Two nights ago, my fiancée and I were struggling to find something to watch. Nothing really fit our moods, and we’re big TV people. She suggested Battlestar Galactica, but it was too heavy and serious. X-Files was the same way. Veronica Mars was off the docket because we aren’t ready to delve into another series and not finish it (we’re in the middle of BSG and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer). I’ve been running an idea about Firefly through my head for the 2010 Slayage conference, so I made the comment that I really need to rewatch Firefly. My fiancée wittily responded “aren’t we always in a state of needing to rewatch Firefly?” We chuckled, and then snuggled in to start Buffy Season 3.
But what is it specifically about that one show that makes it so good? I’m having a hard time really placing any particular reason on why I (and many other Whedonites like me) hold the show in such high regard when other shows are equal, if not greater, in quality.
There are many shows I love that I consider myself a bigger fan of than Firefly—LOST, for instance–but I don’t feel the ever pressing need to constantly absorb its narrative. I’ve seen LOST through multiple times, but I never feel the pressing need to constantly rewatch it like I do Firefly. I’ve seen Firefly more times completely than any other TV show, yet it constantly hearkens to me for another watch through.
It’s not that it’s better than, say LOST or True Blood or The X-Files; it’s just that Firefly excels at every single facet of television production, whereas most other television shows (generally) excel at something singular.
The acting is superb, yes. Nathan Filion is perfect as Mal Reynolds, even if he does come across to the uninitiated as a cheap Han Solo. Alan Tudyk’s Wash is so quirky I can’t think of another actor playing him, and Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb is borderline flawlessness. The rest of the cast is equally impressive; not a single actor in the ensemble even comes close to being considered “weak.”
The writing is simply phenomenal. The narrative itself is wonderfully intricate with an entire ‘verse crafted with a backstory that never has to be referenced through hard exposition; it is woven through the series as an organic part of the world. It’s told through hybrid serialization—an ongoing story that takes a backseat to adventures of the week. The characters and their relationships are natural, not forced, and there really are no extraneous characters. Everyone has a purpose to be on the show, and the viewers care about everyone.
The world that Joss Whedon created has a world that is unique among TV shows. While there are lots of SF staples in Firefly, the Chinese and American Western influences blur the line as to just what the genre is. Other shows blue genre lines—Pushing Daisies is a fairy tale-esque police procedural, LOST is a sci-fi jungle adventure, Carnivale is a magical realist Grapes of Wrath (yeah, figure that one out!)—but Firefly might be the one that mixes them most successfully. The viewer never wonders “wait, is this a Western?” or “Is this actually sci-fi?” No, the viewer understands the genre mish-mash from the beginning.
Overall, I really don’t know what it is about Firefly that makes it so phenomenally addictive. I consider myself a Browncoat, even though I had no idea about the franchise until after Serenity’s theatrical release. I am even working through ideas about Firefly scholarship, and I really have absolutely no idea why I hold the series in such a high regard. In the end, I think it can boil down to two things more than even those I’ve outlined above: it’s short (meaning that it’s not a massive time-sink) and it will never be renewed (as sad as it makes me to say it, let’s not kid ourselves). The fact, above all else, that it’s easily accessible whenever we want makes it far easier to justify rewatches because it’s all that will ever exist. It’s not a mammoth undertaking to glean (or rather, try to glean) all the meaning and fun out of 14 episodes if one knows that no more will ever be produced. I think a major part of Firefly’s charm, unfortunately, is that it was cancelled, and it has become a case of ravenous fans wanting what we can’t have and not seeing what we had until it was gone.