Why Are Firefly/Serenity Fans So Devoted… Even After All These Years?

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/1/09.

A model of Serenity.

Last month, the Los Angeles Airport Marriott hosted Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Firefly & Serenity, a small but well-attended fan convention featuring appearances by series actors Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin, and Morena Baccarin & Alan Tudyk, both also from ABC’s V.

Of course Firefly is the science-fiction dramatic series broadcast on the Fox Network in 2002-2003, created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame. Canceled after only 11 episodes aired, the show has since engendered a major Hollywood motion picture (2005’s Serenity), a novel, a role-playing game, two comics series, soundtracks, a slew of merchandise & collectibles, and countless hand-knitted orange “cunning hats.”

I stopped by to get an idea of what’s going on with Firefly flans*, and to find out the answer to the question, Why are people still so devoted to a show that had only 14 episodes (and a movie), after nearly a decade?

Here are some answers from convention-goers, from commenters on fireflyfans.net, and from Zoic Studios co-founder Loni Peristere.

The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band.
The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band from St. Louis, Missouri.

Some credited the show’s realism, like Co-Pilot Gary Miller of The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band from St. Louis. “[It’s] because Firefly feels so real. It’s a sci-fi show without aliens. It’s about real people and real-life types of situations — in the future. Not to mention the dialogue, the acting, and the story are all brilliant.”

For me, it was all about the writing. The dialogue, and the way the characters were developed through dialogue, were just brilliant. I especially loved the dialogue for River Tam (Summer Glau of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), the ship’s ultra-violent fugitive waif — she rarely spoke, but when she did, it was always a bizarre window into her disordered mind. And usually either disturbing or hilarious.

On fireflyfans.net, hughff says: “I agree that the writing is the key. Too frequently today, television and especially film concentrate on the visual image. However, great films/shows recognize that it’s a synthesis of both visual images and dialogue.

“There was never any doubt from the very start that Firefly had the dialogue right. More than what it told us about the characters per se, I liked what it showed about their interrelationships. The verbal exchanges between Mal and Inara; the way Jayne treated Kaylee like a little sister, the way that Mal’s trust and respect for Simon grew incrementally — these were important to the flavor of the show.

“The show didn’t avoid complexity — these were real people living in a messy (i.e. real) world (alright, worlds) and as such, things were never simple.

“Finally, and Zoic can take more than a little credit for this, the show did have some great visual images: the Reaver ship sliding past in absolute silence; Crow disappearing through the air intake; Serenity rising up the cliff after the bar fight. The off-center and shaky ‘hand held’ camera work, even in the CGI, began a trend that has become everyday (Bourne Ultimatum, Battlestar Galactica) but broke new ground for me. When I first saw the first episode I thought, ‘How could they be so amateur?’ But by the end I was hooked into the vision and never let it go.”

Firefly-themed collectibles on sale in the dealer’s room.
Firefly-themed collectibles on sale in the dealer’s room.

One of the most interesting answers came from Dwight Bragdon, Board Member of the California Browncoats, a San Diego-based non-profit that promotes Firefly and Serenity fandom through charity. Since 2007 they have raised over $100,000 for charities like Equality Now and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “We are still in love with Firefly ten years later because of the type of people the show attracts. We’re smart, funny and caring, and we took our energy and enthusiasm for the ‘Verse and turned it into a community of giving….

“We can also see how much the cast and crew cared about the ‘Verse too… They lead by example too with their charity. [Actor] Nathan [Fillion] co-founded Kids Need to Read with author P.J. Haarsma; [actor] Adam Baldwin shows great support to the Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation; Joss [Whedon] is a great supporter of Equality Now; and the list goes on.

“These guys and girls are people that I am proud to call friends, proud to call family and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

For Beth Nelson, Chairman of the Austin Browncoats, another charitable non-profit based in Texas, the message of Firefly is hope. “People want to root for the underdog, because for many of us, we’re the underdogs right now. Firefly gives us that hope and inspiration. Firefly and Serenity tell the story of people who might have been forgotten, left behind, taken for granted — but if they work together, they can accomplish anything…

“So much of it has to do with how well the characters were developed and how sincere and believable the dialogue was – which is something Joss is known for… We’re all flawed; we can all identify with characters who… sometimes pick the wrong path, even with the best intentions.

