Why (and why not) Fox should produce a Firefly reboot

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It’s a never-ending question among Firefly fans: will we ever go into the black again? While Joss Whedon was able to put together Serenity as an apt coda for his story about a band of rag-tag misfits, rumor has it there’s renewed interest in doing something new with the story. During last month’s Television Critics Association panels, executives from Fox noted that they were somewhat interested in a revival of the show.

Before you get too excited, the odds are slim. Fox broadcasting president of entertainment David Madden noted that they’ve seen quite a bit of success with revivals of shows such as X-Files and 24, and that he would “be open to a Firefly reboot if Joss Whedon himself wanted to revisit it.” Just as quickly, he noted that Whedon’s probably too busy to consider it. But, the seed is planted, and it does sort of look as though there could be a window of opportunity to revisit the world, as some of the actors aren’t locked into long-term roles (Nathan Fillion’s show Castle is now wrapped, for example), and Whedon himself doesn’t appear (publicly speaking) to be locked into a major film or show: IMDb only lists the untitled WWII horror project that was announced last fall.

So if Firefly were to return, now would be the right time. But should it?

Why Firefly should come back

Tasha: Speaking solely in the abstract, Firefly has never been more relevant than it is right now, in the sense that it’s a story about a bunch of outlaws who “aim to misbehave” by resisting a corrupt and questionably legitimate regime and operating outside its boundaries wherever possible. There’s a lot to sympathize with there. But the primary argument for bringing Firefly back has always been that it never fully felt like the show got its due, at least in terms of finding time to properly tell the stories Joss Whedon set up.

Serenity and a series of Dark Horse spinoff comics filled the largest holes and answered the major questions, but it just seems like there’s so much more for these characters to do. (If nothing else, for once it’d be nice to have a Joss Whedon story actually take the time to deal with the fallout from a major character dying for emotional effect in the climax of a story.) Leaving the practical problems aside — and boy, are there a lot of them — the argument for a resurrection is simple: Firefly’s world and its characters are memorable and compelling, and they never had time to fully bake. The show barely made it past the Whedon introduction stage where we’re getting to know everyone’s personalities. It always felt like the real plot, the bigger story, was waiting until we’d gotten past these early adventures.

Chaim: Look, I really like Firefly. The cast has this easy camaraderie that made them fun to watch and the universe had a gritty realism that was refreshing after growing up watching the clean-cut adventures of the crew of the Enterprise. Sure — as Tasha noted — most of the main storylines issues were tied up rather hastily through Serenity and the spinoff comics. But it didn’t have to be that way, and one can only assume that Whedon has plenty of ideas about where he wanted to take Firefly. The universe, with its terraformed moons and class-based struggle between the wealthy, technologically elite Core planets and the Rim worlds is a fascinating backdrop for storytelling, especially given today’s political climate.

There are plenty of reasons from both plot and behind-the-scenes perspectives as to why more Firefly wouldn’t work. But I have enough nostalgia for the show that I could forgive a whole lot of flaws just to see the crew back at the helm.

Andrew: I fell head-over-heels in love with the show when I first watched, but my passion for it has cooled with time. That said, what I liked the most about the show was what felt at the time like a unique twist on the sci-fi TV formula.

We had a gritty, Western-inspired universe, plenty of planets and moons to explore, adventures to get into, and a much larger, overarching story that was ultimately resolved in Serenity. It has a rich and varied mythos to play with, and I think that there’s a lot of untapped potential that Whedon and executive producer Tim Minear never got around to exploring. While the show did have its issues (its portrayals of women and other cultures haven’t aged well), I’d love to see just where the show could go, if given some more time and energy.

Maybe we should just let it die

Andrew: As much as I’ve enjoyed Firefly, it’s one of those shows that I’ve always felt is okay to let drift off into space. Far too often, you’ll see science fiction shows that stumble around for a couple of seasons, trying to find their way to a good story. While Firefly’s brief season was largely good — even great at points — more episodes means that you run the risk of having bad ones in the mix as well. Like artists who tragically pas at the height of their popularity, Firefly didn’t have the opportunity to tarnish its quality.

Adi: Firefly was uniquely fun because of two things: the central mystery that was resolved in Serenity, and the characters’ interpersonal interactions. Beyond the psychic research and the Reavers (both of whom are connected to said mystery), its world isn’t different enough from other space Westerns for me to specifically want to return to it.

