serenity" you know there was more to come. We got a little of the back story on what Mal and Zoë (Gina Torres) did during the big war, and there was a flashback that told how Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) and the rest of the crew were hired on by Mal. But it is the secret behind River Tam's strange condition that is is going to be the key in everything that happens next, which you will now when you watch "Serenity." It was also great to see Ron Glass as another familiar face in the regular cast.
Of the 15 episodes collected here eight of them have commentary by various cast members (Fillion, Baccarin, Tudyk, and Staite) and writers (Whedon, Tim Minear, and Jane Espenson) and others. The additoinal special features include three behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, Alan Tudyk's audition, Joss Whedon singing the "Firefly" Theme, and a gag reel (the last three are actually three separate things). Each DVD comes with its own thin plastic CD box with shots of Mal Reynold, Shepard Book, Jayne Cobb, and Zoe Washburne posing in front of assorted nebulas on the respective covers (Notice that the alien landscape continues inside the slipcase).
The more I watch "Firefly" the more it grows on me (Kaylee is currently my favorite character with her combination of cuteness and competence, although after watching "Serenity" it is hard not to be totally captivated by Summer Glau's River). I just wish "Firefly" had not come at the expense of "Dark Angel" in terms of FOX's willingness to spend money on a show with a big special effects budget. The irony that both shows were gone before the 2002-03 season was half over is not lost on me either. In a much better world than this one both shows would have survived, but having neither is really the short end of the stick for fans of science fiction on television.