For a long time, I’ve actively avoided watching (or thinking about, or even listening to people talk about) a short-lived SF show by the name of Firefly. I had my reasons; they were good ones and I liked them fine. I had enough people, though, ask me what I thought about the series (and the follow-on feature film) that I finally told them my opinion.
This, it seems, wasn’t good enough. You see, unwashed heretic that I am, I hadn’t actually watched the series, so I had no right to have an opinion. Clearly, I was a mental defective who in an earlier, less enlightened age would have been quietly put out of my misery.
We apparently live in a more enlightened age, where the proper course of treatment is to nag the mental defectives until they agree to watch the series. Then they can be eased out of their defective state and retrained to be happy, healthy, members of society who can be counted upon to sing the virtues of the show at least every other post in their blog.
“Screw that,” I said. I saw no reason why I needed to subject myself to a show I didn’t want to watch. When sweet reason and polite discourse failed, I brought out my secret weapon — utter indifference and the ability to ignore things I find inconvenient. (Steph and I had a great time kvetching about the Rabid Vermin Fen who made this course of action necessary, though, so thank you all for the hours of ranting entertainment you’ve given us. Our vocabularies are much improved.)
Finally, though, the day came when I couldn’t dodge fast enough. Damn you, DVD boxed set. Damn you, writing deadline. And damn my habit of writing to the background noise of something in the DVD player. “At least,” I consoled myself, “I’ll be paying attention to the intricacies of e-mail discovery and compliance, and won’t have to really watch the thing.” I watched the pilot episode. Then, I watched the second episode. I watched them all, one by one. (Bet you thought I was going to say something stupid like “Two by two, hands of blue” — didn’t you?) I even put the movie in my Netflix queue. After some thought, I even moved it to the top from the #206 place of honor it occupied.
Now at last, I’ve seen the entire run of Firefly and Serenity. And now that I can sneer contemptuously at the charges of ignorance, I’m posting my reactions for all to see. Fate, thy name is Hatemail. As in, the hatemail I’m going to get as this review slowly gains readers as Google brings sweet unsuspecting Browncoats to my blog. Take that!
Note: my plan was to do the entire review as prose. That lasted as long as it took for Steph to look over my outline. “Why,” the strawberry tart who is also the love of my life said in her maddeningly intelligent fashion, “are you going to waste any more time on this project when your outline says it all?”
Damn me if the wench isn’t right. Here it is, then, in outline form. Love it or leave it, but either way, I’ve seen it and I didn’t much like it, nanner-nanner boo-boo.
Why I didn’t watch Firefly originally
- We don’t have cable or satellite.
- Based on Buffy and Angel, I think Joss Whedon is Teh Suck(tm). Okay, not really, but he writes stories that aren’t kinds I want to see. I happen to be a complete nut about Guinness, but I know plenty of fine people who prefer to drink other brands of beer.(1)
- I did a smallish bit of research on the concept and wasn’t that thrilled.
- I’m not a fan of the “tramp steamer” concept. This is also why the Traveler RPG never rang my bells.
Why I didn’t watch Firefly + Serenity
- The loads of shrill, obnoxious fans who couldn’t shut up about the big, bad eeeeevil network that killed The Best Show Evar(tm).
- My instinctive response to being told, “You have to watch it!” is to flip you the bird. No, I don’t.
- By the time Serenity came out, my lack of caring was a well-ingrained habit.
- Did I mention the fans? Granted, not everyone who talked to me about it was like that, but enough were that I was having White Wolf/In Nomine RPG flashbacks.
Why I finally watched Firefly
- Nick offered to let me borrow the boxed set over an extended period of time, allowing me to watch it at my own pace.
- Nick could explain why he liked it without feeling the need to assure me that of course I would therefore love it too.
- Nick was, in fact, completely open to the possibility that I might not only not think it was The Best Show Evar(tm), but that I mightjust think it was Teh Suck(tm).
- Thus, Nick could graciously accept my “I’ll watch the pilot; if I don’t like what I see there, I’m not wasting any more time.”(2)
- Nick and I both had projects to work on, we needed background noise, music wasn’t cutting it, and we didn’t have anything better to watch
Why I finally watched Serenity
- I wanted to see the movie that so many Rabid Vermin Fen(tm) proclaimed Teh Best Movie Evar!(tm). Any movie that gets people to kill those many electrons in the blogosphere and yet fails to turn into even the pretense of a commercial success is something to behold, if not for the reasons one might think.
- I wanted to see if Joss could actually manage to wrap up the storylines in a way that made the True Believers happy.
- I wanted to see if Joss had a horse in his string other than the “hawt teenage girl saves the universe from evil.”(4)
- use I knew I was going to write this review and wanted to head off all the angry accusation that I knew nothing because I hadn’t bothered to see the whole thing through to the bitter end.
Things I liked about Firefly
- A few of the characters — namely, the preacher, the companion, and Jayne.(5) Oh, yeah, Kaylee was there too, but I didn’t like her the way Nick did.
- The Reavers. Good times!
- I thought some of the storylines had potential, but I didn’t completely like the way they were handled.
Things I disliked about Firefly
- Inconsistent writing and characterization. Example: the origins episode and our first view of Kaylee. Sorry, that doesn’t seem consistent with her. She’d have exerted her whiles to get into geeking range of the hardware. Once she got in fondling range of the engines, pretty boy mechanic wouldn’t have been able to get her attention back. And Mal’s whole “let’s keep taking shots at Inara and Simon even after I’ve explicitly said they’re my people.”