If I watched a reboot, it would be to see the characters I’m already invested in. That would rule out an all-new cast of characters in their own ship. And even if every original actor is still game, going back to the Serenity crew wouldn’t be the same without the characters killed off in the movie. Any new crew members would get put in the weird position of filling their shoes. I’d much rather see a really good new TV series from Joss Whedon than a sad echo of a greatest hit.

Chaim: There’s an argument to be made that we’ve gone down this road before. Serenity was the response to years of fans begging for the movie to return in some fashion, and it was a fulfilling cap to the series. It reunited the entire original cast and put Joss Whedon back in the director’s chair. It wrapped up most of the major plot points that had been left dangling, gave us a final chance to see the crew together — on the big screen, with a budget far greater than the show ever had — and provided narrative closure.

This isn’t like the soon-to-return Twin Peaks or Samurai Jack, both of which left huge questions unanswered for fans. Since the finale of the TV series, even the smallest of outstanding fan questions have been addressed in the various runs of Firefly comics. We know what happened to the mysterious Hands of Blue, and the entirety of Shepherd Book’s mysterious backstory. The story of Firefly has been thoroughly told for those willing to seek it out.

Tasha: As I said above, there are endless practical problems. It’s impossible to go back and fill in the older adventures of Serenity’s crew, because the actors are now all visibly 15 years older than they were during the show’s first run. Just getting them all back together would be difficult, considering how many of the actors are currently involved with other projects. We saw with Arrested Development’s awkward reboot how problematic it can be when a director tries to work around stars’ availabilities by grabbing whoever’s available for solo shoots. Better no reboot than a badly staged one.

If Firefly were to come back, what would we want to see?

Andrew: A Firefly reboot feels like one of those things that will hit television at some point down the road. It has a passionate fan base, and science fiction television appears to be popular again with shows like Dark Matter, Killjoys, The Expanse, and Star Trek Discovery. Plus, networks seems to have a never-ending demand for reboots and remakes. If Firefly were to come back, I’d like it to take on a sort of Next Generation situation where the creators keep the universe, but put together a new cast and a new story.

Reboots are hard to do, and there’s always the worry that you’ll put together a technically interesting production that lacks the chemistry that made the original special. But it’s better, I think, to use the existing elements — the ship designs, the larger story of the Verse — to put together a story that takes place apart from the crew of the Serenity. Want to check in with Malcolm Reynolds? Get Nathan Fillion in for a cameo. The verse is a large universe, told from a very small perspective: there’s plenty of room for other, interesting stories and characters.

Adi: My best-case scenario is that they go radically different: a spinoff from the perspective of the Alliance. The show flirted with moral ambiguity, and I’d like to see it make a case for the bad guys, which would prevent us from just getting Folksy Smuggler Crew 2.0. You could return to elements of the original show, but with a radically different aesthetic and plot — think the Caprica to Firefly’s Battlestar Galactica. Admittedly, I did not finish watching Caprica, which may not be a good sign. But at the very least, it doesn’t sully my memory of the original series.

Chaim: I agree with Andrew in that this is definitely a question of “when” rather than “if.” Sequels and reboots are too popular in Hollywood these days to leave any franchise — especially one with as devoted of a fanbase as Firefly — down for long. I can see a world in which the original cast is reunited for a “10 years later” series, but I’m not sure I’d want that. As Adi pointed out, the missing crew members leave some serious holes that’d be almost impossible to fill, and seeing an older Mal Reynolds still doggedly shouting against the injustices of the universe a decade later sounds exhausting.

I think the best template for a future return is something like The Force Awakens, which was a cinematic masterclass in handing off a storied legacy from an older original cast to a new, fresh crop of characters. If Firefly does come back, working in a similar transitory hand-off to a new generation of characters (Zoe and Wash canonically have a daughter who’d make a kickass captain) would be my preference.

Tasha: The only way I’d sign on is if, as Madden says, Joss Whedon was back on board. I’ve had on-and-off problems with Whedon projects (like that tendency to kill off main characters without giving their friends any time for the reflection and reaction that would make those deaths anything more than cheap shock value), but I trust his ambition, the alchemy that keeps him in touch with what the fans want, and above all, his devotion to his own properties. He loves the worlds he creates, and it shows in the time and energy and consistency he puts into them. A rebooted Firefly series without his involvement risks getting everything wrong about the world and what gives it interesting and meaningful texture. And if he doesn’t think it’s worth doing, I don’t think it’s worth doing.

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