Saturday, November 11, 2017

Future Interruptus: Firefly

Until he went tentpole Hollywood by getting hired to direct mammoth-budget cartoons like The Avengers, Joss Whedon was my favorite media creator. Decades ago I had my three favorite film directors, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick and Peter Weir and that was it. I knew where to go for narrative brilliance. But then everything changed: cinema got less interesting as it turned more and more to weird little dysfunctional independents and two dimensional blockbusters. And surprisingly, television, with Homicide: Life on the Street, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, True Blood, Rome, Game of Thrones and a host of others, actually got to be interesting. Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel were for a long time my favorite tv series. I even presented a couple of scholarly papers on them at a conference at the University of Huddersfield in the UK several years ago.

It was at that conference that I first heard about his canceled science fiction series, Firefly, so when I got back home I ordered the dvds. Wow, what a great, great show. In my books it, along with the motion picture sequel, Serenity, is pretty much the best science fiction ever filmed. Great cast of characters, great fusion of the western and sf genres, great stories, great writing, great humor and most of all, it was really original. Plus, no aliens with funny noses, no spaceships going whoosh in vacuum, and a fascinatingly plausible future with a lot of people swearing in Mandarin! Joss even wrote the theme song:

Firefly had some of the scariest bad guys ever, the Reavers:

And that little description of what will happen if the Reavers board the ship has to be some of the scariest dialogue ever. But Firefly was also one of the funniest series as well. This collection of favorite quotes gives you a taste:

Given Joss Whedon's standard Hollywood liberalism, the libertarian slant of Firefly was odd, but refreshing. As an example of Whedon's brilliant dark humor, I offer the torture scene from "War Stories" in which Mal and Wash are tied to a steel frame and tortured with electricity. Funniest torture scene ever (starts around 22:00 in this clip):

But the brilliance of the complex creative vision was compromised by the idiocy of the Fox executives in charge (may they contract many painful and wasting diseases) and not only did they refuse to air the carefully constructed pilot episode, insisting that Whedon come up with a replacement script over the weekend, but they did not show the episodes in order. As a final insult, they canceled the show halfway through the first and only season. What remains, thirteen episodes, is a bleeding torso of what might have been a spectacular series. In those thirteen episodes there are many hints at future developments. For example, it is obvious in the pilot that Inara Serra, the Companion or "geisha," and Shepherd Book know one another from before, but how and where is never revealed in the episodes we have. Fan outrage and dvd sales led Universal to fund a movie sequel, Serenity, but it was not well-attended so that ended the franchise. What a pity! In Serenity we see another libertarian theme plausibly explored: in the future government will seek ways, through the mass administration of drugs, to make the populace more amenable. I won't say what happens, but it does not end well. You might think this is pure fantasy, but at a cocktail party in Montreal many years ago I met two guys who were actually working on something similar. After I grasped what they were getting at I said: "Well, if you are coming to administer something like that to me, bring lots of guys with lots of guns." They literally backed away slowly!

Firefly would, had it been allowed to have a few seasons, have been by far my favorite sf tv show. But the enjoyment is always compromised a bit by the lost possibilities...

Oh, and Firefly also has great music! Go watch it. Now. At the moment, the double-length pilot episode seems to be on YouTube, so you can start there:

I'll be in my bunk.

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