By Adrian Keller Feld
In September 2002, the sci-fi Western Firefly premiered, ready to take the world by storm. The show starred Nathon Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, and Morena Baccarin, among others. However, the show suffered from low ratings, and was canceled before its first season finished airing, dashing director Joss Weadon’s hopes for a much longer run. While the show was not an immediate success, it has since become a favorite, earning a well-deserved spot as a cult classic. With only fourteen episodes and one later movie, the show is a small enough commitment to present a low barrier for anyone to enjoy. Set in the year 2517, Firefly takes a different approach to writing about the future, portraying not a glittering utopia or dark technology-focused neon world, but rather something a bit closer to home. The show takes place mostly in the Outer Rim, away from the Central Planets, where indeed there are some appearances of the glittering utopia. However, on the outskirts of civilization, people live much in the way they did in our past, with the show harkening strongly back to Wild West media.
The Western style is seen in the show’s costumes, as well as the gunslinger nature and voices of many of the characters. These elements may at first seem at odds with a future science fiction setting, however, the spaceships are old and dusty, and the backdrop of a recent war brings in more elements recognizable today. The way in which characters in the show speak is especially interesting, as the use of jargon is important – not only do they use more Western and distinctly American mannerisms, but also a fair bit of Chinese, employing a close intertwining of cultures, seen too in the costuming and set design. Much of sci-fi can feel alienating to the casual watcher, with many new sights and complex worldbuilding to take in. While Firefly undoubtedly constructs an expansive world, it is more manageable to a new enjoyer of the genre, as many of its settings and storylines can be enjoyed without focusing on the science fiction context.
With so few episodes, the amount that Firefly is able to accomplish is impressive. Not only are there some thorough storylines, but episodes can also function on their own, with the show moving back and forth between Western and sci-fi styles and themes. It is this very mixing of genres that may have impacted the show’s initial viewership, with prospective audiences confused by what it was going to be, but there’s no need to fear. By having elements from both genres, Firefly can appeal to sci-fi enjoyers and Western aficionados alike. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the show has an average audience score of 97%, proving how adored it is. While it may not be on television anymore, the show can be accessed through streaming services, allowing anyone to get immersed in the rough-and-tumble world of a future where people wear dusters and ride in spaceships.