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Pop Autopsy - Why did Firefly fizzle ?

Thomas Vincent Jones

Monday 24 July 2006, by Webmaster

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away ... Joss Whedon created a character called Buffy who could slay vampires. Failing as a movie in the early 90s, Whedon resurrected the character for a ground-breaking TV series that spun off another hit series, "Angel."

As the story goes, the Fox network so desperately wanted to be in "the Joss Whedon business,” that they asked him to pitch something ... anything.

What they got they didn’t quite understand.

"Firefly" can be summed up in one high-concept statement: Cowboys in outer space. But it’s much more than that. It’s a science fiction world torn from our own American Civil War. It’s spacemen on horses and in cranky old spaceships that have as much personality as the characters that fly them. It’s a dislocated, disenfranchised crew of ex-military rebels, a mercenary, a sexpot mechanic, a lost girl with a secret and her doctor brother, a hooker with a heart of gold and a philosophical preacher that collectively form the rough and loving definition of family. (The name "Firefly" comes from the class of ship the crew flies. Serenity is the name of this particular ship.)

Casting a virtual who’s who of unknowns (the only nominally known actor was Ron Glass, most famous for "Barney Miller"), Whedon found absolute gems for almost every character and the ensemble cast clicked on every level, with Nathan Fillion’s Captain Mal Reynolds leading the charge.

Whedon’s strong female characters are also evident in this series with Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne, Jewel Staite as Kaylee Frye, Morena Baccarin as Innara Serra and Summer Glau as the poor, lost River Tam.

"Firefly" is not about some utopian society in the future, maintaining an ongoing mandate to explore the galaxy. It’s not about the intrigue of inter-planetary politics. It’s not about warp drives and phaser pistols. It’s about a bunch of people, a family, really, trying to get by, using almost any means possible. Their “full house” just happens to be a battered old spaceship.

Fox buried the series and blew it.

Universal came to the rescue and agreed to make "Firefly" into a theatrical motion picture with the same cast and with Whedon writing and directing. In both the series and the movie, Whedon has created a fully-realized new universe. His biggest challenge was translating the expansive world of a television series - even one that lasted only 14 episodes - to a 2-hour movie.

The end product, Serenity, has everything the series had: snappy dialogue, great characters, wonderful visuals. Just like Star Wars was not your granddaddy’s Flash Gordon, Serenity is decidedly not your daddy’s Star Wars.

But save Serenity until last. First watch the boxed set of "Firefly." Watched in the proper order, the series is a rare gem, captured in a glass jar on DVD. For all those real fireflies we caught - and accidentally killed - as kids, this one found new life when the jar was reopened. Long may it glow.