Why review a television show that never completed even its first season nearly three years ago? The confluence of events and circumstances that resulted in the cancellation of the Fox show Firefly in 2002 has done little to destroy the resiliency of the Firefly phenomenon. While only 14 episodes were ever made, and only 11 of those ever shown, once the complete series of Firefly came out on DVD, it topped sales at Amazon for months (it’s currently ranked #7). Fans of the show around the country host parties to watch the complete series with their friends. And today a full-length movie debuts this weekend in theaters, bringing the resurrection of the Firefly franchise full-circle.
Just what is it about this show that has made it such a phenomenon? It’s one part western, one part space opera and one part action-adventure. Others have commented on the show’s libertarian themes, but in the final analysis I think these claims are somewhat overblown. While libertarian emphases are clearly present, contract ultimately is not king.
Instead, one of the keys to Firefly’s popularity and resonance with people is the relationship between the captain and the crew. Nine people find themselves thrust together, with no one else to depend on but each other (and sometimes not even then). The captain of the Firefly-class transport Serenity is Malcolm Reynolds, or Mal (Nathan Fillion); his first-mate and fellow war veteran is Zoe (Gina Torres); her husband the pilot is Wash; Jayne is the mercenary muscle; Kaylee is the ship’s engineer; Inara is a “registered companion,” an official prostitute (a profession respected in the Firefly universe); Simon is the ship’s doctor; River is his younger sister; and Book (Ron Glass) is a Shepherd, the future’s version of a clergyman.
Throughout all the adventures of Serenity’s crew, what becomes clear is that Mal views everyone as part of a family, the basic unit of community in the ‘verse. Simon, River,\ and Book are the new additions to the crew as the series begins. As Mal and the others learn more about Simon and River, it becomes clear that they are running from the government. This becomes a leitmotif in the show, and from the previews seems to be the main thrust of the feature movie: River was abducted and abused by a government-run school for gifted children. Once Simon finds out that River is in trouble, he works relentlessly to free her. In seeking transport onboard Serenity while fleeing, Simon and River eventually become members of the rag-tag family.