One Friday at around six in the evening, a couple of
friends dragged me out to a restaurant. At the restaurant,
I acted frantic. I had to get home as soon as humanly
possible, for that night a television show was premiering.
As a massive Joss Whedon fan, I'd been anticipating
his new show, Firefly, for months upon months.
Let me take you through this anticipation process.
The first fact I discovered about Firefly was its
premise. It was supposed to be a futuristic sci-fi western.
I wasn't sure how I felt about this but I kept my hopes
remarkably high because I'm the same guy who thought
the brilliant "Once More With Feeling" would
be the downfall of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
The next thing I found out was that the leading male
role of Malcolm Reynolds was given to a young actor
called Nathan Fillion. Fillion's biggest role up to
that point had been the Girl's boyfriend in Two Guys
and A Girl, a show I'd only seen one episode of and
that episode was pre-Fillion when there was still a
pizza place in the title.
The final piece of information I learned the summer
before Firefly's debut was that its timeslot was Fridays
at eight. This didn't bode well. I knew the moment I
read that bit that Firefly's cancellation was inevitable.
However, I still had the highest of hopes.
It annoyed me that FOX decided to air episode three,
"The Train Job", before the filmed two-hour
pilot episode, "Serenity". (Imagine if the
WB had aired "Witch" before "Welcome
To The Hellmouth/The Harvest").
FOX was doing its very best to ruin whatever chance
Firefly had for success.
Which brings us back to the restaurant.
I ordered an appetizer as my meal to get out faster
than the average human being. And I succeeded in my
task. At home, I stared hard at commercials, waiting
for Joss's first non-Buffyverse ongoing television show
it did, and I was sucked into the lives of Mal and the
rest of the Serenity crew. Naturally, all of the women
were completely beautiful and the captain was stalwart
and true, but what struck me most about the show was
how unafraid it was to make the characters unlikable.
And the theme song. Oh God, the theme song. Joss Whedon
wrote yet another song that would eventually become
trapped in my head for weeks at a time.
I couldn't remember most of the lyrics, but "You
can't take the sky from me" became a mantra, repeating
over and over in my head reminding me of Firefly.
Everything about the show was new and different to
me. Sure, friends complained to me about the plot being
eerily reminiscent of both Farscape and Star Trek (both
of which I disagree with), but, I thought, did either
of those shows have a piece of parchment that served
as a bridge between the action and the commercial breaks?
I think not.
A great deal of Firefly could have been extremely
innovative if only people would've watched it.
Then came October when FOX brutally assaulted the attention
spans of its viewers. With access to the Baseball playoffs,
FOX ignored Firefly, delaying numerous episodes. No
show should be preempted a week after its second episode
airs. This is what really ended Firefly. For the next
two and a half months, it was a "lame duck".
Let's face it, though. I think Firefly was absolutely
brilliant, but it was destined to fail.
For one thing, aside from Tim Minear, Joss Whedon,
and the other Buffy and Angel writers that contributed,
Firefly was home to two good writers who were both alums
of television shows that failed to pick up an audience.
One was a staffer over at FOX's own Dark Angel, and
the other was The Tick's brilliant Ben Edlund who was
only allowed one aired Firefly episode (Jaynestown).
Another reason Firefly was destined to fail is that
it was on FOX, a major corporate network. Joss Whedon's
many visions lend themselves far better to small cult
audiences (like the readers of this column with Buffy
and Angel) than to mainstream wide audiences that watch
other FOX shows like American Idol or Fastlane (a new
show that FOX actually DIDN'T cancel and, indeed, replaced
Firefly with). FOX is definitely not the home for a
show of this sort. The ratings were as good, if not
better, than those for Buffy and Angel. The difference
is that Buffy and Angel air on two fledgling networks,
UPN and the WB, while Firefly aired on FOX, which had
to retain the high standards set forth by massive hits
like The Simpsons and The X-Files.
Imagine if you will if the final episode of Buffy
to air was "The Pack". This is the story of
its ten-episode run, Firefly hit many highs and few
lows. The scene that defined it for me and forced me
to really get behind the show came at the end of "Ariel",
the third to last episode aired. Jayne, after having
sold out Simon and River to the Alliance, is locked
in some sort of cargo hold aboard the Serenity. Outside
the door, Mal reprimands him for turning his back on
his fellow crew. Mal's sense of morality clashing deeply
with Jayne's hardened exterior and desire for the almighty
buck made for a powerful scene. "Ariel" had
a sense of pacing that some parts of previous episodes
lacked. There were exceptions, like, for instance, "Out
Of Gas" which was break-neck. Every episode earned
Joss's name in the credits but I think it really amped
up to ten with "Ariel".
Two weeks later it was over. Two days before Firefly's
final airing, I read in Newsday that it was over. They
gave this news story two sentence on the bottom right
corner of something like the eleventh page.
Ironically, the final episode to air was the planned
two-hour pilot, "Serenity" that brought the
crew together. "Serenity" was cancelled, I'd
heard, for being too boring.
Now, after having seen it, I cannot disagree with
FOX more. This sprawling epic of an episode blasted
forth with a gut wrenching opening battle sequence,
displaying the horrors of the 2517 world that the characters
live in. It was a war scene. At the end, I was choked
up. The screen turned black for a moment before the
familiar theme song rose up onto the screen.
The next hundred or so minutes were the polar opposite
of boring. It grabbed my attention and didn't let go
until the last of the closing credits.
And then it was over, never to be seen or heard from
Since then, Mutant Enemy has shopped the show to a
few major networks (CBS, NBC and ABC), their Buffy network
(UPN) and a small cable network (Sci-Fi).
Are you trying to tell me that Sci-Fi doesn't want
the built-in cult audience surrounding Firefly? They
cancel Farscape and air boring nothings like Steven
Spielberg's Taken. They really messed up.
Am I bitter? Hell, yeah. But, the fact remains: Firefly
was a work of genius, shot down for not attracting viewers
by being shown sporadically at best in an inopportune
|Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking
house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees
and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery
that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned
articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of
websites for free). Currently, he's writing his
first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since
Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room
and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence.
He lives a fairly happy life alone and hankers constantly
for the hour of eight P.M. to nine P.M. on Tuesday
nights. You can contact Daniel on firstname.lastname@example.org.