WATCHING FIREFLY - Complications Ensue
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Saturday, July 23, 2005

I was watching Firefly on disc. Is it just me, or do the acts sometimes just go flying off in an entirely new direction from the previous act?

I've watched maybe half the episodes, and I have no idea what the template is. No idea what a "typical" Firefly episode is. No idea what the flavors of the acts are.

That's good and I also see why that made it harder to get an audience. It's good because you really don't know what's coming. Even on Buffy you could figure out where the episode had to go. There were surprises (he killed Jenny Calendar!!!!) but the act structure was fairly normal.

That means the story is more involving. You can't complete the story in your head. You really have to pay attention.

(Oh, yeah, and the dialog and editing are awesomely great.)

It also means that the audience has no idea what they're going to get. Very hard to get an audience that way. They know when they tune into Law and Order that in the first two acts the cops are going to catch someone, and then in the second two acts the DA's are going to put them away. They can just let the legalese wash over them like a warm bath. With the Joss, you don't have a clue what's coming.

I'm glad he's got a movie coming up. I wonder if he'll get a show after that? It's a much more ambitious show than Angel or Buffy, I think. Experimental and challenging. Can't wait for September.

6 Comments:

I saw Serenity at a preview - it's excellent - I was taken by surprise more than once - thought the ending a touch predictable - but for the most part the movie was everything I was hoping for from the last 3 star wars flicks but never got.

I agree about how Firefly was more ambitious than Buffy or Angel - I was drawn into Firefly much quicker than the others.

By Blogger Nellie Lide, at 12:06 AM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Nellie Lide, at 12:07 AM  

its actually going to be a trilogy (yay!)


And all the swearing is in Chinese!

By Blogger Jason Sanders, at 3:27 AM  

Jason's right. The actors are signed to a three picture deal. (They'll make more if the first does well.) After/during that, Whedon has the Wonder Woman movie to do. He's writing that now.

No telling when he makes it back to TV. My understanding is that he still owes 20th Century Fox one more show, as part of a three show deal with them (of which Angel and Firefly were the first two). I think he had that deal frozen so he could spend some time making movies.

It would be nice to get more TV from him, but I wouldn't expect to see anything until after Wonder Woman. (Unless the Fox Network suddenly goes "Firefly! What a great idea. Let's make more!")

By Blogger Erik, at 1:18 PM  

I hope they (FoX) don't try to force a crappy show out of Mutant Enemy, that would really suck...



I believe Universal owns the Firefly rights now, since their making their movie. Anyone have any info on this?

By Blogger Jason Sanders, at 2:34 PM  

The more I watch it, the more I think Firefly is TV for TV people. It mucks around in the old genres that television forgot and, by lambasting them, winks at their absurdity. The writers seem so versed in the accepted conventions that they’ll make two separate genre interpretations of a single premise or new character, and once the first looks like it’s about to be resolved, they jump straight to the opposite and make it fit.

This is the equivalent of Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman in ROTLA not because it was funny and unexpected, but because Harrison Ford had the trots and didn’t have the patience for the usual (and originally scripted) elaborate sword battle. The beauty of Firefly’s writers is that they found a way to script this effect.

Genre plots are so ingrained that you can’t really get rid of them. It seems like Joss & Co. were fond of the bait and switch: you think you’re watching a “submarine story” (stock scifi plot) when really you’re watching an origins/love story (stock wagon train plot); you think you’re watching Mal the reluctant husband teach his young bride to be a strong woman in the frontier (stock Dr. Quinn-type) when really she’s a black widow and the whole crew has already been caught in her literal net (stock spy intrigue, but it’s not what we thought we were watching). The stakes for each genre interpretation are different, and the act breaks you mention are the moment when they pull out the rug and tell us what we’ve really been watching. It’s a good surprise, but I have had a suspicion that it only really works with people who are similarly well-versed in what to expect from genre TV.

I’d say that if there is an in-story template, it is that everyone is looking for the shortest path to a simple boring life, exemplified by the very stock 70’s western beginnings to each episode. The real premise, though, is that nothing can be what it seems. The only constant I’ve seen is that the desperate selfishness of the people Mal meets will inevitably get in the way of his own selfishness, and if Mal does the conventionally “right” thing by showing mercy, by God he’ll be punished for it, and the new problem won’t be resolved until somebody on Serenity breaks the rules of engagement and change the odds in their favor long enough for them to run away.

Joss said in creating Mal that he wanted to play situations through a person that he himself wouldn’t like to have over for dinner. With a self-proclaimed lack of core beliefs, Mal has the same freedom and uncertainty the audience has in watching him - in that he’s never sure what he’ll do next. This also frees Mal from many of the rules of television (and the great tradition of heroes) that say a hero can’t act a certain way; Mal can cheat. His personal narrative is not that of a hero. He’s just trying to keep running and doesn’t see himself as accountable to anyone’s needs (or morality) but his own and, to his great surprise, those of his crew. I think this unpredictability of character freed the writers to take a few more left turns with the plot and tone, and their challenge was to still make Mal the “all right” guy at the end of every tale.

The greatest joke is on the audience and our expectations from all the years of bad TV we’ve watched.

By Blogger Jeff Burright, at 7:08 PM  

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