I finished up the Firefly DVDs yesterday. Overall I liked the show quite a bit. Nice snappy Whedon dialogue, potentially interesting universe, characters with secrets and conflicts, and a decent enough plot.
I say potentially interesting, because despite Whedon’s claims that “Sometimes the Alliance is America in Nazi Germany,” he didn’t show any good in the Alliance during the first season. Mal may be an antihero, but in the short space of 11 episodes he’s never wrong. I’m willing to take Whedon at his word, and assume that the shades of grey would have shown up later. They just didn’t show up yet, and so the interesting elements of the Firefly universe remain potential.
The framework is good, though. You’ve got enough tension and questions and so forth on that little ship to keep a good story running for a few seasons, and so it’s very sad that it got cut off halfway through the first. Me, I don’t blame Fox. I blame Joss Whedon.
Because, look: Fox was right. The pilot episode was slow and clunky. It’s almost purely an introduction to the characters, which is really not the right way to get a series underway. Go back to the first episode of Buffy. The opening sequence sets the stage clearly and succinctly, and the rest of the episode manages to introduce the characters while telling a story.
The opening sequence of Firefly is an action sequence — good — but it’s got nothing to do with the rest of the episode except that it introduces the main characters. It doesn’t set up a damned thing in the context of the next two hours. Total loss.
Then you get a lot of introductions, and a linear plotline without very much dramatic tension. Problems arise, and problems are solved. There’s one plot point which lasts for more than a few minutes, and it’s not all that threatening. If I were a television executive, I’d have been pretty dubious about that pilot as well.
So then Whedon complains that he had to write a new pilot which, shockingly, forced him to introduce all the characters again. It’s episodic television. You should never be writing an episode which will be incoherent to new viewers, particularly during the first season when you’re trying to build your audience.
Yeah, Fox did a lousy job sequencing the episodes and it’s a shame they didn’t give the show longer to build, but I don’t think Joss Whedon is completely blameless here.
Enough ranting: the show was still pretty darned satisfying, and I recommend it. I liked the characters, I liked the plots, and I wish there was going to be another season. I hope the rumored movie happens, and I hope Joss writes a kickass screenplay and some network gives the show another chance after the movie is a huge hit. If only because I want to know what’s up with Book.