“In the end, though, I think we all love what Firefly has become. Firefly went from being this amazing space western to so much more. Outside of the ‘Verse itself, the fans have become a family, a movement that got together to do more than just love a television show or a movie. Numerous fans are working towards charitable goals – ending violence and discrimination or making sure every kid has the wealth of knowledge literature can bring them.”

The dealer’s room.
The dealer’s room.

Loni Peristere was directly involved in the production of Firefly and Serenity, as visual effects supervisor. He created the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity, along with Whedon and production designer Carey Meyer. “When Joss first told me about the new show,” Peristere said, “he told me to read The Killer Angels,” the 1974 historical novel by Michael Shaara, which tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg from the Confederate perspective. The novel inspired Whedon to create Firefly.

Firefly is about not fitting in, about finding a place for yourself in a world where you don’t fit, finding a family and making a living,” Peristere explained. “There are very few shows out there where the stars are outcasts, who join together as a family, which as Joss says is what ‘makes them mighty.’ None of the characters fit in – Nathan is a Browncoat [stand-in for Confederate]; Morena [Baccarin’s character] is a whore; there’s the fugitive; the tomboy; the interracial couple; the weary shepherd; the mercenary who’s incapable of doing anything else. They would all be loners, if they didn’t band together.

“How Zoic was part of that, is we made the viewer a ‘welcome voyeur.’ The camera followed the emotional beats. By using a handheld camera on-set and a ‘handheld’ camera effect for the CG exteriors, we put the viewer in the emotional center of the story. The viewer is a voyeuristic participant – another outcast, a part of the crew.”

Peristere also feels a special kinship with the Firefly cast and crew. “We knew it was important. We fell in love with it because it was a great story to tell. The show was made by creative people we loved and respected for their bravery, because they embraced the outcast. All the creative people I respect the most come from the cast and crew of Firefly. It was a moment that’s impossible to recapture.”

One last reason the flans and Browncoats stay devoted – because Firefly died too soon. From Jaydepps on fireflyfans.net: “Another reason it is still relevant is because of how abruptly it was cut [off], and it never received closure. We’ve been thirsting for more. A good TV series goes for a decent amount of seasons until the story is filled in, mostly. Then the series leaves TV… Firefly was never given the chance to do this.”

More info: Creation Entertainment; the discussion on fireflyfans.net; The Browncoats website and on MySpace; California Browncoats; Austin Browncoats.

If you want to know why they call us “flans,” just read this aloud: “Firefly fan.”

My Halloween Serenity O’ Lantern [UPDATE]

I have learned today that having the audacity to wear a Firefly costume to work at Zoic Studios for Halloween will get you little but eye-rolls. (It’s the same costume I wore in 2006.)

But my first attempt at a Serenity O’ Lantern has received rave reviews.


My Serenity O’ Lantern in the “living room” at Zoic, with a slightly more accurate model in the background.


And a shot with the lights on.


And.. the original.

UPDATE


Me as Jayne Cobb, with the Serenity O’ Lantern .


And me as Jayne Cobb, posing in an actual door from the set of the film Serenity.

Fox Announces ‘Firefly’-themed MMORPG

Originally posted 12/19/07 on Furinkan High School Kendo Club.


[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Alright, there’s no getting’ around this. There’s Reavers on the other side of that door.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Mercenary> Jayne] Wuh de ma.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Engineer> Kaylee] We’re all gonna die! And I ain’t shtupped the Doctor yet!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Medic> Simon] What!??

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Keep your heads! We can do this. It ain’t no worse than the Battle of Serenity Valley –

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Mercenary> Jayne] Aw man –!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Engineer> Kaylee] Cap’n!!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<First Officer> Zoe] Sir, I don’t think this is the time —

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] I remember, I tol’ that young browncoat we was too pretty to die…

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<First Officer> Zoe] Sir, this is no time to reminisce about past victories –

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Mercenary> Jayne] You lost that battle. And the war.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<First Officer> Zoe] We need a plan, sir.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Right.

[Party Chat] [<Captain> Mal] Wash!

[Serenity Bridge] [<Pilot> Wash] Grrrr! Grrrr! I’m a dinosaur!

[Party Chat] [<Captain> Mal] Wash! Get on party chat!

