“Firefly” (series) and “Serenity” (2005)

TV critic Alan Sepinwall, who blogs at Hitfix now, revisits TV shows on DVD during the summer. This years he’s doing Joss Whedon’s Firefly and The Wire Season 3. My husband and I were fans of Firefly during its short-lived time on the air, and thought it would be fun to watch it again in one swell foop and read Sepinwall’s recaps. And it was, indeed, mostly swell.

The series, which ran for only 14 episodes, was a space opera western. Mal Reynolds was a rebel war veteran who used his spaceship to run dodgy business throughout the galaxy. He has a crew of four: his right-hand woman, Zoe; her husband, the pilot Wash; mechanic Kaylee; and hired muscle Jayne. There are also a few passengers: Inara, a Companion (i.e. space prostitute); Shepherd Book, a preacher with a murky past; and another couple of guys.

I’ll get my big problems out of the way first. One, this is another example of how supposed feminist Joss Whedon maybe isn’t such a paragon. Space prostitute? Really? It might have worked if he’d followed up on what’s stated in the show–Companions are celebrated and revered, almost worshipped. Instead, they go for cheap shots from both Mal and customers about hookers, which make it more akin to 50’s westerns than millenial sci-fi. Further, the series and movie fails the Bechdel test–none of the women characters ever talk together about anything other than men.

Second, it was recently brought to my attention that while Whedon posited a future cultural mishmash of US and Chinese cultures, the series and the movie have almost no Chinese or even Asian characters, EVEN AS EXTRAS.

And yet, I still found this a darn entertaining show. Nathan Fillion is charming as Mal, a knight in sour armor. Zoe and Kaylee are smart and strong female characters, even if they could have been developed more as individuals than in relation to the men. The mystery is involving. My favorite element, though, was Adam Baldwin (now on Chuck) as Jayne Cobb. He is hilarious and steals many of his scenes.

In perhaps the oddest turn of events, Firefly, though canceled by Fox, had such a strong and dedicated fan following that Whedon was able to find a producer who liked the series and was willing to gamble on a feature film. Whedon’s challenge, then, was to make a film that would appeal to both fans of the series and newcomers and further, answer a bunch of the questions left open when the series ended. Seeing Serenity again confirmed and enhanced my opinion from when I saw it in theater: mission accomplished, Joss and crew. Well done.

Serenity is fast-paced entertainment, with impressive effects given its small budget, and a remarkably tight plot given the many things it had to accomplish. Also, probably not coincidentally, there’s hardly anything about Inara as a space prostitute. What it does best, though, is highlight one of the strengths of the series: its diverse, engaging and charming cast.

I recommend both the series and the movie, as well as the recaps Sepinwall is doing this summer. After Whedon’s most recent series, the to-me disappointing Dollhouse, rewatching this made me wish he could get another series that might last. It’s been a long time since Buffy.

4 Responses to ““Firefly” (series) and “Serenity” (2005)”

  1. Farrar Says:

    There was recently a poll published in Entertainment Weekly that said Dollhouse was Whedon’s best show. Le sigh. I’m with you. Not all that.

    I also have noted the lack of Chinese or other Asian actors in the show. It reminds me of how the movie The Last Airbender didn’t originally put any Asian actors in the 4 lead roles (Dev Patel was later cast as Zuko after someone bowed out).

  2. girldetective Says:

    Farrar, I saw that same poll, and was disappointed in all those respondents. Maybe they just are Whedon-come-lately’s, and Dollhouse is the only one they knew, or that they knew best.

    I’m all for creative casting. Donald Glover as Spiderman? Yeah! Angelina in a role originally meant for Tom Cruise? Cool. But casting ubiquitous white people in roles that make more sense for non-whites is at least silly and short sighted, if not offensive. Le sigh, indeed.

  3. Kerry Says:

    If I squinted, I could convince myself that everyone on Firefly had multiple races in their background.

    I generally think that Whedon comes up with great ideas, but they turn bad when he moves onto the next thing. Examplse, Season 7 of Buffy,Season 4 of Angel. I did not like Serenity. I hated the Reivers’ backstory, and thought that they oversexed Kaylee and that her characterization in the movie was out of character. I have refused to buy the volume of Runaways that he wrote because he got busy/lost interest and it dragged on for almost a year before the last issue came out. Dollhouse –ay yi yi. I love the actors he choses to work with. He has an great eye for chemistry and quality and really brings out great work. But, the actual work? On thin ice for me.

  4. weirleader Says:

    It just goes to show how un-discerning I am — never noticed the lack of depth in the female characters OR the lack of Chinese actors/characters! But boy was the story and the dialogue a great romp.

    They did do some answering (in Serenity), but I was not terribly thrilled with the degree to which Whedon, shall we say, ‘terminated’ the series. You give me a Spock who gives his life to save the crew and I’m okay with it, but you give me a guy who looks like he’s escaped and then snatch back that escape… grrrr.

    And I REALLY want to know what’s up with Shepherd Book (without having to buy the comic book)!