Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Apparently Joss Whedon is putting Firefly in his rearview mirror. The 2002 television series gained a cult following before being cancelled early; and its 2005 box office resurrection, Serenity, earned a disappointing $25 million. Whedon says he's done. Let me be the first to say: Good riddance.

I never knew Firefly was on FOX, and I never watched it on the Sci Fi Channel. But I had read its fanmail on Slashdot, and eventually I became inundated with testimonials from friends whose taste I trust. Everyone insisted: This is the best show you're not watching. So I bought the DVD set, and I sat through the first few episodes.

The emperor has no clothes.

It wasn't the worst thing I ever watched. I once sat through an episode of The Bachelor during its first season, and I usually catch the tail end of Wife Swap leading into Monday Night Football. Kerrie and I even once saw about three minutes of The Osbournes, to which I could only react by saying, "That's what comes of prolonged heroin abuse." Yes, those were all worse than Firefly. But none of those had my friends drooling over Joss Whedon's jockstrap. Pardon the unfortunate pun, but: Where's the beef?

As I understand it, fans loved the idea of reinterpreting Star Wars through the lens of a Western. And apparently Whedon intentionally avoided any mention of warp drives or travel at the speed of light; I'm not sure exactly what he intended to achieve by that, but his fans seem to think it was a brilliant stroke of nonconformity. Whatever. Aristotle said the two most important elements of story were plot and character, in that order. I watched Firefly; and I didn't care about the characters, and I don't remember the plots.

After staring at the screen like a Magic Eye, waiting to see whatever buried treasure everyone else seemed to find in this show, I gave up and sold my DVDs to Newbury Comics. A few weeks later, I stumbled across a revelation: Joss Whedon had written the screenplay for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and he had created the TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. I promise you: If I had known Whedon was this sort of teen-targetting tripester before I had bought the DVDs, I never would have wasted those hours discovering the obvious.

So Firefly is dead. Its cult will live on, but Whedon is making the right decision choosing to put it behind him. Firefly wasn't killed by network conspiracy; it wasn't stifled because it was too smart for its audience, and it wasn't the victim of bad luck. It had three chances at success, and it failed every time -- because it sucks.


At December 21, 2005 5:47 PM, Blogger NYPinTA said...

He posted a response to that EW bit at Whedonesque: "All right, now I have to jump in and set the record straight. EW is a fine rag, but they do take things out of context. Obviously when I said I had 'closure', what I meant was "I hate Serenity, I hated Firefly, I think my fans are stupid and Nathan Fillion smells like turnips." But EW's always got to put some weird negative spin on it. But so we're clear once and for all: If you read a quote saying "I'd love to do more in this 'verse with these actors in any medium" all I'm saying is that Nathan has a turnipy odor. It's not his fault, he doesn't eat a lot of them but everyone else in the cast noticed it and tht's not really something I'm prepared to deal with any more. And Jewel said outright she wouldn't do scenes with him except stuff like the SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER funeral scene which was outside in a high SPOILER wind. So if I do manage to find another incarnation for my beloved creation, it will have been totally against my will.

I hope that clears everything up. Oh, and when I say I want to do a Spike movie, it means I have a bunion on my toe.


At December 21, 2005 10:17 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

Thanks for your comment on my entry. I assume you read my opinion before replying to it, so I appreciate your good-natured explanation; although I have to confess, I have no idea what Whedon's incoherent rant is supposed to convey.

Is he alleging that Entertainment Weekly misrepresented him? He might have said so in plain English rather than reaching for a feeble attempt at sarcasm and obscurity (which he promptly beats to death). And if so, what would have been accurate? Is he finished with Firefly movies but wants a return to television? Is he planning to shelve it and come back in 20 years? Or did the reporter just make up the whole thing?

Clearly Whedon's more interested in trying to be witty than actually saying something. In a way, that's heartening, to see that his casual writing is consistent with his professional work. Both show him to be an adolescent hack.