[Party Chat] [<Pilot> Wash] WTF???

[Party Chat] [<Captain> Mal] Can we just fly ourselves outa this gorram mess?

[Party Chat] [<Pilot> Wash] No way, Captain. It’d take at least 30 seconds to fly out of this deadspace instance. We ain’t got the shields to survive that long.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Kaylee, I thought we earned a Shield Upgrade 1 in the Niska’s Skyplex instance.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Engineer> Kaylee] Yeah, Cap’n, but a Firefly-class ship ain’t got the slots for it. And since you refuse to upgrade —

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] It’s the name of the show!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Companion> Inara] Let’s worry about the Reavers, alright?

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Oh look, the whore has an opinion!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Companion> Inara] Excuse me, I have 62 points in trained abilities, including four dots in Space Combat Tactics. What do you have again?

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Mercenary> Jayne] And ten dots in sucking a man’s yáng dào.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Companion> Inara] <Inara glares at Jayne and rolls her eyes>

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Medic> Simon] This is no time for emotes! I have no combat skills at all!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Mercenary> Jayne] Yeah, why’d we bring him along again?

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<First Officer> Zoe] He buys tons of Alliance credits from Chinese gold farmers on eBay.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Shepherd> Book] This situation reminds of the Parable of the Lesbian Wiccan. One day when Willow was studying in the school library, —

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] /ignore book

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do, and y’all listen up! Jayne, equip that Blue Sun Railgun IV we got on Bellerophon.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Mercenary> Jayne] Now we’re talkin’!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Zoe, click on me and gimme the Sycophantic Follower buff, and make sure your Dual Wield is on. Wash, I know you think it’s OOC, but get some armor on and grab a gun. Inara, make sure you got Exude Eroticism and Sarcastic Putdown set to function keys. Doc, stay back and give healing buffs, but watch for ranged attacks. Kaylee, give everyone the Indomitable Spirit buff, and test for tech weaknesses when we get inside the Reaver ship. Jayne, give Kaylee the Kevlar Armor II.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Engineer> Kaylee] I’m an Engineer. I can’t wear Kevlar Armor until level 20.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Taikong suoyou de xingqiu saijin wo de pigu! Wait, what about the Blue Hands buff? That adds 100 armor points.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Engineer> Kaylee] That’s Alliance Faction only, Cap’n! Lovable Libertarian Space Pirate Faction can’t use it.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Fine. Here. Open your inventory, take my Leather Duster IV. I’ll rely on Zoe’s Take the Bullet buff.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<First Officer> Zoe] I would die for you, sir.

[Party Chat] [<Pilot> Wash] Zoe, can we talk in Marriage Chat please?

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Alright. We Stealth and use the crates and cows for cover. When the cargo bay door pops, we left click on the Reavers and wait until they come within range of Inara’s Situational Discomfort. But everyone stay within 15 feet of me, or you lose my leadership buffs. And most importantly, —

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Sexy Superheroine> River] LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEROY JEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNNKINS!!!!!!!!!!!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] Nooooo!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Mercenary> Jayne] Wuh de ma!!!!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Medic> Simon] There’s Reavers spawning everywhere! Don’t let them aggro!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Engineer> Kaylee]Oh, Simon! Do me before we die!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Medic> Simon] What’s the key for that?

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Shepherd> Book] I’m dead!

[Serenity Bridge] [<Pilot> Wash] I’m dead too!

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Companion> Inara] Well, you guys weren’t gonna survive the movie anyway.

[Serenity Cargo Bay] [<Captain> Mal] River! Gorram psychotic little — you ruined the raid!

My Gorram Halloween

Sorry it’s been so long since I blogged composed an entry in my web log. I’ve been busy doing important things.

On Halloween night, I went out with a bunch of people to West Hollywood. Over 500,000 people packed Santa Monica Blvd. between Doheny and La Cienega. It was the place to be if you wanted to see Kevin Federline booed off stage, or 80’s teen sensation Tiffany crowned honorary mayor.

I went as Jayne Cobb, the gunslinger/mercenary/crewmember-of-questionable-loyalty from Firefly and Serenity. Which meant, of course, dozens of people asking me why I had a funny knit hat on my head. I bought the “cunnin’ hat” on eBay, and the “Fighting Elves” t-shirt from the now-defuct Blue Sun Shirts site. The drop holster and camo pants are from a local army surplus shop.

