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RE: Firefly (was: Re: this is a first...)

From: Ground Zero Games <jon@g...>
Date: Sun, 14 Dec 2003 17:07:10 +0000
Subject: RE: Firefly (was: Re: this is a first...)

>Giveth us a comparison of Friefly to B5, John! I didn't watch it 
>here in the states for the sam reason below.  R/Robert

OK. You asked for it.
This is all, of course, IMHO. YMMV.  ;-)

First, I'm a big B5 fan, but I've never been over-impressed with JMS' 
dialogue. Sure, he's created a marvellous overall story arc (we'll be 
charitable and let him off about season 5, that wasn't really his 
fault!), but I don't think even the biggest fan would dispute that 
some of the actual writing was cheesy in the extreme....
Whedon, on the other hand, is a genius at this sort of thing - the 
interplay between characters just feels so RIGHT.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that B5 was about big events - the 
future of whole races and a fair chunk of our galaxy. Firefly is 
about the little guy. It's nine people on one tatty umpteenth-hand 
cargo ship that's held together by duct tape, baling wire and 
Kaylee's love of engineering (oh, did I mention she's 
CUUUUUUTE....(Kaylee, not the ship)?). No-one else in settled space 
gives a stuff whether any of them live or die - OK, except for a few 
recurring bad guys who'd prefer them dead.
Basic backstory is that there was a war between the Alliance and the 
Rebels (in other words, The Union and the Confederacy....). The 
Alliance won.  Now the people who were on the losing side have to 
deal with that. Guess which side Mal Reynolds was on? So, he buys a 
cheap ship, installs his old army buddy Zoe as First Mate, hires a 
pilot (Wash) and an engineer (Kaylee), and then along the way picks 
up a few other odds and ends of humanity - Book, a Shepherd 
(preacher); Jayne (male, despite the name, a true mercenary - he'll 
fight well if there's profit in it, but sell out his own grandmother 
to save his skin); Inara (a Companion - think 
Geisha/courtesan/high-class hooker....) who plies her "trade" from 
one of Serenity's two shuttles. Finally there's Simon (the doctor) 
and River, his apparently-mad sister - these two are on the run from 
the Alliance, just to add to the fun. Oh, and Wash and Zoe are 
married (to each other).

The beauty of Firefly is that mostly, nothing really happens which 
affects anyone outside the major characters themselves. This is THEIR 
story, and the rest of the universe just goes on its way quite 
obliviously. Whedon has said something to the effect that all he does 
is throw one event in at the beginning, and then spend the rest of 
the episode showing how everyone involved reacts to it - it's not 
quite that simple, but it's not far off. You know that at the end of 
the episode, they're not going to have saved the Galaxy or defeated a 
vile alien menace - if they are lucky, they might just have survived 
with their own skins and possibly made enough bucks to buy some food 
and fill the tanks at the next stopover. Morality is flexible - Mal 
is basically a good guy, but he WILL kill someone if he needs to - 
and he won't lose sleep over it either. Jayne is the brave fighter 
one minute, the quivering coward the next...... I could ramble on for 
ages (can you tell I LIKE this series?) but what I'm trying to get at 
is that each of the characters is wonderfully three-dimensional, and 
Whedon manages to bring all this out so very, very well. I'm not 
saying that B5's characters were exactly shallow, but they were often 
predictable - Firefly keeps throwing throwing skewballs at the viewer 
all the time. You just think you've really got a handle on how a 
character works, then suddenly you're thinking "he did WHAT??" - but 
then you realise just how that fits in with who that character is.....

The emotional interplay is very strong, with all the unstated 
complications of any mixed-sex group living in a tight community. Mal 
and Inara have a love-hate relationship, Wash and Zoe are happily 
married but there is a deeply buried resentment of Mal and Zoe's 
"bond of comradeship" from the war, Kaylee fancies Simon but he's too 
scared to reciprocate, Book is much more than he seems, Jayne loves 
his guns first and anything with XX chromosomes and a pulse second....

Some of the Western elements are maybe a bit overdone - but then 
Whedon wanted to make a Western, and the studios wouldn't let him, so 
he did Firefly! Personally, I can live with that. The humour is 
subtle and quickfire - comic lines are thrown in in such a deadpan 
manner that they can easily be missed if you're not concentrating - 
but they sound like people talking to each other, not "hey everyone, 
I'm making a joke here!". This is a series to watch with the TV 
turned up, the door firmly shut and a big "do not disturb" sigh on 

Oh, and they swear in Mandarin. According to last month's SFX, choice 
epithets include "Frog-humping bastard" and "Son of a drooling 
prostitute and a monkey". All delivered in Chinese, with no 
translation. Now, if only Picard had done that occasionally....  :-)

Personal favourite episodes? Probably "Our Mrs. Reynolds" and "Heart of

OK, I admit it. I'm a fan.   ;-)

Jon (GZG)

>>From: Ground Zero Games <>
>>Subject: Firefly (was: Re: this is a first...)
>>Date: Sun, 14 Dec 2003 12:23:15 +0000
>>>--- Ground Zero Games <> wrote:
>>>>  Having just got the Firefly DVD set and watched some of the
>>>>  Zoe (Gina Torres) springs obviously to mind in this context.... 
>>>I never heard of Firefly when it was on, only seen ads for the DVD.
>>>Is it any good?
>>>I am suspicious of any sci-fi from the man who brought us "Buffy the
>>>Vampire Slayer" :)
>>Well, personally I think Firefly is excellent. It depends how you 
>>like your SF to be; this is a character-driven series where the 
>>personalities and the dialogue are FAR more important than the 
>>whizz-bang effects. There are no rubber-forehead prosthetics - in 
>>fact there are NO aliens (sentient or otherwise) at all. There are 
>>also virtually no space battles (Serenity gets shot AT a couple of 
>>times, but she doesn't even have any weapons to shoot back 
>>The background is lots of sparsely-settled human frontier colonies, 
>>all grubby and mostly low-tech. The crew are a mix of realistically 
>>flawed characters, each with their own agenda which may or may not 
>>match any of the others. The "Western in Space" (actually, more 
>>"post-ACW-reconstructionism in space") elements are perhaps a 
>>little heavy at times, but I think they work. I'd certainly rate it 
>>as the best-written TV SF I've yet seen.
>>If Star Trek is your vision of how TV SF should be, Firefly will be 
>>a culture shock... but I'd recommend giving it a try!
>>Jon (GZG)
>Get holiday tips for festive fun. 

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