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Like many people, the first time I saw Firefly was after it had originally aired on Fox. I was home from work thanks to an ankle sprain that had me couch-bound for the rest of the day. There was a Firefly marathon on TV that day, and as I watched, suddenly the injury didn’t seem so bad.
I was hooked instantly. I bought the show on DVD and shared it with anyone who would listen. Pretty soon my friends were fans too. When the series came out on Blu-ray, I bought it, put it on the shelf, and promptly forgot about it. At least I did until a few weeks ago when I decided it was time for another watchthrough.
Firefly follows an ensemble cast that makes up the crew of the Serenity, a Firefly-class spaceship that gives the show its name. The show is essentially a space western, complete with horses, shootouts, and slang. This means that unlike a lot of sci-fi television, the show looks lived in. Part of this is because of the level of grit that seems to cover every surface, but that isn’t all of it.
For production of the show, creator Joss Whedon had the crew essentially build the entire set as if it was an actual ship, only it was built in two halves with each representing a deck of the ship. This means that characters move throughout the ship as if it’s a real place because, in a lot of ways, it is.
Instead of the Wild West, Firefly happens near the edge of colonized space. This helps to provide the western style, as many of these recently colonized planets have the same level of technology. This provides the show with much of its danger, but also its humor, which is always present, even in the darkest moments.
Despite the quality of Firefly’s writing and acting, the show struggled to find an audience, and Fox canceled the show after one season. Only after it was cancelled did the show find its true audience, which grew large enough that a feature film, Serenity, was released.
If you only watch one episode of Firefly, watch “Out of Gas.” This is kind of a bummer episode as much of it follows captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) around Serenity, alone, as he bleeds to death. That said, it encapsulates everything that makes Firefly great.
Throughout the episode, we see how Mal came to buy Serenity, as well as how he hired the core crew. By this point in the show, you’re well-acquainted with these characters, but this episodes speaks volumes to their individual motivations.
It also speaks to how fans see the show. In the episode’s final moments, a flashback shows a salesman trying to sell Mal a much fancier modern ship, but he’s got his eye on a ship in the distance: the Firefly-class ship that would come to be Serenity.
I don’t really have much bad to say about Firefly, but that may not come off as a surprise given my history with the show. If I need to mention a flaw, it’s that the computer graphics used mainly for exterior shots of the ship don’t hold up as well as the other shots.
Even that is a relatively minor point. I recently saw a few minutes of the 2005 movie King Kong and was surprised at how dated much of the CGI in that movie looked. Considering that Firefly is older and as a TV show had a significantly smaller budget, the CGI isn’t that bad.
While shows like Firefly paved the way for more season-length or even series-length story arcs, as a one-hour show on Fox that aired in 2002 and 2003, it had some limitations. Because of this, each episode is relatively self-contained even while hinting at larger overall arcs. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, but some might see it that way.
I’ll say this: If you’ve never seen Firefly and are on the fence about it, just watch it and thank me later. On the off chance you don’t like it, you’ve only wasted a few hours of time. If you’re like me and considering a repeat viewing, I would highly recommend it. The show is available on Hulu right now, so it’s easy to stream.
That said, I’d recommend watching on Blu-ray if you want the best quality. The transfer looks great, and the surround sound really adds to the atmosphere if you’ve got a halfway decent sound system or even just a soundbar. Even if you’re normally a streamer, there are good reasons for keeping DVDs and Blu-ray discs around.
As far as I’m concerned, Joss Whedon has to top this. Yes, the Whedon-helmed Avengers films are great, but they don’t have the same quality of feeling like a glimpse into a world that actually exists somewhere.