As we were walking down Santa Monica Boulevard, a strange gay man ran up and gave me a huge bear hug. Turns out he recognized my costume, and had in fact dressed up as Jayne the previous year. Finally, a fellow flan! He asked if I was going to go to Flanvention. Although paying $500 to meet Jewel Staite would be worth every penny, I don’t have that much money lying around.

Later, at least 8 more people recognized my costume, which was very cool. I didn’t see any other Firefly characters, though. Oh well. Next year, I think I’ll go as Shaun of the Dead.

Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired — Part Deux

Read the first part of this blog post.

Continuing my study of tired science fiction clichés:

Explanations for Vampirism

Space vampires.  SEXY space vampires.Sci-fi writers like to find scientifical explanations for supernatural myths. Julian May suggests that fairies and dwarfs are aliens. H.P. Lovecraft proposes that ghosts and goblins are aliens. Arthur C. Clarke writes that Christian devils are… aliens.

But the favorite supernatural-meets-sci-fi trope is to describe vampires as either aliens or as victims of a disease. The classic example of the former is 1985’s Lifeforce, a great, underrated movie that everyone should see, if for nothing else than Mathilda May’s naked breasts. The best example of the latter might be 1971’s The Omega Man, which would be a classic film if it didn’t have Charlton Heston in it.

But now this has been waaaay over done. This idea even infected the Matrix movies. It was the main plot point of this year’s execrable Ultraviolet – and a movie really has to be bad if even Milla Jovovich can’t save it. And speaking of Milla, let’s stop explaining zombies as disease victims, too. If your zombie isn’t a shambling corpse created through evil Vodou magic, I don’t want to hear about it.

Nanotech as Magic

She can inject me with her nanoprobes any time.Any time nanotechnology comes up, someone quotes Arthur C. Clark; “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, it seems clear that the earliest advocates for nanotech very much overstated its potential as well as its dangers. Most likely, nanotech is not going to make us immortal. And the gray goo is not going to kill us all, either.

But it seems just as clear that nanotechnology, and related materials sciences, will completely change our world, and remake society as we know it.

Some authors have imagined these changes, and postulated in the impact they will have on humanity. Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is my favorite of these; also the works of Rudy Rucker. And occasionally, a film will reference nanotech in an interesting way. The “mimetic polyalloy” in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the first thing that comes to mind.

But you can’t just throw nanotech in there every time you need out of a dead-end plot. Lazy sci-fi writers are just using “nano” to replace all the usual pseudo-scientific jargon. Look, if you want to explore the medical implications of nanotech, please, go right ahead. But if you injured your hero in scene 24, and want him fully healed in scene 25, don’t fall back on a “nanopatch.” It’s asinine. Nanotechnology is not a magic word that eliminates the need for plot, character, and milieu construction.

I’m talking to YOU, Berman and Braga.

The Ineffectual Crew

Yeah, George, we get it.  That's a lot of guys.So, the U.S.S. Enterprise had a crew of 430. The Enterprise-D had a crew of over 1,000. Babylon 5 had a crew of 2500 (and a much larger population). The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had 2800 crew. The SDF-1 had 50,000 people living inside of it. The Death Star had a crew complement of 1,226,000.

But only five people ever actually DO anything.

This is difficult to avoid; in fiction we have main protagonists, and we want to hear about what they’re doing, not about some lowly Photon Torpedo Loading Technician on Deck 23. Our heroes won’t be very interesting if all they do is bark orders all day.

One way to deal with this is a tiny crew. In Firefly, the Serenity had a crew of six, with three passengers (I’m counting the doctor, Simon, as crew). There was zero redundancy, so if someone got taken out, the ship was screwed. But at least everyone was busy.

The new Battlestar Galactica has faced this problem self-referentially. Apollo and Starbuck have both complained that they have to do all the heavy lifting. It’s a wink-and-a-nod to the audience.

To give Star Trek credit, the show did an excellent job from the very beginning of creating the illusion of a large ship with a large crew, through background sounds, the careful placement of extras, and dialogue. And Next Generation was pretty good about introducing supporting crew characters. Still, if someone was going to save the ship, it was most likely Wesley.

