the very narrow world of rabid fanboys, Joss Whedon's name gets uttered with the
same reverence as Bruce Campbell (of the "Evil
Dead" movies). Having been responsible for two of the more influential
"teen geek" shows in recent years ("Buffy the Vampire
Slayer" and "Angel"), Whedon tried to bring the same geek
irreverence to space via "Firefly", a one-hour series set in the
future, where the term "space cowboy" is apparently the order of the
day. He succeeded in rallying the fanboys around him, but failed to justify the
existence of such an expensive show, and thus "Firefly" didn't last
long enough to see the end of its first season, much less a second season.
The episode under review is the two-hour pilot,
which curiously was not shown as the series pilot, but rather as a
two-episode arc toward the end of the series' much-harangue first (and
final) season. Perhaps this wasn't such a bad idea, as the pilot is not
exactly the stuff legends are made of. Which isn't to say it's not good,
because it is very much a very good episode -- except there just didn't
seem to be anything "great" about it. Written, directed,
produced, created, and catered by Whedon himself, the
"Firefly" pilot's most important job was to introduce the
characters and how they came together onboard the floundering salvage
ship Serenity; oh, and there's a shootout.
The pilot opens with Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion)
and Zoe Warren (Gina Torres) as soldiers in the service of The Alliance,
the show's omnipresent authority figure/The Man. Abandoned by their
commanders and left for dead on the battlefield, Mal and Zoe remain
comrades 6 years later onboard the Serenity, where we find them
salvaging cargo from a derelict ship. Now mercenaries for hire, the crew
of the Serenity (which includes Wash (Alan Tudyk), the pilot and Zoe's
husband; Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the slightly unhinged hired muscle; and
Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the happy-go-lucky engineer) finds even more
trouble when they take on passengers, only to discover that one
passenger is hiding a secret, and another is a federal agent. Soon, the
crew is on the run from the Alliance, and must dump their stolen cargo,
get paid, or die trying.
At almost 90 minutes sans commercials, the pilot
does its job of introducing the different characters with great success,
as well as touching on some of the world that the Serenity's crew
inhabits. It's an interesting world, to be sure, and although set in the
future, it's very much still trapped in a Wild West setting. There are
roving marauders on the outskirts of civilization called the Reavers,
who we never actually see in the pilot, although we hear a lot about,
and what we hear aren't very nice. The law is sporadic, and much of the
places Serenity finds herself look like old Wild West towns populated by
gunmen. People still use ballistic weapons such as handguns and
shotguns, and horse-powered travel is still a viable option. It's the
future, but it's not. Get it?
In attempting to create something original and yet
familiar, Whedon brings a very unique vision to science fiction. The
clashing of the futuristic (spaceships, space travel) and the primitive
(horses, revolvers) is one of the show's main appeal. To be sure, it's
very interesting to see men who fly around in spaceships wear
gunfighter's rigs, or the fact that most of the outlaws wear
Western-inspired clothing, including ten gallon hats, and looks very
much like cowboys. Then again, the whole Western conceit can be a bit
off-putting, and perhaps is leaning just a shade too much towards
"trying so hard to be kooky that it's just silly".
The characters themselves are probably the best
parts of the show, with Mal coming through as the most complex of the
bunch. Nathan Fillion looks a bit too young to play such a world-weary
traveler and ex-soldier, but there are moments when you can't picture
anyone else in the role. He's that good. Whedon mainstay Gina Torres
Revolutions") doesn't do quite as well as Mal's
loyal-to-a-fault right-hand woman. The character is too stiff and Torres
doesn't exactly convince as a tough warrior woman.
More interesting is Mal's unspoken relationship with ship
"companion" (aka prostitute) Inara (Morena Baccarin),
something that doesn't get explored very much in the pilot, but seems
destined to become a major plot point later on in the series.
As with all of Whedon's creations, "Firefly"
is filled with the type of smart-alecky dialogue that his fans are used
to, and in fact demands from him. The show balances comedy and its more
suspenseful and serious side well, with the first half of the pilot
being much lighter than the second, which gets quite dark when a
crewmate is shot and nearly killed and the ship runs afoul of the
oft-mention Reavers in an intense sequence. And although Whedon has
decided to jumble up "Firefly's" fictional universe so much
that the anachronism is so in your face as to be slightly distracting,
he has also made an interesting decision to shoot the outside-space
sequences in silence as, true to science, there is no sound in space.
What regular viewers of the show could look
forward to, if the pilot is any indication, are a lot of inter-personal
dynamics and plenty of character development interspersed with the
occasional bursts of cartoonish action. The pilot is not very
action-packed, which may be one of the reasons the network kept it from
being the show's introduction in the first place.
The show's style is also interesting, and
actually brings to mind the "blocky" aesthetics of the new
Galactica" re-imagining. There are some unnecessary camera
zooms, some vague "NYPD Blue"-esque camerawork, but some of
the pilot's best scenes take place in the soundless void of space, where
the excellent visuals, with the aid of state-of-the-art special effects,
are most prominent.
Which begs the question: had "Firefly"
been a Sci Fi Channel show (or an off-network show), might it have
survived? If "Farscape"
is any indication, the answer is most likely Yes.