The Little Firefly That Could…

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!

Oh, and Kaylee, you are mine.

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16 comments

  1. I’d never thought of Firefly inspiring the recent wave of SFR, but it makes sense.

    For the record, I loved the hell out of both shows you mentioned here. I’m actually heading into a re-watch phase on BSG at the moment.

    Great post, sir!

    1. Same here, Shawn! I’m half way through Season 1 of BSG. Amazing show.

  2. Interestingly, this week’s Fringe episode is titled “Firefly”

    1. Megan, I’ve been meaning to give Fringe a try. This week, it was meant to be.

      1. Glad to hear it! You won’t be disappointed! 🙂

  3. Thanks for reminding me how much I lved the series – I just ordered the pack of all of them off of ebay to beef up my collection. Thanks!

    1. My pleasure, Lilly. It’s about time I rewatched the series as well – can’t get enough of that crew.

  4. I’ve re-watched Firefly and Serenity twice. It may be time for another extravaganza!
    I’ll confess that one of those re-watches was purely for inspirational purposes while writing Silver Bound. But, I didn’t quite pull directly from the characterizations or storyline. The feel and the soundtrack has it’s own appeal. The rough western elements are inspiring in their own way.

    1. That’s interesting, Ella. I think the feel of the show – the retro-future attitude? – is really distinctive. Lots of non-SF folks love Firefly as well, and if it hadn’t been cancelled, and if Whedon had explored those relationships, I’ve a feeling it would’ve gone on to become THE SFR show. Most of the SFR writers I’ve come across are fans.

      Btw, congrats on your LRC nom for Silver Bound!

  5. I’d never seen Firefly and have only seen Serenity in bits and pieces when I’ve been able to catch the movie on the TV. (It keeps escaping the butterfly net.) Recently, I’d been engrossed by Caprica, although I’d never seen Battle Star Galactica. And now, Caprica, like Firefly, has been cancelled after a handful of episodes. Ah, well. Nathan Fillion (Capn’ Tightpants?!!!) is still alive and well as Richard Castle. (Oh, dear. I hope I didn’t just doom him!)

  6. Gah, Caprica too!! Another one they’re cancelling before I’ve tried it? Is it a kind of prequel to BSG? You should definitely give BSG a whirl, Taryn – it’s a masterpiece, at least for the first three seasons. And Firefly, well, I was shocked by how addictive it became. Soon as Caprica comes down in price, I’ll snag the box-set.

  7. Loved Firefly and Serenity and I love that Nathan Fillion makes veiled Firefly references in several episodes of Castle. Despite loving sci-fi, he’s the real reason I started watching Firefly 🙂

  8. Oooh, I lurv Firefly! I watched the series first; I’d, um, like to forget the movie happened. But that’s just me. ^_^;;

    I really miss the show and its setting. I’m thinking of breaking down soon and picking up the graphic novels, but what I would really love is to dive into some good Firefly-esque space westerns. One of my Twitter friends, fellow writer Darcy Drake (http://eileenandrews.com/?p=898), is working on one right now; I had the pleasure of reading a sample a few months ago and *can’t wait* for the rest!

    ::twitch:: Does anyone have suggestions for good space westerns to tide me over?

  9. Hi Christine! Our very own Ella Drake has a western-esque SFR out at Carina, called Silver Bound. I haven’t read it yet but definitely plan to.

  10. I’m late the party on this one, but I’m a Browncoat, too. May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one. My husband was a fan when it aired, and I became a Browncoat when I watched the show with him on DVD.

    Now, I’m the proud owner of the actual necklace worn by “Jayne Cobb” in the movie (a St. Christopher medal). I make Firefly cosplay replica and Serenity-inspired “spacepunk” jewelry, and I’m the founder/organizer of my city’s “Can’t Stop the Serenity” annual charity screening. Browncoats worldwide have raised more than half a million dollars for charity since 2006.

    I even wrote some fanfic scripts for a season 2 of Firefly. http://www.jlhjewelry.com/2009/04/30/my-firefly-season-2/

    Firefly was definitely one of many inspirations for Stellarnet Rebel (others include Babylon 5, Les Miserables, Irish history, and North and South). And writing those scripts was a wonderful exercise in plot development and pacing.

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