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9 faces looking into the black, seeing 9 different things
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.