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SDShad BS: Are Any Catters Watching Firefly? (9) BS: Are Any Catters Watching Firefly? 06 Dec 02

Actually, this thread is at least tangentially music-related, but since it's about an SF teevee show, I BS'ed it.

Anywhoo, for the unitiated, Firefly is an new SF show on Fox TV at 8:00 (EST) Friday nights. It's from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Now, if you don't like Buffy, don't stop reading just yet; it has dialogue every bit as snappy as B & A, but without the pop-culture references (for reasons which shall become obvious). Further, it's not horror (it's SF, or maybe more properly Space Opera), it doesn't have vampires, demons, and monsters (except perhaps the everyday human kind), it's not about teenagers, and it doesn't take place in a high school or in the Land of the Valley People. Mind you, personally I'm a Buffy fan, but this show ain't like Buffy, except in the sense of the writing and the ensemble being excellent.

Okay, having said what Firefly isn't, better say what it is. The "high concept" idea blurb is that it's a scifi western. But that classification does disservice to the ways in which it draws from both sf and westerns. It was inspired when Joss Whedon read The Killer Angels the highly-regarded historical novel about Gettysburg. It's set 500 years into the future, after we've used up the Earth and moved on to terraforming planets around the galaxy. It's also set in the wake of an apparent humanity-wide civil war between the Alliance (the central planets that want all human settlements under one government), and the Independents, fringe-worlders who wanted complete autonomy from the distant Core Worlds, who have more money, more tech, more everything. Needless to say, after a bloody struggle, the Alliance won, and former Indepenents like the captain of the Firefly-class cargo vessel Serenity (named after the last, bloodiest battle of the war) try to eke out a living on the rim of human space any way they can, legal cargo or no, in order to avoid the influence of the Alliance they fought so hard to throw off. Find a job, keep flying. And sometimes, the Alliance comes lookin' for people....

So given the frontier nature of the settings, Whedon has chosen to evoke the feeling of these worlds by mimicking many of the mannerisms, costuming, colloquialisms, culture, and technology of the post-Civil-War American West--with some interesting twists, like the fact that most of the swearing (and some of the little aside comments) are in Mandarin. We still haven't been shown why people seems to speak at least some small amount of pidgin Mandarin, but knowing Joss, there's a reason, probably having to do with the circumstances of the loss of (and exodus from) Earth-that-was.

Now here's the actual musical content. Part of that cultural borrowing is music that has a genuinely old-time, folky feel. The theme music, which was written by Whedon, has a contemporary acoustic-roots feel with fiddle and banjo. Most of the incidentaly music is in the same, or an even more trad-sounding, vein. And some of the dance/shindig scenes planetside use genuine old-time and "Celtic" dance tunes, if I'm not mistaken. (As an incidental aside, the English folksong "Early One Morning" figures into the nefarious doings of this season's Big Bad on Buffy, so I think Whedon has at least some small genuine knowledge of or interest in traditional music.) And there's one high-larious scene in which Serenity's mercenary tough-guy, Jayne Cobb, discovers in a bar on a planet where he once pulled off a heist, only to have the money fall out of his ship as he made a hasty getaway, that he's now a huge local folk hero for having stolen from the rich and given to the poor. The patrons in the bar, unaware that Cobb is there, sing their favorite song, "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb" ("the hero of Canton/the man they call Jayne")--very much in the tradition of "Jesse James," and very, very funny. One of his crewmates: "well, now we've got to go find the crappy little planet where I'm the hero."

So that's it. No latex-covered aliens, no transporter beams, near as I can tell very few particle-beam weapons--as part of the western borrowing, they actually use slug-throwers. Just humanity alone in space after it lost its home, trying to figure out what it'll be next.

Now, to lay all my cards on the table, I'm posting this as a fan on a recruiting mission. The show still isn't quite getting the ratings Fox wants, so after a few more episodes it's going on haitus until they can find a different timeslot for it, moving it away from the Friday night Death Slot that nearly did in the original Star Trek before it could get going. Tonight at 8:00 EST they'll be showing what's reputed to be one of the best episodes to date, "War Stories," and in two weeks' time they'll be broadcasting the original, as-yet-unaired two-hour pilot (a favorite among fans who have been circulating a low-quality samizdat copy of it around the Internet).

To find out more about the show, visit Fox's Official Site or the best fan site to get the backstory, because this show is an on-going, arc-based story, like Buffy or Babylon 5, instead of having the Star Trek Reset Button. Mind you, unless any of you are Nielsen families (in which case you're contract-bound not to reveal it), my little recruiting drive isn't going to help keep Firefly on the air. But it's the best damn new show on teevee this year, with the possible exception of Boomtown, and easily the best new SF I've seen on TV since B5. And besides which, it's the kind of show I thought would appeal to Mudcatters given the pseudo-oldtime/western theme, the music, and the intelligence and layering with which it's crafted.

That's it. I've said my piece. If you're already watching, whaddaya think of it? If you haven't yet, tonight is a dandy opportunity to check it out. Whazzat you say? You're goin' out on the town tonight? Well, you gotta VCR, doncha? :-)

Keep flying,


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