“Create a world that floats on a layer of metaphor, drench it in big ideas about the world, fill it with real people, and then absolutely demand intelligence of your viewers. Welcome to Serenity.”
–Jane Espenson, writer for Firefly (among many other shows)
In Firefly, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) fought (and unfortunately lost) the battle of Serenity Valley. He was part of an underdog rebel force fighting against the Alliance military for control of his world, his universe, and for the freedom of how to live his life. His rebels were known as Browncoats, a name that fans of Firefly took as their own, to show their unity and devotion to the cause. For some, the cause was simply support of the show. For others, it became much more. And much like Mal, who continued to fight for what he believed throughout the course of the series, they still fight today, for the good of all.
The Browncoats portrayed on Firefly were rebels to the core, fighting against the status quo. So too are the self-styled followers of the series, independents all. These Browncoats fight not only to keep the memory of the series alive, but have been out there now going on six years to raise money for charity and spread the word. They continue to tell to the world about both good causes and their beloved passion, Firefly.
Mal: “Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?”
Zoe: “Big damn heroes, sir.”
–from the episode Safe
While there are many loosely organized groups (as is befitting a bunch of independents, many of whom discovered Firefly individually and came together later), there is an umbrella charity group called Can’t Stop the Serenity that deserves special notice. Can’t Stop the Serenity co-ordinates charity showings of the 2005 Serenity feature film in various locations around the world (usually theatres, on a big screen as the film should be seen). They also act as a clearing house for some of the license issues, and to help support the charity Equality Now, a favorite of Firefly creator Joss Whedon. Other events also raise money to donate to a wide variety of charities in addition to Equality Now, and the shindigs have been known to feature auctions of Firefly-related merchandise, items signed by stars of the show, and related memorabilia (such as screenings of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which featured Firefly star Nathan Fillion and was written/produced/directed by Whedon).
The group has been going strong for the last five years, and as they enter their sixth, they’ve helped sponsor yearly gatherings everywhere from Lawrence, Kansas to Melbourne, Australia; from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Hamburg, Germany. While events are held at various times during the year, most are organized around the last weekend in June (honoring Whedon’s birthday of June 26). In 2010 alone, the group raised over $100,000 for Equality Now and a significant percentage more for other worthy organizations. Fifty different sanctioned events were held around the world in 2010, and that’s just counting the events and donations affiliated with this particular Browncoats group.
“I write for fanboy moments. I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. I write to do all the things the viewers want too. So the intensity of the fan response is enormously gratifying. It means I hit a nerve.”
— Joss Whedon
Other events were held in cities large and small, featuring more than just screenings of the show. For example, an event called Firefly Forever was held last year for fans of the show in a venue that often features touring Broadway productions. It had not only a screening of the Serenity movie and Dr. Horrible, but also trivia contests, costumed attendees, and a tribute band led by Megan Gogerty. In addition to being an award-winning playwright and performer, Megan loves both Firefly and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer so much (both Whedon projects) she has created tribute albums for each. Her music is fun, occasionally poignant, and shows how Firefly has stimulated her already creative energy in terrific ways.
Fans weren’t happy with the fact that Firefly ended so quickly, even with the feature film Serenity to help tie up a few of the loose ends. One group created their own feature-length production called Browncoats: Redemption, and it is now being shown at various SF conventions and gatherings, including some Can’t Stop the Serenity events mentioned above. Obviously a labor of love, what it lacks slightly in Hollywood budget it more than makes up for in enthusiasm and passion for a series gone but not forgotten… much like Mal and the original rebels shared their passion for a battle lost and still remembered, or Joss and his own passionate fight for Firefly against the television powers-that-be. The makers of this fan film also support a number of charities, and their website notes not only Equality Now, but also Kids Need to Read, a charity Firefly star Nathan Fillion helped found a number of years ago to advocate assorted opportunities for youngsters and literacy.
“I’d rather make a show 100 people need to see, than a show that 1000 people want to see.”
— Joss Whedon
If the original Firefly was all about character, then the response of the fans was all about passion. Passion in action is creativity, and Firefly fans are overwhelmingly both passionate and creative. Welcome to the Blue Sun Room at FireflyFans.net. Here there are a simply amazing amount of original fan fiction, filk songs (Megan’s not the only one singing the praises of Firefly!), various compilation videos, banners and wallpapers for computers and websites, and original artwork based on the series. Some have even created jewelry, model weapons, and costumes based on character accessories seen on the show. Firefly was inspirational to many, causing them to create based on their love for these characters and their dramatic situations.
“I’m very much of the ‘make it dark, make it grim, make it tough.’ But then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”
Of course, dramatic situations don’t stop fans from having fun with their adopted creation. There are many comical songs available, not to mention stories written which run the gamut from hauntingly beautiful and sad to downright hilarious. Fans have done so many wonderful things it’s hard to describe the wide variations available. One fan even went so far as to draw some of the characters as cartoons, perhaps in the hope of someday reviving the show as an animated series, but more likely as just another way to share his love of the show through his particular talents. And maybe that’s when you can tell that a show has become much more than just a show to people… they take what they love and somehow are moved to make it part of themselves, part of their own identity. That’s what passion really is, an expression of self.