The message to sci-fi writers is this; if the life of a starship captain isn’t very interesting, because he or she doesn’t actually do very much on his or her own, then stop writing stories about starship captains. Or be more creative in inventing stories.

The Planet-as-Location

I met him in a swamp down on Dagobah, where it bubbles all the time like a giant carbonated soda.  S-O-D-A soda.The planet Dagobah is jungle planet with roughly Earth gravity and with oceans over only 8% of the surface. If we assume that Dagobah is the same size as the Earth, then the land area of the planet is 469,260,352 km2, or 181,182,435 miles2. Give or take.

Good thing Dagobah is in fact about one acre in size, and contains a lake, a hut, and a Secret Grove of Confronting One’s Enemy and Learning It Is Oneself. Because Dagobah is only an acre, Luke has no problem locating Yoda’s home. Imagine if he had to search 181 million square miles! And all while Han & Leia are hiding in the asteroid field!

Sci-fi writers love to treat “planet” as if it’s a single location. “Let’s land on the planet, where we’ll meet the one settlement of the one culture, and have the one adventure the planet can afford us.” Planets are entire WORLDS. Even with advanced technology, it will take a space exploration crew YEARS to explore and survey a single planet. Even an uninhabited one.

Under the “Planet-as-Location” cliché, Mars is done. We sent a robot, it roamed around a few hundred yards. We saw it. DONE. Nothing more to see here.

It’s absurd, it’s an overused sci-fi trope, and it’s time to drop it.

The Theme Planet

Mmmm mmmm, sandworm is good eatin'!The planet Dagobah is jungle planet with roughly Earth gravity and with oceans over only 8% of the surface. If we assume that Dagobah is the same size as the Earth, then the land area of the planet is 469,260,352 km2, or 181,182,435 miles2. Give or take.

That’s 181 million square miles of jungle. Jungle at the equator, jungle at the poles. Jungle in the plains, jungle on the mountains. Jungle on the ocean floor, I guess. No deserts, no tundra, no temperate grasslands. Just jungle, jungle, jungle.

Jungles occur at certain latitudes, and in specific geographic and climate conditions. Even if Johnny Jungleseed went all over the planet planting Kapok trees, it’s not going to create a single planetary biome.

Even Frank Herbert admitted that Arrakis – Dune – desert planet was not scientifically possible. Although he created a clever ecology for the planet, all of its unique (and impossible) features were due to a single creature, the sandworm. One wonders how such a destructive life form, that creates its own climate, ever evolved.

Some theme planets are possible (ocean worlds) or even probable (ice worlds). But they won’t have lovely, warm oxygen atmospheres. Look at the one “desert” planet of which we are aware – Mars. Not terribly hospitable to moisture farmers and their malcontent nephews who thirst for adventure. Scientists used to hypothesize that Venus was a jungle planet. Sulfur rain and 400Cº temperatures aren’t too conducive to rainforest conditions.

Enough with the theme planets. Again, planets are WORLDS, and should be treated as such.

Everything on Mars is Red

Dees red filtah ees makink my head explote!  Or maybe eet ees der Kahreefornia Demokrats!“Hey, let’s make this movie take place on Mars! We’ll just drive out to Topanga, and shoot everything with a red filter!”

Even movies as recent as Mission to Mars and Red Planet have fallen into this lazy, non-scientific trap. Is everything on Earth blue? Should everything that takes place on Earth be shot with a blue filter?

Mars’ surface is covered largely by iron oxide rust. This gives the surface, and atmospheric dust, an orange hue. But the sky is blue during the day and black at night, and objects are the color they would be anywhere else, unless they are covered in orange dust. The surface albedo might give objects a slight orange cast – but that’s about it.

The planet has no magical red miasma. You can’t depict the planet’s surface on the cheap with a red filter. Sorry.

Alien-Human Hybrids/Babies

Ripley Clone Number 7.  I'd still hit it.From Mr. Spock and Dana Sterling to Ripley Clone #8 and the Cylon Miracle Baby, sci-fi writers just love those alien-human hybrids.

Unfortunately, if you can’t get viable offspring from a human-chimpanzee coupling (and Lord knows I’ve tried!), what chances are there for two beings that evolved on different worlds?

