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.”

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.