A Modest Response to ‘Firefly’

At long last, I finally watched Firefly. I asked for the DVD set for Christmas based on a bazillion recommendations, and it’s not bad. I also got the movie, Serenity, which I’m saving for tomorrow. Anyway, given the ridiculous amount of hype the show has gotten, I feel the need to rebut. Here I go.

I’m going to start with non-character stuff then move to the characters:

Chinese: At intervals, people in the Firefly ‘verse (hefty slang term there) use Chinese phrases to say socially unacceptable things. I cannot understand why this seemed like a good idea. Oh, I get that there are tons of Chinese people in the world who all speak Chinese and will make Chinese a key language of the FUTURE.

Here are the problems:
1. Americans can’t speak Chinese. Never could, never will. That leads to the second part.
2. Chinese is a difficult language. It’s constantly getting simpler, but eventually will be displaced with English (a difficult language, but still much easier). It won’t exist (recognizably) this far in the future.
3. It doesn’t flow. As much as the actors make an effort to seamlessly integrate the Chinese and English, the nature of the two languages alone makes the switch jarring.
4. It’s fucking Chinese. Nobody understands it; it’s all a huge inside joke with the creators, who probably don’t even speak Chinese themselves.

At best, the Chinese adds flavor, but mostly just distracts. Besides, most of the phrases are innocuous anyway. More slang would have been fine, like the swearing, which mostly worked.

Grammar: Honestly, this was just a dumb idea. Many of the crew speak with “poor grammar” that is pretty contrived. Ninety percent of it is subject/verb agreement; they say things like “cows is” and such. The problem is that Joss Almighty writes lines that are way too clever for people who don’t get verbs. I’ll let it slip with the engineer (too many offenses to count), but with other characters it just fails miserably.

Music: Damn good. The most clever idea was playing western-style background music in the space scenes. It conveys the mood of the show much more effectively than classical (damn you, 2001). I also thought the theme song was pretty awesome.

Reavers: Ugh. Spare me. Thank god they dropped this concept fairly fast, because it sucked majorly. In the pilot, any time reavers are mentioned, people practically shit their pants in fear, and the overbearing music stings don’t help anything. The idea is that this group represents people who strayed to the fringe of the galaxy and “went mad.” They eat people and also rape them. They look like the bad guys from “Ghosts of Mars.”

The problem here is that there is quite literally nothing to fear. People are scared by things that actually have some menace. For instance, the Borg threaten to destroy individuality. In theory, that’s kind of a scary idea. Nothing of the sort appears here, although the crew, who face much more threatening things throughout the show with stoicism and wisecracks, are paralyzed with fear. Please.

Mal: Easily the most funny, badass character on the show. Has several kickass moments of slaying throughout the series. Side note: the morality of the show (dictated by the Captain, mostly) was not too heavy-handed, which I appreciated.

Zoe: A character in need of a better actor. Not only does the first mate never do anything on the show (crowded out by Mal’s badassitude, I suppose), she never stops smiling. I kept waiting for her to start selling me something in several of her scenes, despite the fact that they were usually not too cheery. Her best (read: only good) moments are with other crew members, playing off of the captain or Wash.

Wash: A frustrating part of this show was its ability to feature all of the characters and still not underuse many of them. Wash falls into that category. Wash and Mal are the comic relief characters (Jayne only wishes he were), and the neglect of Wash often makes the show too dramatic. On the other hand, he deflates a couple of moments that should have stayed tense. Perhaps not underused but misused. Still funny, though.

Inara: Smoking hot and a good actress. I don’t have anything bad to say, except that perhaps her dealings with the Captain are a little repetitive. The only time that dynamic worked is in “Heart of Gold,” where another woman comes between them. But yeah, by far the most beautiful person on the ship. More on that in a second.

Jayne: Ugh. This character is overused and overdone. His few good moments do nothing to make him a good character. I had no use for him in the show, except action sequences. They should have just hidden him in the walls the rest of the time.

Kaylee: I’m frustrated by this character because she clearly has a role on the ship, but not on the show. Her saccharine optimism got on my nerves most of the time, and she goes nowhere as the doctor’s love interest. I can’t think of an episode where she does anything important except for fixing the ship. There are a few occasions where she gets mad at the doctor, but they don’t go anywhere. Sigh. The problem is that I really liked Jewel Staite in Wonderfalls, where she was a more venomous character. They should have given her more to work with, I think.

Simon: I found myself really liking the doctor for some reason. I think it’s because he’s just an earnest, well-meaning guy who dresses really well. His episode (“Ariel”) and the payoff in “Trash” (another good episode) are terrific. My only complaint is that he doesn’t do much to start off; the Captain keeps him around based on his potential when it’s not clear if it’s worth the risk, which didn’t make much sense.

River: I could have used more “useful River” and a lot less “autistic River.” She serves a purpose in a few episodes, but most of the time just aggravates everyone (including the viewer). There’s no reason for most of her behavior except to make the brother’s life suck that much more. Even “Objects in Space,” her episode, does little to help her because the whole episode is kind of a big Idiot Plot.

As a side note, nerdy fandom has suggested that Summer Glau is the most attractive thing since breasts. I strongly disagree. I admit I’m not into the whole “stringy hair” thing, but I just don’t see what the appeal is here. Maybe I was blinded by the sucky, aggravating character.

Book: I liked him. Sort of the “et cetera” character, he’s in a lot of scenes but doesn’t do much. I would have liked a Shepherd Book A-plot, but I guess brevity is kind of a flaw with Firefly in general (teehee). His part was best when he interacted with other characters, which didn’t happen nearly enough. He never annoyed me, which is saying something.

Anyway, I watched the series, so stop suggesting it now. In the interest of those like me who’ve had this recommended to them like 50 times (and probably didn’t read this anyway…), you don’t have to see the series. I know most people make it sound like the Third Coming of Christ, but in reality it’s a lot like Star Trek with more character development, and even that only works half of the time. If you can put up with slightly more morality (okay, a lot more), watch Trigun instead. All the badass with just 4 main characters, none of whom get too aggravating (as long as you get past the morality). Cowboy Bebop is another decent show that’s pretty similar, but even that’s a bit overhyped too.

Maybe one day I’ll understand why this show is so popular, but not today. Give me some time. Now please stop using the word “shiny.”

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