Now the sticklers will point out, regarding the four examples given above, that (1) humans and Vulcans were both created by the Progenitors; (2) in some versions of the Macross back story, the Zentraedi are a human sub-species; (3) the Ripley clones weren’t created sexually, and were just Ripley with certain xenomorph genes spliced in; and (4) humanoid Cylons are almost completely human, and are designed to copulate with humans.

Excuses, excuses.

It’s funny, in 2001’s Planet of the Apes, director Tim Burton wasn’t allowed to show the human Mark Wahlberg get it on with the chimp Helena Bonham Carter. Yet James T. Kirk could get busy with any alien that had a shapely carcass and a hole.

When we finally encounter intelligent alien life, the social, psychological, and ethical challenges will be enormous. But the one thing we won’t have to worry about it alien-human babies. Time to give it up.

Sound In Space

Sound in space -- there isn't any.Everyone knows there is no sound in a vacuum. Everyone but George Lucas.

Some sci-fi movies and films have tried to accurately portray what a spaceship occupant might hear, during a battle for instance; or at least use the occupant’s perspective as an excuse to sneak in some sound. The new Battlestar Galactica does a pretty good job of this. Engine sounds, collisions, passing through gas and debris clouds, and voices can provide a lot of audio “business” in a scene.

But there is something eerie and beautiful about an appropriately silent space scene. (As long as it’s not all done in annoying slow motion, like 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Firefly had some excellent “silent” space scenes, with nothing but twangy guitar over the action.

Science fiction authors need to remember, physics is our ally, not our enemy. Make friends with it.

Rant #3: A ‘Charmed’ Spin-Off? What the Hell is Wrong with Fans???

There’s a mobile billboard parked across the street from our offices; and, more pertinently, across the street from CBS Enterprises, a television production and distribution company.

It was placed there by a group of fans demanding a Charmed spin-off.

What the HELL has happened to fandom?

Are we so desperate for sci-fi and fantasy content, we’ll not only put up with crappy novelizations (Star Wars and Star Trek books), crappy TV movies (I’m thinking anything produced by the Sci-Fi Channel), lousy comic book adaptations (I’m looking at YOU, Jessica Alba), and execrable TV shows, but we’ll BEG FOR MORE?

Why, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, did America’s legions of sci-fi fans make themselves known by clamoring for the return of Star Trek? Maybe because many episodes of that show were brilliant, written by top genre scribes? Maybe because there had never been anything like it on television before? Maybe because it offered a hopeful future free from racism and war? Maybe because it was the only alternative to the “talking carrot” seasons of Lost in Space?

But the legacy of the successful effort to save Trek, here in the 21st Century, is that every time a sci-fi show gets cancelled, someone has to rally to save it, whether the show deserves it or not. Occasionally, the effort is worthwhile (Firefly). Other times, it’s simply baffling (Enterprise, Stargate SG-1).

Should every sci-fi show, regardless of merit, last forever? And merit doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it — where were the legions to save the live-action The Tick, a show genuinely worth saving? Or Max Headroom?

I’ve gotten a lot of grief for daring to criticize Babylon 5. But you know what? Good or bad, B5 was a labor of love by one man, J. Michael Straczynski. I think the people who worship that show are basically responding to the man and his vision. Like Chris Carter or Joss Whedon or even Gene Roddenberry, Straczynski had a message and was able to get it across. B5 may have been art of inconsistent quality, but it was art.

Charmed was not art. It was PRODUCT. It was not a labor of love. Tori Spelling saw The Craft, and told her dad, who said “hey, I could sell that pile of shit to 13-year-old girls.” Charmed was focus-group-driven pablum, pretty actresses surrounded by cheap and lazy special effects. As an “occult drama” it had all the depth of Bewitched (but none of the charm).

Christ, it’s not just that Charmed was bad. Lots of worthwhile things are “bad.” It’s that Charmed didn’t matter. At all. Nor did its creators intend it to matter. It was designed to fill an hour of network time, and lure teens with undeveloped tastes into watching commercials for skin cleaner.

My message to the people who want a Charmed spin-off: all the money you spent on that billboard could have been spent to feed the homeless, cure Cystic Fibrosis, or bring back Firefly. Try developing some discretion. The creative community can do a hell of a lot better than Charmed — and so can you.