Merry Christmas!

At December 29, 2005 8:51 AM, Blogger Jan Vermeulen said...

With respect to Aristotle's advice on good storytelling: Stephen King's advice is similar, but he inverts the priorities. In "On Writing" he reckons that characters are primary while plot is secondary.

I know this has nothing to do with Joss Whedon or Firefly, but I thought it an interesting topic nonetheless.

His reasoning (and this is a bit of a paraphrase) is that characters should drive the plot, and not the other way around: Remorselessly advancing the plot can be as much a story killer as a poor plot.

At December 29, 2005 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to hate sticking up for Firefly. It's like defending Led Zepplin, the Beatles — or anything else marginally o.k. "they" seem to adore.
Your reasoning here is ultimately sound and your conclusion isn't entirely wrong. However I couldn't help but notice you say you watched "the first few episodes." I did that myself, at first, then sent my brother a lengthy e-mail about how Whedon's female characters are BAD, the show is pro-confederate propaganda and I wasn't too impressed. But I kept watching, and it DOES get better.
Nothing profound, nothing fall-down amazing, but it gets better.
I do not know the show's history in detail and I'm not going to research it, but I have been told the episodes were shown out of order during the initial airing — which, if true, would go some way to explain how badly the show fared.
The other part of that explanation, which Whedonites fail to acknowledge, is that Firefly was on BROADCAST TV, and to succeed on BROADCAST TV you need VAST NUMBERS OF HUMAN BEINGS TO WATCH YOUR SHOW. Buffy succeeded because the time was right for vampires, high schoolers and so on. It was a fluke.
As for a show like Firefly, with a tightly-knit bundle of fierce fans, the best it can hope for is the Sci-fi channel — which already has Battlestar Galactica (way better than firefly, might have had a shot on broadcast TV during a sci-fi hot period) and two Stargates (sub-par, but the masses love 'em).
So, I guess what I'm saying here is — Netflix the rest of Firefly. Don't expect it to be the best thing you ever watched, but if you haven't seen Jayne Town or the episode where the Captain meets his "wife" for the second time, they're certainly worth watching.
I probably shouldn't be writing this at work (and it is probably a bit rough because of that). I just thought I should mention it even though, as previously mentioned, I'm not a big fan of defending firefly.

At December 31, 2005 2:39 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

With respect to Aristotle's advice on good storytelling: Stephen King's advice is similar, but he inverts the priorities. In "On Writing" he reckons that characters are primary while plot is secondary.

And David Mamet says the driving mechanism behind any compelling story is, "What happens next?"

Obviously there's a subjective element, so we can agree to disagree on preference; but look at King's own stories. What do you remember? An injured author imprisoned by an obsessed fan. A truck kills a toddler, who comes back to life courtesy of an Indian burial ground. Was there any better way King could make readers loathe Annie Wilkes than by hobbling Sheldon? Did Creed and Crandall comprise a more compelling dynamic than the resurrection of Church?

The characters are cast by events. You need both, so eventually this becomes a semantic distinction; but I agree with Aristotle, and I favor Mamet over King. When I pick up a book, I'm not hoping to identify with the protagonist. I'm looking for a good story.

I have been told the episodes were shown out of order during the initial airing — which, if true, would go some way to explain how badly the show fared.

I've read the same thing, and I'm not persuaded. Think about the shows you love. Did you catch any of them from the beginning? I avoided Sports Night for years because I thought it was a sitcom, until a random episode snuck up on me via Comedy Central and I was hooked. Good TV screenwriting doesn't lean on sequence. If you can't stand your story upright without a familiar audience, then go write for daytime soaps.

Firefly doesn't get a second chance with me. It had already been cancelled twice by the time I watched; it's not going to be vindicated by wasting more of my time. The lesson is twofold: (1) Avoid Joss Whedon. (2) List everyone who insisted that I watch, and asterisk future recommendations: "Treat with skepticism."


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