Monday, July 26, 2004


Update: Please see 'The Ascendance of Firefly' - which is this blog post made into something far more graceful.

C recently commented that I sound rather angry on my blog, as if I don’t like anything – ever. Then she remonstrated that I always find something negative about cultural things she takes me to. She’s quite right on that account, the last two things she had taken me to were a shockingly bad modern music concert and a very poor talk by a woman who gallivanted her way around Antarctica, finding it to be (surprisingly) full of male scientists.

This comment, however, was made after taking me to the National Portrait Gallery’s showing of the entrants and winners of the BP Portrait Award and listening to my running commentary.

Essentially the half hour diatribe can be summarised thus: 5% were excellent, 15% were good, 20% were passable, 60% should have been recycled for the valuable canvas underneath. Somehow, most of the winners were chosen from the last group.

C knows I’m generally a happy, bouncy person. C listens to me warbling songs at inopportune moments. C just wonders why I choose to be so cuttingly negative so often.

The answer is passion. I just don’t have lukewarm feelings towards anything I give a damn about. I either love it or I hate it. I may love it despite some small flaws, I may hate it yet see some redeeming qualities – but you won’t find me shrugging my shoulders and saying “Yes, well, I suppose it’s nice.”

I once heard a definition for ‘nice’ that I very much liked. Nice stands for:

In me

…which sums up the concept perfectly.

It’s easy to know when I don’t care about something or someone. I’ll be very quiet, I won’t venture an opinion, I’ll smile weakly, I’ll say that it’s ‘nice’.

If I get fired up, whether it be foaming at the mouth from anger or beaming from adoration – it just means that I care, I really do. Perhaps the reason that there are so many negative entries on my blog is that I give a damn about too many things that are out of my influence to change.

So here’s something positive – something I wrote a while ago and shelved, thinking that it wasn’t really good enough to do homage to something I truly loved. Perhaps it’ll balance things up a tad.


(I guess it’s all been written before. I’m sure I’m not the first blogger to be struck with ‘I’ve just watched the entire series of Firefly, there aren’t any more left and I simply must immortalise the grief with a post’-itis.

It’s probably been written more prosaically, it’s probably been written by someone with a unique angle, it’s probably been as done to death as anything popular with the smarter people on the web. However, in light of the fact that I can be as commandeering as Mal and as scary as Zoe, I’ll just go ahead, do it anyway and stare down anyone who so much as twitches at the plan.)

A firefly is a creature given to metaphor. Short lived, dazzlingly and surprisingly bright – it conveniently mirrors larger occurrences in history and allows us to essentialise and encapsulate them in one convenient image. Part of the fun of being human, I suppose.

I don’t think Joss Whedon gave his show the moniker with any foresight that it would so closely mirror the actual lifespan of nature’s firefly. I’d like to think, rather, that he knew - given the right creative freedom - he could make the show sparkle and delight like the little bug. Happily, he was right, I was utterly delighted.

It wasn’t until I saw the extras on my DVD set that I came to a more complete understanding of why this series was so good. The sections went through the concept, set design, camera/FX/CG work and musical score - I saw how each element was controlled by someone with a deep understanding for their craft, a genuine love for the show and run in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experimentation mode. Many things weren’t done the way that they’re usually done. I heard the phrase ‘you simply don’t do that’ many times. I LOVE to hear that kind of thing – it’s usually the way fantastic new processes happen.

To me, Firefly is an example of what happens when a talented group of people come together and give their best to a project which is itself led by someone talented giving their best.

In the same way as like attracts like on a personal level (you can tell a man by the company he keeps as the old saying goes), like hires and retains like on a professional level (you can tell a company by the people it keeps). I think it explains why companies carefully and obsessively controlled by the original entrepreneur or by a strong CEO have such a different feel to those which are controlled by the ‘everyone and no-one’ of committees committed to the ‘everyone and no-one’ concept of stakeholders.

I don’t buy into the new ideas about the way things should be run. Things that work are always, ultimately, controlled by an individual.

One person holds a vision, controls it’s execution at the macro level – he hires people he can see ‘get it’ and they control it’s execution at the micro level. Joss Whedon wrote the theme song, for chrissakes. There’s no mistaking who was at the wheel here.

I daresay that he fought every decision the besuited bumpkins at Fox handed down with the superior mein of those who forage daily at the trough of popular opinion.

Someone who didn’t understand the concept of Firefly and who wasn’t completely and irrevocably committed wouldn’t have fought for its original inception tooth and nail. We wouldn’t have had the short, fresh, violent and utterly brilliant season of Firefly we do today – we would have had ‘Friends’ on a spaceship arguing over who would receive which quarters and wondering whether the Alliance General gave Rachael the eye. It would have lasted 10 years. It would have canned laughter every time Ross fell off his horse or fumbled with his gun. The horror is actually palpable, isn’t it?

Whedon had his concept, though. He fought for it and today we have a piece of art that is incredible in it’s design and execution.

So, besides the fact that someone stubborn got his way, why do I love it so much? Let’s start with the fact that I’m not a passive watcher/listener/reader of entertainment. Silly though it may seem, I talk back. Often, I will suggest what I see as obvious actions for characters to take in their situation. As the episode goes on and the characters (inexplicably) ignore me, I become more and more agitated. Occasionally, I yell. Often, I swear.

Half an hour into the first Firefly, I remained in the same position on the couch. I had been completely silent. An hour in and not a muscle twitch. Two hours gone and all I could do was turn to M, slack-jawed, before quickly scurrying to the mouse and clicking on the next episode.

***Warning…spoiler…plot element discussed below.***

In the second episode, when Mal is confronted by a giant of a man who vows to spend his life hunting Mal down to kill him, I find myself thinking – “Aha! This is the clincher…this is the Bad Guy who will pop up every once in a while, try to kill Mal and be thwarted. All this because Mal is going to have one of those weak moments of hippy conscience at the very time when he could stop the Bad Guy. Gotcha – same old lazy scriptwriting.”

It may not seem it, but damn do I love being proven wrong, especially when I think something’s not good.

And so it was that I was proven wrong, so very, very wrong.

Just when I was beginning to grumble something to the effect of “Just kill him, for chrissakes, why the hell would you let…” Mal simply shrugged and kicked the bastard into a turbine engine. It was the loveliest little bit of violence I think I have ever seen. I made a noise, something like “Oip!” and felt my eyebrows raise far beyond safety limits.

***End of plot spoiler, you can read below safe in the knowledge that you will be surprised by EVERYTHING in Firefly. I promise.***

What Firefly gets so right – what sets it apart from every other show I’ve seen - is the fact that the morality is so damn close to what I agree with. The characters don’t faff about – they know which action gives them the most benefit personally and they take it without qualms. There is no apology for what would be considered crude opportunism in other shows.

You also won’t find your stock standard characters, your Tortured Soul 56b and Bimbette 29a on the show. You’ll find very complex characters making very difficult decisions and *gasp* actually THINKING those decisions through.

You’ll also be entertained. Joss spins his usual verbal mastery and gives the characters strong, punchy, funny lines.

So here’s an endorsement – nay, a directive.

If you like what you read on my blog, if you’ve clicked through on a few of the links and enjoyed them, go and buy Firefly on DVD. There’s no prerequisite to have enjoyed Sci-Fi previously, this isn’t traditional Sci-Fi.

When there’s so much entertainment around and so much of it is lukewarm, finding something that makes you think, laugh, gasp, worry, chew the couch cushions and admire the actors is a prize. Go discover it for yourself.

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