Why I Dislike ‘Babylon 5’

Well, my story on Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Openings got FARKed, and my blog got slammed with hits, which is a very good thing. I originally wrote it for GGL – but our new editorial direction is to get away from “Gamer/Geek Lifestyle” stories, and stick to “professional gaming” stories. Which is fine – I’ll just write for my blog.

Lots of people had suggestions for the best and worst list. Some of them were even polite. After reading them all, my only regret is that I did not consider the original opening sequence for Red Dwarf for the best list.

I was surprised to learn that some Firefly flans don’t like the Firefly theme song. That’s crazy. I hate Country music as much as the next intelligent person of taste; but that theme is great. (Please note: Firefly fans are referred to as “Browncoats” or “flans.” If you don’t understand why we say “flans” or “flanvention,” please read the following two words aloud: “Firefly fan.”)

Of course, I got slammed for hating on Babylon 5. That was my point about why B5 fans are so annoying. It’s not that people enjoy B5 – knock yourself out. It’s that they get so incredibly upset when you point out the fact that their show is mediocre.

I watched the first episode of B5 when it first aired. Wanna know why I stopped watching? An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit. That’s when I stopped watching.

But some of my friends went on about how great the writing was, how the overarching storyline was so cool (although they admitted that often, the individual episode stories were quite lame). But I couldn’t get over the disconnect between the expensive CGI exteriors (which were often so busy, you couldn’t tell what was going on – see BSG, or even late-season DS9, to learn how to do space battles properly) and the CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP “sets.” I mean, we’re talking Buck Rogers-level sets.

Now Doctor Who has always gotten by on great writing with cheap production values. But Doctor Who’s production values were consistently cheap, and the writing was consistently great. So was the acting, as the show had the entire stable of classically-trained British actors to choose from. Even die-hard B5 fanatics will admit that the acting was a mixed bag.

B5 was not a bad show. But it was not a great show. It was not the fantastic touchstone of modern sci-fi its fans want you to think it was. Again, if you’re a fan, good for you. But stop trying to convince me that B5 is worth my time. It’s not.

The Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Show Openings (Part 1)

Photos and YouTube links updated 5/7/09.

I suffer from insomnia, and you benefit. Here are my picks for 10 Best and 10 Worst Opening Credits for Genre TV Shows.

By “genre,” I mean science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I only included shows made in English. I also decided to limit myself to those credits sequences I could find online – but this turned out not to be a problem. Hooray for YouTube! Hooray for copyright violations!

I was worried that I would subconsciously rate the title sequences not on their own merit, but based on the quality of the show overall. But I ended up with one of the worst shows of all time on the “Best” list, and one of the best on the “Worst” list. And they both have the same title!

Numerical order is approximate.

The 10 Best

BSG v.110. “Battlestar Galactica” (1979)

One of the most common mistakes made by sci-fi TV openings is the “expository monologue,” with which jittery television executives try to explain the show’s premise to viewers who don’t “get” sci-fi. As I researched this list, I learned how ubiquitous this problem is. Blah blah blah.

The original BSG features a long, long, loooong expository monologue. Yeah yeah, Toltecs and Mayans, got it. But the monologue is well written, and it’s read with tremendous gravity by the brilliant Patrick Macnee, who also voiced the Imperious Leader. The theme song kicks ass. And most importantly, the edited scenes (viewed through a circle — why?) really make the show look impressive. Too bad it sucked ass.

The Greatest American Hero9. “The Greatest American Hero” (1981-83)

It’s all about the theme song, baby. Mike Post’s theme song is goofy, poppy, cheesy, and almost but not entirely unrelated to the content of the show. And once you hear it, you will NEVER get it out of your head. This credits sequence is fun, funny, and engaging, and it has no expository monologue whatsoever. That UFO, left over from one of Steven Spielberg’s garage sales, is also very cool.

Watch for snakes!8. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (1988-1999)

“Robot roll call!” We’re only concerned with the first two credit sequences here, the original Joel Hogdson credits and the first Mike Nelson opening. After Frank Conniff left, the show jumped the shark; and once it moved to the Sci Fi Channel, well, it’s just best not to think about it. Catchy song, goofy models and puppets, and the iconic “corridor crawl” a la “Get Smart.” And the theme song doubled as the expository monologue, which was a real time saver.

