Saturday, July 03, 2004

VIDEO: Firefly: The Complete TV Series

It's odd to write a review that will not change a single person's mind about viewing or not viewing the DVD collection Firefly: The TV Series. But, so be it.

Firefly failed on TV because there just wasn't a large enough target audience. It was too complex for the teen set. It was science fiction, ruling out the mature audience that hates science fiction. And it was almost as much a western for the SF Geeks who wouldn't be caught dead watching a cowboys-and-oaters.

Grown-ups who like a well-told tale, no matter the setting, and were willing to work at the sophisticated patter, were few and far between. Given the high cost of producing each episode, it's a wonder 13 were ever made, 10 getting on air before the plug was pulled. Didn't help that the shows were shown out of order. I remember not liking the debut episode when it aired, not realizing that it was actually the third hour in the real time-line of the series.

The series has been released in DVD form, replete with all 13 episodes in correct order, many with commentaries and a half-DVD with special features, making four discs in all.

Watching the whole 13-episode series, all ten real-time hours of it, makes me sad the series ended when it did. I came to care a lot about the little spaceship called Serenity, its captain Malcolm Reynolds and his motley crew. I found the patois, a combination of western slang, southern gentility, Shakespearean English and more than the odd Chinese phrase, a heck of a lot more understandable then when weeks were going by between episodes. You had to pay attention. The many "Battlestar Galactica"-like allegories for modern swear words made this an earthy series, but I DID say it was for adults, didn't I?

The true opening double-episode, 'Serenity,' might be as good a movie as I've seen this year. It was outstanding. And even the now-renumbered second episode seemed a lot better once viewed with more background.

Without being an outright comedy, every episode of Firefly seems infused with humour. Much of the humour revolved around Adam Baldwin's Jayne, an openly greedy henchman-type with only a loose familiarity with the idea of ethics. In many ways, he became my favourite character.

Nathan Fillion does a solid job throughout the series. It's no wonder that creator Joss Whedon used him over in the Buffy universe when Firefly got cancelled. The same is true of second-in-command Gina Torres as Zoe in Firefly and one of the big baddies later in the year in Buffy spin-off Angel. Neither actor looks unconvincing as ex-Militiary, ex-rebels skirting the letter of the law. Both characters do have a semblance of super-human to them, especially Malcolm who recovers incredibly well from being shot or even being killed (just the once though [G]).

With Zoe married to cut-up Wash, the pilot (played pleasingly as just normal by Alan Tudyk), the key romantic tension is supplied by Mal Reynolds and Inara, played by Morena Baccarin. Baccarin, who looks like a younger Emma Samms, no small compliment that, hasn't appeared in anything else that I have ever seen. Her character, which adds so much to the series, might have been one of the problems with getting the series accepted. There's a whole chunk of the populace that just can't get a main character being a high-class sex-worker. More geisha than call girl, but a sex-worker nonetheless. Role aside, Baccarin is one actress to watch.

The other characters are quirky and memorable. I especially liked Ron Glass's Book, the Shepherd. And Jewel Staite's Kaylee is so darn spunky and likeable that you just feel for her whenever the lout of a doctor, Simon Tam, displays his lack of couthness consistently. Yet, like all the characters, Simon, played by Sean Maher has an up-side, looking after his sister River, played with otherworld weirdness by Summer Glau. She is supposed to have been lobotomized and is on the run after being spirited away from The Academy by Simon. River is the one jarring note in the series, just a little off-putting. But that's her role.

I mourn the passing of the TV series and rejoice in the plans for a movie called, interestingly enough, Serenity, due in the multi-plexes next spring. Where once it would have been just another SF movie to try and find time for, I can assure you that I look forward very much to revisiting my friends on the little Firefly ship.

This is a DVD set that's worth the money. Welcome to Whedon's 'verse. It's a good ride.

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