Joss Whedon’s short-lived space western series has to be one of the most fascinating examples of a cult TV show blossoming in popularity after its cancellation. Sure, there were fans from the outset—a vocal minority—but after a mere 14 episodes, it was unceremoniously yanked off the air. I’d barely heard of it, and no one I knew had seen a single episode before the network pulled the plug. It wasn’t the first quality show to be dumped before its time and it won’t be the last; but just what was it about this orphaned TV shooting star that had curious audiences, even those who’d previously steered clear of SF, asking for more?
Was it word of mouth? Whedon’s Buffy fans realizing that, hey, maybe they might like something set in space after all, especially if the dialogue’s replete with Whedon zingers and the characters are every bit as fun as his vampire shows? Was it the unique blend of SF and westerns? The inclusion of three ongoing romances/love stories in a genre usually content to swash political pincers in between blowing shit up?
Several years later, the show’s resurrection as a movie, Serenity, made history. Even Star Trek, which had famously gained enough fan traction to inspire a major film years after the end of its TV run, had lasted three series. With only 14 episodes and several hanging story threads, Firefly was a runt of a show. But it stood up and defied the workhouse rules, and it showed, as with the birth of all cult shows, what hunger can achieve. Fans’ hunger. They got their second helping and their vindication. Serenity is a pretty good movie.
And now, everywhere I look online, Firefly-inspired science-fiction romance is on the rise. Not that Firefly coined any of its character types—space pirate (Captain Malcolm Reynolds aka Nathan Fillion riffing on Han Solo), warrior woman, shady mercenary, whore (sorry, companion) with a heart of gold, tomboy mechanic, etc—but their proliferation in recent SFR is easy to spot. One could argue the Battlestar Galactica reboot has been equally influential. Starbuck is the archetypal badass female warrior in modern SF. But it’s the blend of attitude, snappy humour, and roguish heroes (Cap’n Tightpants, that means you) that I see permeating SFR at the moment. Firefly’s fun space opera leanings trump BSG’s realism in this particular genre, IMO. And that’s fine with me.
I didn’t get to sample Firefly until after I’d seen Serenity. For the record, I think the series is quite a bit better (it’s funnier and more playful), but there’s no denying the uniqueness of Whedon’s creation from ill-treated start to more-than-respectable finish. It might not have started this modern SFR re-emergence singlehandedly, but it’s certainly been a healthy catalyst. And to that, I say… ::um, something witty in Chinese?::
Browncoats, stand and be counted!