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firefly, freaks and geeks by Yee-Fan Sun
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Mainstream television has never been known for its willingness to champion true art over the bottom line. Every once in awhile the big networks will take a chance on something a little more daring, a little more unusual, giving us discriminating viewers just enough of a taste of something really, really good, before they abruptly yank it off the air. Rationally, I understand that business is business, and anything that doesn't bring in the bucks has to go. Mostly, though, it drives me nuts that many of the standout shows in television history never make it beyond season one, simply because network execs don't have the guts or patience to let them find the audiences they deserve. Thank god I live in the DVD age, where great TV shows get the chance to enjoy an eternal life even after cancellation…

buy the complete series
In the wake of the demise of my much-beloved Buffy, I figured that all I'd have to console myself with was that other Joss Whedon creation, Angel. If Angel often seemed a weaker effort, I tried not to dwell on it: this, after all, was all I had left to enjoy of that trademark Whedon combo of epic plot lines and beautifully-realized interpersonal relationships, humor and pathos. Then I discovered Firefly on DVD. And I found a new obsession.

Set 500 years in the future, Firefly follows the nine crew members and passengers of the spaceship Serenity. It's a strange vision of the future that Whedon and co-creator Tim Minear have crafted: as humankind has pushed into the far edges of outer space, the new frontier looks a lot like the dusty rough-and-tumble world of the old one, America's Wild West. Spaceships coexist with cowboys and cowgirls riding tall on their horses, and everyone speaks in a weird hybrid of English and bastardized Chinese slang. In the central planets, the all-powerful (and evil) Alliance reigns supreme after a long battle with a determined Independence movement, but on the outskirts of the universe, it's more or less every man and woman for himself. The bad-assest cowboy of them all is Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, who Buffy fans will recognize as the evil priest-dude from season 7), Serenity's captain. Mal's a former Independence fighter who's constantly skirting the long arm of the Alliance as he uses Serenity to transport goods -- mostly illegal -- in order to keep himself, his crew, and his ship afloat. He'll take any job that'll bring in the money, and with the help of right-hand-(wo)man Zoe, pilot Wash, muscleman Jayne and mechanic Kaylee, he manages to scrape by. But the whole crew gets more than they bargained for when they inadvertently take on two passengers who are on the Alliance's most wanted list -- young doctor Simon and his little sister Summer. Add in another mysterious passenger, an older minister named Book who may not be all he seems to be, and a whole lot of trouble and intrigue awaits.

The ill-fated Firefly lasted less than a full season when it aired on Fox back in 2002. Network execs just never quite got the show, and the series was canned after a mere 11 of the 14 produced episodes were aired. It's a tragedy because in those 14 episodes alone, Whedon and Minear deftly built the foundation for a series that had the potential to be every bit as brilliant (and addictive) as Buffy -- and maybe even more so. There's not a stinker episode in the whole bunch, and with each scene, you find yourself increasingly sucked into the Firefly universe, and in love with its characters. As is typical of a Whedon production, the core of the show is the idea of surrogate family -- the family you choose, rather than the one you're born into, the one built not on blood ties but on something deeper -- and from the beginning, the bonds that unite the Serenity nine feel so real that it almost makes you jealous not to be a part of it. The casting and acting are all-around stellar, and some of the best moments in the series are the simple scenes that center on ship life's more mundane aspects, such as the nightly shared meals enjoyed by Serenity's crew and passengers. So if there's a flaw in the Firefly DVD set, it's that come episode 14, you'll probably find yourself screaming at your screen with some variation of the following sentiment: "Noooooo! What happens next?" It's frustrating, I won't lie to you about that. But Firefly is so damn good that it's worth the inevitable heartbreak.

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