After dismissing the show pretty quickly (my sister failed to get me into it, and then I failed to get her into Battlestar Galactica), I’m finally getting back around to working through Firefly. I have 3 or 4 episodes to go and then I can watch Serenity and be done. It’s never going to be my favorite show, and it’s definitely not “the best science fiction series ever” as I’ve seen some otherwise intelligent people soberly claim, but I’m not hating it.
It’s very clever, the “space western” angle. A lot of science fiction shows have their foundations in more traditional genres — Star Trek’s a naval exploration thing, Star Wars is a samurai movie, Battlestar Galactica is “Wagon Train to the stars” and also based partly on the Book of Mormon if I understand correctly, and Blake’s 7 (the classic low-budget British series this show closely resembles) is “The Dirty Dozen” crossed with pirates. I can’t remember any of them wearing their underpinnings so nakedly, and it’s kind of admirable.
It’s not that enjoyable, though — probably just because I don’t really like Westerns or slide guitar or country fried theme songs. So a little dust and tumbleweeds and six-shooting and fiddling and hoeing down goes a long way. It’s best when it’s sprinkling flavor on the space thieving action, and kind of a drag when we’re soaking in it.
The more I watch, the more I miss Blake’s 7, which was mainly lacking in budget and warmth, but had the same premise: a small group of thieves and rogues and rebels travel the galaxy pulling off heists and guerrilla operations, staying one step ahead of authorities and bounty hunters. We have Blake and Mal, basically good leaders on the wrong side of the law; Zoe and Dayna, women of color handy with guns; Avon and Jayne, selfish and ruthless antiheroes (though one’s a computer genius and the other’s a brute); Wash and Tarrant, boyish, feckless pilots; Cally and River, troubled psychics.
Oddly, though the characters in Firefly are better developed, more sympathetic, and often better acted, I still don’t like most of them as much as Joss Whedon wants me to.
Wash is a dork, just annoying on every level. Zoe’s the kind of dull Amazon you get when an actress is too aware that she’s supposed to be playing a Strong Woman but doesn’t really inhabit a character. Kaylee’s cute in a Sanrio kind of way, but the jaunty downhome syntax the writers insist on putting in her mouth comes out sounding false. I can’t stand preachers in real life, and I don’t like this Preacher any better. And then there’s the Ren Faire hooker with a tea set of gold, the “Companion” who somehow manages to be thoroughly unsexy, the least titillating element of the show, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a funny thing about professional sex: the more respectable you try to make it seem, the less appealing it becomes.
So that leaves Simon and River, who fortunately bring a thread of mystery and gravity to the whole affair. River’s psychotic breaks can be kind of melodramatic, but I’m interested in their story and I mostly don’t mind watching them. Mal’s pretty watchable too, the sort of captain who cuts Gordian knots with a single unerring gunshot, and that’s all right with me. My favorite character on the show, however, is Jayne, partly because I love the Id on every show (see also: Eric Cartman, Bender), and partly because Jayne’s Avon-like amorality is fascinating and funny in a way that the all-for-one-and-one-for-all crew’s camaraderie isn’t.
So I feel about this the way I feel about Buffy: it’s massively overrated, maybe half as good as it’s cracked up to be, but since it’s cracked up to be pretty damn good, it’s still halfway decent. If only the incidental country music would stop!