“I refuse to give up. I can’t.”
–Creator Joss Whedon, on bringing back Firefly
Even the cast and crew were caught up in the specialness of Firefly, so much so that it has been a part of their professional lives long after the cancellation of the original series. Yes, the Serenity movie was a gift, a reunion experience that most short-lived television shows and their fans never get. But even now, the ‘verse of Firefly remains a part of them all, and rather than resent being identified with a canceled show, they embrace the experience.
Nathan Fillion was seen in a Halloween episode of his current series Castle in his old Mal Reynolds costume, with a fun bit interacting with his onscreen “daughter” played by Molly Quinn. Her line? “That was like five years ago.” Another Firefly joke landed in Castle this past season when his mother (talking about something else entirely) said “You have heard of Serenity, haven’t you?” Fillion loves his association with the show, so much so that he recently sparked notions of a revival. When asked about his experience on Firefly and he current feelings on the series, he responded that if he won the lottery, he’d take the $300 million, buy the rights to Firefly, and start making it again. There was a Facebook page and a website dedicated to “Help Nathan buy Firefly” created by fans within days, and two former writers for the series, Jane Espenson and Jose Molina, immediately added their support to the idea…. Passion, my friends, passion.
Other actors in the show have continued their careers in geek- and SF-related shows, likely sparked by their fanbase from Firefly. Morena Baccarin (Irina) recently finished her second season as the lead in ABC’s revival of V, while Jewel Staite (Kaylee) was a featured regular on Stargate: Atlantis. Adam Baldwin (Jayne) has been a regular on NBC’s Chuck for a number of seasons, and Summer Glau (River) has been a fan favorite on a many genre shows, including The 4400, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and The Cape. Glau has also been a guest on The Big Bang Theory, a show which has featured some terrific references to the original Firefly. (One character on Big Bang Theory is STILL angry at the cancellation, years later, so much so that it’s a running gag. He’s not typical in his expressed anger, but he’s not the only one who is not happy with Fox, even now, for what happened.)
“…you’re going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters… and people who talk at the theater.”
–Shepherd Book, who unfortunately was NOT talking about the Fox executive who canceled Firefly
Obviously, there were a number of people who were very unhappy at the cancellation of Firefly… but the problem with that idea is, there really weren’t enough people watching it when it was originally on in the first place. For some of the reasons (and for some of the blame on Fox), you can see last week’s article. But partially because of the haphazard treatment of the network, Firefly never really gained a wide audience until AFTER its original airing, and the passion grew as more and more fans were turned on to the amazing characters and setting by OTHER fans along the way.
The feature film Serenity (released in 2005) came about because of Fox’s short-sightedness as well, and the obvious enthusiasm of the Browncoats. Shortly after the cancellation, episodes were shown to the head of Universal (a Fox rival), who immediately snapped up the movie rights to the franchise. Bigger, better sets were built, a script written by Joss Whedon (who also directed), and the entire cast and much of the crew were reunited, joyously, to once again play in their favorite ‘verse. While the stakes were raised (and favorites lost), Serenity was still a way for the fans to get answers to some lingering questions about the characters, and for at least some form of resolution to be achieved.
But fans… Browncoats… wouldn’t settle for just that, either. That’s why they’ve made Firefly their own. That’s why they’ll never let it end. It’s personal now.
There’s a reason the DVD sets were such big sellers, and that’s because very few people actually saw the original airing of the series… but thanks both to the Serenity film and the Browncoats spreading the word from person to person, Firefly has exploded in the viewing consciousness since. If you wish to see something of what I’m talking about, episodes are available on Hulu, with different hours rotating in and out each week.
Firefly is unique, not just because of the characters or the setting, the ideas or the writing… it is unique because it’s a television show that became much more than what most television shows ever become: it changed the lives and behavior of numerous viewers for the better. Whether in their own creative endeavors, or their actions in supporting valuable charitable organizations, or even in just taking the ideals of the characters to heart, Firefly has become real. Not in the fact of flying between planets and space cowboys, but in motivating people into cherishing their own natures, and becoming more than what they were before.
In these modern times, situations we face along the way can take so much from us, just in the everyday struggle to survive. Be it work, family, home, health… we all have battles we’ve fought, and sometimes lost. Compromises sometimes have to be made, and like I said about Mal in the previous article, so many individuals try to be good people… where good isn’t always an option. But Firefly touched a nerve for many, and while it showed characters battling foes larger than themselves, it also showed how each of them could prosper individually, even with just small victories along the way.
The rebels and Browncoats identified with the crew of Serenity as their own, with likely someone on the crew being a personal draw to almost anyone who watched. And the ultimate theme of the series was like a shining beacon to many: No matter what happens, no matter what battles are won or lost, there are certain things that are intrinsically part of each of us, and those things can never be taken away, no matter how hard some may try.
You can’t take the sky from me….
I’ve been doing this for a year now. Thanks for the journey so far. Let’s keep flying. –Tim R.
Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.