Make it so.7. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994)

What do you get when you cross the theme from “Star Trek The Motionless Picture” with the Shakespearean monologing skills of Patrick Stewart and a clever tribute the opening of the original “Star Trek?” Um, this opening, duh. By the way, the original “Star Trek” opening was pretty weak (“whoosh! whoosh!), although nowhere near bad enough to make the “worst” list. As far as I can tell, “Space… the final frontier…” invented the expository monologue.

Like Babylon 5, but slightly less sucky.6. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999)

There was nothing special about the DS9 opening until season four, about the time the show started to not completely suck. The morose theme song got a boost from a bouncy backing track, and the CG guys added a bunch of business involving spaceships, little space-suited construction workers, and the Defiant flying into the wormhole. Suddenly, Deep Space 9 became a place you might conceivably care about. Then, in season seven, they screwed the whole thing up. This award goes to seasons 4-6 only. (Special props to DS9 for dropping the “Final Frontier” speech.)

What if the bad guys had salads for heads?5. “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001)

Finally, the “Star Trek” credits sequence perfected. Great theme, excellent effects. Voyager actually interacts with its surroundings, which gives the sequence more reality.

Of course, in 9 out of 10 episodes, once the opening credits ended it was all downhill from there.

This show was saved near the end by exactly two things — marginally better writing, and Jeri Ryan.

So, what's the plunger for again?4. “Doctor Who” (1963-89, 1996, 2005-present)

First let’s discuss that theme song. When some hack isn’t ruining it by trying to “update” it, Ron Grainer’s “Doctor Who” theme is spacey, dramatic and memorable. Most of the “Doctor Who” credits sequences have been mediocre or terrible (see this – Jesus Christ, did that Zardozian giant floating head just wink at me? Exterminate! Exterminate!), but two really stand out. Coincidentally, they’re the openings for the two best Doctors to date. Tom Baker’s (1974-81) was modeled after previous openings, and included the dreaded “head shot.” But the music was great, the effects were cool, and you got to see the TARDIS fly around. In the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant credits (2005 – present), the music was great, the effects were cool, and you got to see the TARDIS fly around. And no headshot! Plus, “Doctor Who” has never burdened us with an expository monologue. Can you imagine trying to explain “Doctor Who” in 30 seconds?

D-d-d-d-d-d duh duh duh duh duh.3. “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1974-78)

The awkwardly-titled series that made Lee Majors a star had opening credits as heart-pounding and dramatic as anything on TV. Steve Austin’s whole origins story was presented in under a minute – and they didn’t tell us, they showed us. Sure, Richard Anderson (no relation to Dean) talks through the credits, but he’s in the story, trying to convince his unnamed listener that blowing $6,000,000 in 1970s dollars to turn a crippled astronaut, and the astronaut’s girlfriend and dog, into cybernetic freaks isn’t a violation of the public trust. This opening is artistic and beautifully edited; and the cheesy theme song doesn’t cut in until the last 15 seconds.

SEPT!!! 13!!!! 1999!!!!!2. “Space: 1999” (1975-77)
This is a really interesting case. Some openings, like “The X-Files” or “Farscape,” were good, but not good enough to make it onto the “Best” list. (To answer your question – “The X-Files” had a great theme, but the visuals were dorky as hell. Oh look – Mulder is falling into an eye! Spooky!) Some were bad, but not terrible enough to make the “Worst” list (see “Lost In Space”). Only “Space: 1999” almost made it onto both lists.

The great: brilliant music, heart-pounding action, real drama, and no expository monologue. The terrible: it’s overwrought to the point of silliness – “SEPT 13!!!! 1999!!!!” In the end, the good beats out the bad. BTW, we are ignoring the hideous second season opening, just as we ignore the hideous second season.

(For more Gerry Anderson goodness, check out “Thunderbirds,” which just barely missed the Best list.)

Gorram Fox Network!1. “Firefly” (2002)

Wow. Just… wow. I’m not going to ruin it with words. If you don’t get it, nothing I say can help. Burn the land and boil the sea – you can’t take the sky from me.

(And Gina Torres gets to be the only actor on both the Best and Worst lists, unless you count Richard Hatch.)

Now read… the 10 Worst!