quick review - Firefly and Serenity

Joss Whedon is one of those unfortunate talents who attracts sabotage, either in the form of studio interference or his own propensity to devolve a perfectly good concept into cheap comic book shenanigans. Witness the decline of Buffy and Angel into cartoonish nonsense in their later seasons. (For proof, consider this: invisible Buffy having sex with micro-chipped Spike.) And Dollhouse, his most recent attempt to launch a TV series, failed even before we point out the derivative stock Whedonesque characters and Eliza Dushku’s inability to perform her role’s personality-of-the-week gimmick. Give credit, or blame, to limp writing in the service of an unserviceable concept – programmable people for hire – as the deadly knock to the head.

Along with Fox’s unwise decision to start the series off with an episode other than the stage-setting pilot, it’s no surprise that Whedon’s other TV series, Firefly, ended up overlooked and relegated to the fringes. Even the movie continuation, Serenity, wasn’t enough to rescue Firefly from the abyss of cultdom. Yet – surprise, surprise – the series turns out to be superlative television and Whedon’s best and most mature work, despite a series concept that, however titillating as an artistic vision, is an oxymoron at best. Although presented as science-fiction in western garb, Firefly is, by Whedon’s own admission, bereft of the scientific and technological speculation that gives science-fiction its name and purpose. What we actually have is a western stylized with the trappings of futurism, which means that the series cuts itself off from the storytelling possibilities that come with asking, and answering, the great “What If.” The good news is that the characters and stories are Whedon’s most compelling, funny, and dramatic. Favouring the slower pace of the thoughtful Western, Firefly is comfortable with gradually deepening characters through moral quandaries and other challenges in a lawless “space” frontier. One has to wonder, though, if the series may not have benefitted from its short lifespan, thereby avoiding the fate that befalls overstayed welcomes. At least the strong film sequel Serenity provides a satisfying measure of closure for this noteworthy genre-bending effort, without shutting the door on future stories.

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