I like a lot of things these days. I like the Best for Babes Foundation. I like Rachel Ford’s status. I like the photo my husband posted of our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter scratching her ass in front of some student artwork—and I am duly pleased when four other people indicate that they like it too.
It’s so easy to like things nowadays that I can forget how hard being a fan of a TV series used to be. Pre-Internet me had to bid high on dubbed “complete series” VHS tapes off of eBay, subscribe by mail to fan-produced, photocopied, and stapled zines, and pore over ancient issues of Starlog otherwise gathering dust in my parents’ attic just to feed my obsession with the shows that consumed me.
I loved the world of TV fandom so much that back in 1996 I registered a domain name—tvgen.com—in the hopes of starting some kind of web-based clearing house for TV fans to meet other fans. I think I harbored secret hopes of financing a trip to Portmeiron, Wales, where Number Six from The Prisoner would magically come to life and whisk me off for a life of nonconformity and awesome scarves. Instead, I caved under my first offer and sold my future dreams for the ability to pay off my credit cards.
Ironically, as TV shows become more accessible, thanks to cable repeats, Netflix, streaming video, and TiVO, my ability to go nuts over a TV series seems to have decreased. It’s so easy to watch every episode that it’s even easier to give up when a show loses its footing. I’ll just go searching for something more exciting, or have a tawdry one-night stand with a couple of Real Housewives.
So when a student of mine back in the fall of 2004 handed me the DVD box set of a Joss Whedon series called Firefly, my only response was, “You know, I never really got into Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Too witty for my taste.” So jaded. So cynical. So dubious—until I popped the first disc into my DVD player and found myself immediately swept off my feet by Whedon’s sci-fi/western hybrid featuring characters that seemed at once familiar and brand new.
Set primarily aboard a starship called Serenity led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a war hero-turned-mercenary thief, Firefly fought hard against the inherent nerdiness of space opera with tongue-in-cheek humor and hipster posturing. There were very few thrusters, and a decent (though network-approved) amount of thrusting. And best of all, the women were about as kick-ass as they come, not just Summer Glau’s schizophrenic fighting machine, but also the ex-soldier with the biggest balls and best hair aboard ship, played with delicate subtlety by Gina Torres, and Jewel Staite’s bawdy, bighearted mechanic. (Fans of Mad Men will want to know that Christina Hendricks appears as a con woman in a few episodes.)
Glutting myself on the entire series over the course of a few weekends, I marveled over the taut structure, with every episode a master class in structure, risk and stakes. Infused with intelligence, humor, and pathos, Firefly had everything going for it—including a tragic premature cancellation by an unsupportive network.
Though most TV series garner rabid Internet fanbases, fans of Firefly got the chance to rally ’round a good old-fashioned lobbying campaign to bring the show back on the air. They succeeded in generating enough noise that a feature film, Serenity, got made with a decent budget, but without enough heat to have a sequel built into the screenplay. And after a modest release in 2005, a movement died, and a world collapsed.
But wait! Is there a spark in those cold dead ashes? For now, five years later, 20th Century Fox and Titan Books have seen fit to publish Firefly: Still Flying, a glossy, magazine-sized compendium of interviews, photos, and original stories by Real Live Series writers—including the inestimable Jane Espenson, she of Buffy and Battlestar Galactica and Caprica fame. Could it be that Mal and his gang are gearing up to cruise the ’verse yet again?
While I’d love to hold out that hope, Firefly: Still Flying doesn’t really do anything to assure me that the publication is anything more than an oddly timed fan tease. The book is as cobbled together as that beater Serenity herself. The interviews are all pulled from previously published material and have a time-capsule quality about them. The original stories by Firefly staff writers feel tossed off, with none of the edginess and unpredictability of the series episodes. Worst of all, Joss Whedon is nowhere to be found!
It’s not all bad. There are a few lovely photo spreads detailing props and costumes that show off the care and attention to detail that brought the show’s unique vision to life. There’s a nice essay about the campaign to save Firefly by the Browncoats, series fans who were among the first to really exploit the Internet on behalf of their favorite show. The layout is visually appealing, and you can certainly make it through at least two complete readings without the spine cracking in half.
I guess I was sort of hoping that the book would rekindle my fangirl tendencies, but for all its shiny polish, it just doesn’t contain the same charm that those old photocopied ’zines once did. Instead of being created out of love and obsession, Firefly: Still Flying feels like a halfhearted attempt to squeeze a few more dollars out of a group of people who should still be pissed that Firefly wasn’t given a fighting chance at more than one season.
I’ll leave it for Mal Reynolds to tell you what’s really missing: “Love. You can know all the math in the ’Verse, but take a boat in the air you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she’s hurtin’ ’fore she keens. Makes her home.” This once-and-future (I hope) fangirl gets that completely.
Joss Whedon’s Firefly: Still Flying, A Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series will be released on March 25 by Titan Books. To purchase click here.