Eighteen years ago, I remember sitting in a movie theater with my buddy Alex waiting for Batman Begins to start when a trailer popped up for a cool looking sci-fi movie titled Serenity. He flipped out when he saw it and went even crazier once the screen said, “From the Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I sat there, unamused, wondering why he was so excited. Between trailers, he tried to explain that Serenity was based on a cancelled TV show but he lost me at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Shortly there after, Alex convinced me to watch Buffy and I loved it. The movie had soured me years earlier, and I hate that I didn’t give the show a proper watch while it was still on the air. But it didn’t take me long, running around town to all the CD Warehouses, to buy seasons of the DVD and power my way through all seven seasons. Once, I reached the end, I was going to start Angel and that’s when Alex reminded me about Firefly, another show by Joss Whedon that had a sequel movie coming out soon. So, I used whatever form of piracy was popular online at the time, and I sat on my bedroom floor watching every single episode in a row. It was the first time I ever binged a complete season and one of only a handful of times I’ve ever done that. I loved every moment of that show and as much as I loved Buffy, Firefly was superior in my eyes.
Firefly had the same great writing that Buffy did but it was more sci-fi balanced with a large dosage of western. Being both a huge sci-fi and western fan the show just played to my interests.
The cast was amazing, the action pieces great, the humor was hilarious, and the ship… the ship was perfection.
I watched the whole series again over the next week before starting Angel and I anxiously awaited the release of Serenity. I bought tickets for the first showing, a 11 AM matinee and I took my girlfriend at the time and a friend of mine from high school. I hyped them up the entire way to theater about the second coming of Star Wars and how amazing this experience was going to be. I wore my “Joss Whedon is My Master Now” shirt and I squealed like a school girl when I saw they had mini-posters on the table out front.
We walked into an empty theater and my stomach churned. By the time the trailers had started two other people had taken a seat and I knew this wasn’t good. Serenity had cost $39 million to make and it only brought in $10 million the opening weekend. After the entire theatrical run was over and the international market was included, Serenity had brought in just enough money to cover it’s budget. Between DVD sales I’m sure it made it’s money back or at least it got close, but this wasn’t the breakaway sci-fi hit I was expecting.
Firefly fandom was in full force with the release of Serenity. The movie was greenlit because of the demand of the rabid fans and people constantly compared the fan uprising to that of Star Trek‘s. I think we all thought our favorite crew would live on in a motion picture universe the same way The Original Series cast did in the 70’s and 80’s. Unfortunately, with no major stars attached and without the benefit of fifteen years of syndication, there just wasn’t enough support to pull it off.
Afterwards, I joined forums and attended “Can’t Stop the Signal” screenings. We all discussed how Firefly would come back eventually, and I think deep down we all believed it would. Eventually a lackluster comic series was produced, and a mobile game was announced. Sadly, despite the cast recording lines for the mobile game, it never saw the light of day.
When Netflix picked up Arrested Development back in 2012 it was a huge deal. Everyone expected Firefly to be next, or at least us Browncoats did, but then Netflix’s chief content officer had this to say:
“Let me give you one broad statement about these recovery shows. In almost every case the cult around the show gets more intense and smaller as time goes by. Arrested Development was the rarest of birds in that the audience of the show grew larger than the original broadcast audience because people came to discover it years after it was cancelled. The Firefly fan is still the Firefly fan from when it was on TV and there’s fewer of them and they’re more passionate every year. Whereas with Arrested Development we’re going to be serving a multiple of the original audience. Any of the other shows we could bring back would be a fraction of the original audience.”
I think that’s when my hope finally died. As much as I hated him for saying it, I knew it was true. I watched the fandom and fever die down since the release of Serenity. Firefly was a show that grew thanks to word of mouth, but everyone had already discovered it that was going to discover it and it had been so long they just moved onto their next obsession.
Since then the licensing of Firefly has increased with toys, Pop figures, models, and t-shirts having been released. A newer (and better) comic book series was released, but short lived. In the past few years, several tie-in novels have been released, which I’ve enjoyed. I think the most interesting book has been a cook book inspired by the dishes seen in Firefly.
The Firefly fan sites and forums are a ghost towns now. Memes still pop up time-to-time and Firefly is always talked about when it comes to great science fiction shows, but I can’t help but to think that it’s gone forever. We got what we got, and we need to appreciate it for what it is.
I recently started my re-watch of Firefly. It was once a yearly tradition, but it’s been four or five years since I last watched the entire series. It’s almost shocking how young the cast looks and how the CGI hasn’t aged all that well. The series wasn’t shot in HD and while it doesn’t look terrible, you can definitely tell it’s a pre-Battlestar Galactica show.
The interior ship design is still brilliant and once you get past the first thirty minutes, the cast begins to connect and you can still see the glimpses of what wonderfulness is to come.
I think what makes Firefly special is that when you watch it you want to be part of the crew. A crew that is always struggling, dabbles on the side of law breaking, and seems to run on borrowed time. Despite all of this, you feel like it would be totally worth it to live in cramped quarters on a ship that is constantly falling apart and being commanded by a very broken man. There is something about the family that is created on that show that seems to fill a void that many of us are missing in our lives.