- The inconsistency between the level of technology/hard science and the everyday details of the setting. There’s an unwritten correlation in SF that goes something like the lower the level of technology you have in your everyday life, the harder the science of the setting is. Firefly completely violates this, and in unpredictable and stomach-churning ways.
- That stupid-ass theme song. If it had just been an instrumental, it would have been fine. I love me my country music. The words were…well, they were whiny.
- Too many made-up swear words. There are plenty of good real ones to choose from that have lost their teeth these days.(6)
- The Chinese thing was cool, but I don’t speak it, and neither do the majority of the fans in North America. Some translated subtitles would have been nice, even if they were wildly inaccurate. It ended up feeling like an in-joke, which left me feeling like an outsider.
- That idiotic over-emphasis on the Western motif. In many cases, it actively hampered the storyline, Train Job being merely the most egregious example.
- The whole “River is this tortured soul who is chased by the entire Alliance” thing. “Two by two, hands of blue?” Here’s your thorazine drip, please shut up now crazy girl. Too much + too fast = complete loss of empathy for the character.(7)
- The whole “The Alliance is eeeeeevil because our characters think so” thing. For the most part, we saw the Alliance worlds being wealthy and healthy. The outer worlds were dirty and nasty, but the Alliance hadn’t been out there for very long and hadn’t had time to make a real difference even if they’d been trying. So how are we supposed to see if they’d been trying?
- Simon. Is. The. Stupidest. Damn. Person. Evar.
- Hey, Mal? Make up your mind already. Are you a good guy or a bad guy?
- The pacing was all wrong. Granted, Joss was hoping to get more than a handful of episodes out the door before the project was cancelled, but we didn’t really get any sense of character growth or even any traction on any of the mysteries of the characters. This, Joss, is why prudent young gentlemen don’t let it all ride on one number.
- Hey, Zoe, you’re married to Wash, not to Mal. You’re also not in the military anymore. Learn to lighten up a bit.
Things I liked about Serenity
- Music I could listen to without wanting to vomit.
- Joss had actually planted a couple of clues about the Reaver origins in the series. They were mostly in the pilot, but they were there. Kudos!
- The Reavers!
- I knew I didn’t have to sit through anything else in this universe once it was done.
- Kaylee finally gets her moment with Simon, even though I have to wonder about her taste in men. The last time we saw her having sex she at least got a job out of it.
- River was nuts, not because she was Fated to Save the World, but because she learned about a horrible tragedy she wasn’t supposed to know about. Oh, yeah, and having drills stuck in her brainpan once too often. That will do it too.
- The operative was cool. Another person who’d done his SF homework — swords are eminently practical in space, where bullets and holed hulls are not your friend.
Things I disliked about Serenity
- How to say this politely? Hmm…let’s try this. Joss, you bastard, you completely wasted the deaths of the preacher and Wash for no good reason.
- The pacing problems continued, albeit at the other end of the spectrum. I concede that this was probably an inevitable effect of going too slow in the series.
- Mal is now in the running with Simon for King of Stupid. It’s like this, Mal: you’re either still a soldier and an honorable guy or you’re a criminal who is lowlife scum. Either way you need to shoot the operative in the head after you’ve seen he has body armor. Make sure he’s dead!
- The Alliance execs who knew about the failed colony were desperate enough to go to very visible lengths to retrieve River, but were stupid enough to not have a screen of ships positioned to intercept ships actually going to said colony? I don’t buy it.
- Speaking of the Alliance, given the density of Reavers in that part of space, it should have been fairly easy to stand off from a long distance away and float in a mess of big-ass bombs disgused as ships or cargo pods. Now you have a lot fewer Reavers to worry about.(8)
- Mal’s had how many close scrapes and still hasn’t managed to jury-rig (or better yet, get Kaylee and Jayne to jury-rig) some sort of short-range weapon system for the Serenity by now? When ships are moving that fast through atmosphere that close together, a sudden load of junk coming undone can ruin the pursuer’s day.
- This movie had too much ground to cover the way it was framed. It either needed to be a standalone movie for people who had never seen the show, or it needed to be total fan service. I don’t think it did either adequately.(9)
- The fan interviews showed off a truly frightening level of ignorance. There were at least two instances where people were quoted as saying that no other show had been cancelled yet managed to get a feature movie made. Um, hello, WTF? Ever hear of this little project called Star Trek?(10)
- Devin sez: “I’ve now watched it and given you a lot of reasons why it wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m glad you liked it, but I didn’t. Please leave me alone now.”
- Steph sez: “I’d rather rewatch The Chronicles of Riddick — and that’s not a slam on Chronicles because I liked that movie. The pacing was better.”
(1) I’m only saying that to be polite. They are offenses in the sight of God and will be shown the error of their ways, oh yes they will…
(2) Nick is actually really cool. I mean, Snakes on a Plane cool. He’s Good People(tm).(3)
(3) Even if he does need to fix his broken PHP: “Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /www/nickw.stormsim.com/geeklog-1.4.0sr2/public_html/lib-common.php on line 4768”
(4) Joss isn’t the only one who can do that whole Western thang.
(5) Steph thought Jayne was her favorite. This should tell you something about Steph.
(6) Steph sez: “Pardon me if I say ‘Poppycock!'”
(7) Granted, having drills stuck in your brainpan that often would be squickalicious, but still, quit whining about it after the first million times.
(8) This, possibly, is finally some of the missing evidence that the Alliance is not sweetness and light. Too little, too late.
(9) Then again, I’m not a fan, so what would I know?
(10) Oh, right, that one doesn’t count because its movie made money hand over fist and revitalized the franchise, far beyond the success of the original show.