Editors' Choice

A Brief History Of Firefly, The Little Show That Was Canceled Too Soon

Ben Migono / December 29, 2016

Everyone who watches TV and films has at least a working knowledge of who Joss Whedon is, but to science fiction fans, he is not just the man who helped put Marvel Studios on the map and just about 99.99% of movie screens around the world. He’s one of the pioneers and essentially the godfather of modern science fiction. Whedon created some amazing content, but here are just a few of the properties that owe their existence to Mr. Whedon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both film and tv show), Atlantis, Angel, Alien: Resurrection, Titan A.E., The Cabin In The Woods, The Avengers, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Marvel’s Agents of Shield. However, all of these great pieces from film and television history are not what he’s loved for.


You see, there’s this little show, about a little group, on a little ship. This little show made such a huge impact in the hearts and minds of geeks worldwide that there is little to no chance of it ever being forgotten, mainly because of how things ended. It left a galactic-sized hole in the hearts of its viewers when the show met it’s untimely demise and was canceled on December 20th, 2002. This show was called Firefly and everything about it was amazing.  



Firefly was a space western created by Joss Whedon that aired it’s first episode on September 20th, 2002 on Fox. Episodes for ran for roughly 44 minutes and it averaged 4.7 million viewers each week. Currently, the series has a 9.1 rating on IMDB from over 190,000 members and Metacritic has a critic rating of just 63, but that’s offset by a user score of 8.3 from more than 400 users. It won an Emmy Award in 2003 for Outstanding Special Visual Effects For a Series and was ranked 5th by TV Guide in their list of shows that were “canceled too soon.” At the time of its cancellation, it had only aired eleven of its fourteen episodes.


The Cast / Main Characters



The show starred Nathan Fillion (Castle, Con Man) as Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, captain and owner of the spaceship Serenity.



Gina Torres (The Matrix: Reloaded/ Revolutions) played Zoe Alleyne Washburne, Mal’s second in command.



Zoe’s husband, and pilot of the Serenity, was Hoban ”Wash” Washburne and he was played by Alan Tudyk (Dodgeball, Big Hero 6).



Then we’ve got Morena Baccarin (Deadpool, Homeland) as Inara Serra, a companion, but that’s just the politically correct way of saying escort.



Adam Baldwin (no relation to the Baldwin brothers, but starred in 91 episodes of Chuck) played Jayne Cobb, a mercenary that joins up with the crew of Serenity.



The ship’s mechanic is Kaywinnet Lee ”Kaylee” Frye and she’s played by Jewel Staite (The Killing, Davinci’s Inquest).



Sean Maher (Party of Five, Son of Batman) is the ship’s doctor, Dr. Simon Tam, who is on the run after breaking his sister River out of jail.



Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Arrow)  plays Dr. Tam’s sister, River Tam, a former child prodigy and victim of traumatic experiments that seem to have left her with extraordinary abilities.



Ron Glass (Barney Miller, Lakeview Terrace) played Derrial Book, a man referred to as a Shepherd, but more or less a pastor. He serves as a moral compass, the voice of reason and spirituality.


Plot / Show Synopsis



Firefly was set in 2517 shortly after a large number of humans migrated to a new star system in “Generation Ships” (similar to an Ark and used for lengthy travel) because the population on Earth had grown too large and life could not be sustained. Humans used terraforming to alter the ecosystems of planets so that they would mimic Earth. In this bleak vision of the future, the only superpowers to have survived are the U.S. and China who have joined forces and cultures to create the “Alliance” which served as a Central Federal Government.



The show followed the lives of the crew on the “Firefly-class” Spaceship, Serenity. It’s about people that were on the losing end of a civil war and others that get by on the edge of society, living as pioneers or space cowboys.


The Alliance governs the new starsystem by watching over its core planets, but neglects the outlying planets and moons leaving them in a way of life that resembles The Old West, seemingly lawless and unchained. Humans who live on these fringe, planetary bodies have freedom from the Alliance, but lack the technology and civilized development of the core planets. Also, humans that live in the outer planets and moons have to deal with Reavers, cannibal nomads who have maintained very few human traits and qualities.


Source: Gamingfeeds


Firefly expertly blended elements of the space opera genre with spaghetti western undertones. The way the show differed from its counterparts like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica was their way of not having to include over-the-top, flashy-effects-driven space battles. It was purely about the crew of Serenity doing what they need to do to get enough money to keep the ship going – it was as simple as that.  They didn’t set out to make waves and they avoided drawing attention to themselves at all costs because their enemies were always on the lookout.


The show dealt with some heavy themes which fans theorized had a hand in the show getting canned. The majority of the themes were libertarian in nature and included the right to bear arms, legal prostitution, freedom of religion, and anti-conscription.


Source: Slashfilm


A fun tidbit of information about the production of the show is this: while discussing the visual format, Whedon and Fox executives had a battle over what aspect ratio would be used. The higher-ups at Fox wanted the show to be filmed in a style that would serve 4:3 televisions well while Whedon wanted to shoot the show in widescreen so that it looked as cinematic as possible when it was eventually released on DVD. Whedon went as far as purposely filming some scenes with actors and focal points at the outermost edges of the frame so that they would have no choice but to show it in a letterbox format.


Another stumbling block for the series was how Fox decided to air the episodes – out of order. This completely throws off character development and the flow of the plot and narrative. That’s the most elegant aspect of a television show – watching how the dynamics between characters evolve. They decided the episode that was originally intended to be the pilot, a two-part episode titled “Serenity,” wasn’t good enough to start with, so they opted to air “The Train Job” instead.





Fans attempted to raise money for Nathan Fillion to purchase the rights to Firefly and donations totaled $1,000,000. Joss Whedon did not support the campaign and so it lost steam. In April 2004, fans raised $14,000 and bought 250 copies of the series on DVD and copies were placed on U.S. Naval ships for entertainment during down time. Between 2006 and 2009, fans across 47 cities held yearly charity screenings of the feature film Serenity (The follow up to Firefly – keep an eye out for that article) and proceeds went to Whedon’s charity of choice, Equality Now. In total, they have raised $415,550. July 2006 saw the release of “Done The Impossible,” a commercially available fan made documentary about how the series affected its fans. A portion of the profits made by the documentary went to Equality Now.



In June 2007, astronaut and fan of the series, Steven Swanson, took the DVD’s for Firefly and Serenity with him on the space shuttle, Atlantis, and eventually the DVD’s were added to The International Space Station’s library of media. A fan-made feature length, unofficial sequel to Serenity was made with Whedon’s blessing and was available on its website. All proceeds from the film were split between 5 charities, which as of September 1st, 2011, was around $115,000.



On the 14th of August 2016, animator Stephen Byrne released a concept teaser for an animated Firefly series. It’s only 40 seconds long and when it’s done it will leave you with another hole in your heart because there is literally no news about whether or not the concept has been picked up.