TV Series Review – Firefly

I’m an eccentric in my family because I’m not much of a TV watcher. I don’t pay for cable or satellite. I get the little TV that I watch for free, off the airwaves. A few years back, I was one of those people who had to buy a converter box for my television because the rabbit ears were going to stop working. You probably always wondered just who those people are. Well, now you know.

Internet had long since replaced the TV for both my husband and I. When we moved in 2004, we canceled our satellite subscription for the last time. The person we spoke to when cancelling our service was a bit nasty. “You’ll be back,” they said. “No, we won’t,” my husband said. And we haven’t.

You’d be surprised at the good television you can get in reruns. For a while, RTV (Retro TV) was playing The Incredible Hulk, Dragnet, and Adam-12 one right after another (woohoo, Officers Malloy and Reed!). When I was pregnant, I planted myself in my chair (I was on bedrest–good excuse, I think) and watched 3rd Rock, Frasier and Seinfeld reruns one right after another. Later, we watched JAG.

But the TV is on for an hour at most, and at eight o’clock, the TV goes off, and the writing begins.

And then … along came NetFlix. My husband had watched all the episodes of Battlestar Galactica, and was trying to find something to watch next. I remembered a Twitter conversation I had with Anna the Piper — aka Angela Korra’ti — in which I asked her who Nathan Fillion was. Um. Dumb question. I got quite an answer, and was told to watch Firefly.

So when my husband was looking around for something to watch on Netflix, I suggested Firefly. And as an added bonus for him, I  told him that I would watch it with him. Because I promised Anna that I would.

So we  started watching it. (And I’m sorry about all the backstory. You know how chattery I get.)


Try Googleing the word “firefly”. No longer is the top link to a definition of a cute little bug with a rear end that lights up. No, that firefly is passe, a mere product of Nature. The true definition of “firefly” is now “an American space western television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label.” Seriously. The word has been overtaken by a television series that was cancelled after eleven episodes. (Yeah, I know there is fourteen episodes; fourteen were filmed; eleven of them were originally aired.)

Unfortunately, in today’s world, everything must be a blockbuster or it gets cancelled or dropped. Ask any midlist author.

But about the series. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Remember Star Trek? Meh. It’s captain was an egomaniac who slept with every woman he could and who wasn’t particularly likable. I watched it for Spock. And McCoy.

The captain of the Serenity, by contrast, is almost completely chaste.

Plus–get this–there is a preacher on board.

Rather than review the whole series, I’ll give a brief overview and then talk about my favorite part–the characters.

The series is billed as a “space western”, but none of the characters are particularly cowboy-like. Which, I think, is a good thing. It’s about the crew of a Firefly-class space freighter named Serenity. The ship is named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, which is when an organized rebellion was finally defeated by a powerful and heartless Alliance. The captain of the Serenity and his first mate–who fought at his side in the war–now try to make their living on board the Serenity. Their goal? “You got a job, we can do it, don’t much care what it is.”

Malcolm Reynolds – The captain of the ship. Not a lot of his backstory is given, but you do get tantalizing glimpses. In the first episode, he visibly prays and is seen kissing a cross. By the time the war is over and he’s the owner of the Serenity, he is openly hostile to Christianity, and makes it plain to Book (the preacher–see below) that he will not be preached to. He has somewhat mixed morals–does not hesitate to throw one enemy into his engine intake, but will not kill another man who put him through an extensive torture session. Usually does the right thing … but it may take him a while to get to that point.

Zoe Washburne – Second in command, fighter. She was a soldier for the rebellion (or the “Browncoats”) in the war. Zoe and Wash are married at the start of the series. They are very happy, no children. She is a pure fighter and a natural leader. Mal always leaves her in charge when he goes out to get contracts–unless he is bringing her along.

Wash Washburne – Zoe’s husband, pilot. Wash is the comic relief. He played Watt in A Knight’s Tale, and he essentially is playing the same character, except less goofy. Is a totally unlikely match for Zoe, which is why it works. He’s fun and likable, and is often Mal’s moral compass.

Inara Sarra – a “companion”. A companion is a courtesan. I didn’t really get why companions have such a high social status, but I successfully suspended disbelief. She rents one of the ship shuttles, and has it all decked out in veils and bedding. You can’t even see the walls. It looks like the inside of a very lavish tent. Except the pilot’s compartment, where she flies with expertise. There is a lot of unresolved romantic tension between Inara and Mal.

Jayne Cobb – a tough. He’s the quintessential “boy named Sue”. He’s tough and mean, just like in Johnny Cash’s song. He is in favor of betrayal if he thinks it will get him ahead. Has a large collection of guns. He’s also a Mama’s boy who regularly corresponds with his mother. I read in a program guide that he sends her his money, but I missed that in the episodes. Very funny character–watch for his T-shirt slogans!

Kaylee Frye – the ship’s “mechanic” (really an engineer). She’s a sweet girl-next-door type, except she’s a brilliant mechanic. Falls for the doctor (see below) at her first glimpse of him. Loves lace and frills and strawberries. Is sweet and gentle, and would go out of her way to avoid hurting a fly.

