Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cancelled too soon: Firefly, meet Millennium.

Those who regularly suffer this output will be aware of the campaign I keep pushing for the return of Millennium's Frank Black. Others may have equally suffered my recent twabber (a jabbering monologue as vacuous as twitter but with no word limit) on Battlestar Galactica. Some poor fools will have suffered both.

Well rest assured, the tippity, tappity, tuttery tick of my fingers against keys translates to a topic devoid of Cylons or Legion.

Well, almost anyway.

A neat, uncomfortable wisdom tooth extraction has lead to two vital occurrences this very week. The first is the increased necessity for painkillers, resulting in some wobbling and sleeping, the other is a marathon viewing of Whedon's Firefly show, its sequel Serenity and the comic book segue Those Left Behind. For those who aren't familiar with the show - bloody well go and get all manner of familiar with it. It's essentially the daily life of Han Solo with a more glib and earthy penmanship; a gang of mercenaries who struggle to survive in the outer edges of a solar system inside their much loved bucket of bolts, Serenity.

In some respects, Millennium and Firefly suffered juxtaposing ailments. The former got three brimming, excellent seasons but was robbed a satisfying resolution, while the latter was robbed of more than half a season but got a wonderful epic conclusion. Put the two together and you'd have the most righteous slice of television brilliance known to man since, well, Battlestar Galactica.

That being said, perhaps what makes Firefly so great is that it is short. Thirteen stories plus a film. In some ways it seems grossly unfair that it was cut off so early - even with the fortunate luxury of a feature film, this show had so much to say, but one could equally say that thirteen tales is enough for most forms of storytelling. We're never bummed out Hamlet never got a sequel or that Frodo didn't manage to showcase his exploits beyond Middle Earth. We don't get upset that Stoker didn't pen ten odd more encounters with Dracula. When all said and done, a book series that managed to whip out thirteen tales would be considered most generous - possibily even excessive.

But with television, we want more. Arguably this is understandable - we look to Firefly as a serial, we look to Macbeth as a single tale. With books, the time it can take to read a single good novel thoroughly you could have watched a good few episodes of a TV show. Three quarters of an hour isn't that long when it comes to storytelling - and that's our standard television serial format.

However, we don't look to serialised films with such a warm grace. Naturally there are factors which made film a whole different pot of ingredients, but whatever the factors that make a franchise of film often weaker than a single outing, the fact is we don't appear to look at ten odd hours of storytelling on television as a bigger enough investigation of a particular universe - or in Firefly's case, a particular 'verse.

The obvious answer is the basis of comparison. I'm not a fan of Stargate - as a genre comparison - and yet it has gone on and on and on. Whoopie for its fans, but for those of us who didn't find pleasure in the show and have watched shows that were pleasurable drop by the wayside, its understandable that we speculate to what Firefly could have had.

But then I have to remind myself - of those who did manage to get what Stargate had (or at least more than half a season) and see what happened to those shows as a result. Did longevity eat into the show's quality and thereby its legacy? It's an age old question - do you suffer the inevitable duds of a longer show for the sake of the gems that might be cut? Or do you simply enjoy the short and sweet of a single, well crafted season?

Invariably, as with all things from my gob, the answer is somewhere in the middle. I can't think of any show that lasted any more than five seasons that hasn't shown a dip in quality. Likewise, I can think of many shows which had potential that you knew was present but was never had the opportunity to prove it. Knowing Whedon's talent and the sheer craft of Firefly's 'verse, I'm sure the show had much to prove. Wouldn't it be great to swap over DVDs with an alternate universe - show a world which had five seasons of Firefly Serenity film and for them to show us their four extra boxsets? I'm sure they'd be as fascinated in Serenity's quick wrap as we would be in their extended franchise.

In the end, I know I would have happily suffered some duds for more Firefly, just as I am happy suffering Thirteen Years Later in Millennium for the sake of over fifty episodes, but if I was honestly rational with myself, I'd say that Firefly is like reading a book while Millennium will always remain a unfinished project (unless we can do something about that - see backtofrankblack.com). For all the potential Whedon's show lost, it had something so special that is so much missed from Millennium - it had an ending. Okay, not a definitive ending (Whedon wasn't that dumb), but the film it got gave the show closure the series never could offer. That closure is important. I can watch Firefly, enjoy the variety in stories, the colour of the characters and the wonderful workmanship of its world safe in the knowledge that like a good book - like all good things - it has an end that will satisfy. I can enjoy the episodes without looking at the clock knowing I'm getting closer to being ripped away from the story, its tale unfinished.

With Firefly/Serentity we have a beginning, middle and end - thanks to the film's focus on the River's arc. The show opens on Simon and River's d├ębut on ship, we watch the crew and passengers adapt to their new dynamic and it finishes with this family actually making a difference - whether that difference is long-lasting we don't know, but that doesn't matter. The show has been giving meaning by the significance of its final outing.

Of course there may be more from Firefly in the future. With the commerce of cult being so unpredictable these days, its never too late for a return (look at Red Dwarf, brand new back on TV tomorrow for the first time in over a decade - and given then ending of the last season, in need of a return). If there isn't, I'm good with that. For me, Firefly/Serenity make the book - I'm not desperate for a sequel. But with Millennium, well, that's a different story. That show needs an end.

Hell, every show needs an end of some sort - but there are a few quality shows in particular that need it more than others. I'm forever grateful to Firefly's fandom for pushing so we got some form of closure on that wonderful show. I'm just hoping that Millennium might have the chance of the same.