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You Can't Take The Sky From Me
by Daniel Erenberg
23 Jan 03

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 to begin.

Eventually, 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 Firefly.

Throughout 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 again.

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 time slot.

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 daniel@slayage.com.
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