Dr. Simon Tam – a doctor. Starts the show dressed in a suit that looks like it comes out of a Regency ballroom. Relaxes only slightly over the course of the episodes. Is the older brother of River (see below), and although they are both brilliant, he acknowledges that he is an idiot compared to his sister. Will do anything to protect his sister, and is somewhat blind to Kaylee’s affections until she pretty much throws herself at him.

River Tam – Simon’s sister, all-around genius and psychic. Was invited to a special Alliance school, from which she later escaped with the help of her brother. Why did she have to escape? Well, that’s one of the major plot points of the series, so I won’t give it away. River is extremely unpredictable, but really comes through and saves the crew a couple of times. Also gets the crew in an awful lot of trouble many more times. She’s only seventeen years old.

Shepherd Book – a Christian preacher. “Shepherd” is actually his title. Has some mysterious clout with the Alliance. Not a whole lot is known about him. Does not really have a function on the ship, but he doesn’t leave either, and proves to have some handy skills, including some mysterious fighting skills.

There’s not one character who I don’t like. And with such a large cast, that’s impressive.

So, yeah, I became a fan. Will I join or Maybe. But I gotta tell you–I’m really torn, here. On the one hand, I miss watching the episodes, and even though they closed the Tam storyline in the movie followup, Serenity (which I’ll review separately), there are a lot of other unfinished plots, and I just loved the characters. But on the other hand, I can write again. And lack of writing time was the whole reason I stopped watching TV in the first place. But if there were dozens and dozens of episodes, I could have disciplined myself into watching one show a week. Really. I could.

But as it was, I had two and a half weeks of blissful Firefly watching, one night after another. And I’m still thinking about it. And that’s what storytelling is all about.

I highly recommend the series.

12 Thoughts to “TV Series Review – Firefly”

  1. I am all about Firefly! Great characters and interactions, great stories, great setting. So sad there is only one season. What were they thinking to cancel it??

    1. Tia Nevitt

      A BIG mistake, I think!

  2. Deborah Blake

    I love this show! The movie made me crazy, although it was really well done. Freaking Joss Whedon.

  3. I love Firefly. Like you, I enjoy watching every single character. I also love the humor, and I appreciate the thought that went into the show’s backstory, e.g., China and the US were Earth-that-was’s last great superpowers, so the characters speak Chinese and English and have aspects of both cultures in their culture.

    Also, the ships don’t make noise when flying through space!

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I just wish there had been more obviously Chinese characters. I get that the Tams were probably of Chinese descent, but they didn’t look Chinese.

      And wow–they did such a good job of making space silent–and having it work–that I didn’t notice. Now I need to rewatch an episode or two. Or three.

  4. Chicory

    My brother discovered Firefly while at college, and he’s been telling me how awesome the show it, but I haven’t checked it out myself yet. (Actually, I’m about to go on a major `Castle’ marathon -just got a-hold of the first two seasons. YEESSS!)

    I hope admitting that doesn’t get my geek license revoked. 🙂

    1. Tia Nevitt

      It might. That’s why I had to watch it, myself! 🙂

      Now I’m wanting to rewatch another shortlived science fiction series called Space: Above and Beyond.

  5. 1) By definition, a courtesan specializes in serving such high class patrons, much of their status rubs off on her. This was true in France, Italy, and Japan in historical times. So if Inara wasn’t so picky about which clients she took, she’d just be a common whore, and not the high class lady folks see her as. {wink, lop-sided Smile}

    2) River’s school turned out not to be as desirable as advertised. Even more so that a lot of highly-regarded private schools. That’s why she had to leave. {wry smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  6. P.S. I just wish they really did speak Chinese. They don’t. They used the phonemes, but stripped the tonality out of it. You can’t do that with a language. With four common tonalities, you weight the language with homynyms so much, every sentence has several alternate interpretations that make internal sense. It would be worse than talking to the librarian in Terry Pratchett’s novels. At least he only has two meanings to choose from for any utterance. {lop-sided smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Wow, do you speak Chinese? Do you think that they WOULD have been able to speak authentically? I’ve heard that unless you grew up with a language, you can’t even hear some of the phonemes. So you will NEVER be able to say it right. I think that L is an English phoneme, and native Eastern speakers have trouble distinguishing it from an R.

      1. I don’t speak Chinese, but I’ve heard it a fair bit. We had a fair number of Chinese speaking tourists for several years, as well as quite a few immigrants and students in the universities around here. {Smile}

        I know R and L are mixed in Korean and Japanese, but I’m not sure about either Mandarin or Cantonese, the two Chinese dialects that are really separate languages in their own right. It might be hard to learn some of the consonants that we don’t have, but it’s not impossible for English speakers. {Smile}

        The tonality is what’s really noticeable to me. In Mandarin, every syllable has one of four tones: flat, the usual in English, rising, like we do at the end of a question, rising-then-falling, and one I forget. Unless you’re tone deaf, tonality is pretty obvious when you hear it. Enough, even someone who doesn’t speak the language can miss THAT when they hear it spoken. {Smile, wink}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

        1. Tia Nevitt

          You are definitely right in that they sounded NOTHING like native Chinese speakers. In fact, I didn’t recognize what they were saying as Chinese at first–my husband clued me in.

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