Killing Firefly was Fox's biggest fail ever

Fuck Fox.

Not for FoxNews or American Idol or any of the other questionable shit the network has thrown out there in the name of entertainment over the years. People like what people like, however inexplicable that may be, so I couldn't care less about any of that. No, Fox earned my everlasting ire and a golden ticket to go fuck itself when, after just four months on the air, it canceled what was quickly becoming one of the best science fiction series of all time: Firefly.

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Four months. Fourteen episodes, only twelve of which ever aired in the U.S. They gave up just four months into a complex, serialized show in a niche genre, despite the fact that it was critically acclaimed and attracted a hardcore fanbase from the beginning. Fox couldn't be bothered to give it even a full season, despite the fact the show was created by Joss Whedon, one of the most acclaimed writer-directors working then, or now. At that point, Whedon had a few hit films -- Toy Story and Speed -- under his belt as a writer. Then there were the two hit TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, that he'd created. And some of his best work was still ahead of him, as evidence by last year's excellent films The Avengers and The Cabin in the Woods.

It's not like Fox gave the show their best effort, either. If you ever wanted evidence that TV executives know nothing about what makes good television, that they pick and market shows by looking at spreadsheets and market reports rather than, you know, looking at the actual goddamn shows, look no further: Firefly is all the evidence you will ever need. It had a shitty timeslot. The show was aired out of sequence, with the excellent pilot -- which, like most pilots, kind of sets the whole damn series up -- pushed back to late in the show's run and one of its lesser episodes aired in its place. It was preempted for various reasons. It was advertised as a goddamn comedy. It's almost like Fox wanted the fucking thing to fail.

And what a waste. This was a strong, strong show. It had one of the best casts ever stuffed into a spaceship, led by the unbelievably charismatic Nathan Fillion. It consistently delivered excellent stories, frequently told in bold and unusual ways. The writing was smart and funny. The characters were well-drawn, consistent and all too human, and like all great dramas, they drove the plots, rather than simply being pieces moved around to make a point in the process of telling a story.

Now, Firefly was not necessarily an easy pill for everyone to swallow. Its mixture of sci-fi and Western tropes was offbeat, to say the least. It was a space opera without aliens. One of its main characters was a prostitute, another a priest. It was so full of ideas and back story and characters that it could, at times, feel a bit overstuffed. Its ideas weren't necessarily big -- if anything, it was as small-scale as space opera ever gets. Its settings weren't typically grandiose. But despite all of those reasons, or perhaps in some measure because of them, it was, for the short time it lived, one of the greatest sci-fi universes ever put on screen.

You don't have to agree with me -- that's clearly a matter of taste, and therefore up for endless debate without possibility of resolution. But know when I make this bold claim, I have the experience to back it up. I'm no nerdy come lately -- I've lived and breathed this stuff since long before geek culture became a mainstream thing. One of my first memories is waiting in line for Star Wars -- the original one, in its original run. I was watching reruns of the original Star Trek with my dad before I learned how to read. I remember the absurd excitement I felt when I heard they were making Star Trek: The Next Generation. I've seen every single episode of TNG, and spent plenty of time with every iteration of Star Trek since. I've at least dabbled in every major sci-fi franchise of the past thirty years -- Battlestar, Dr. Who, Farscape, Stargate, you name it -- and in most of the minor ones as well. I went to my first con when I was twelve years old and I've worked my way through a library's worth of science-fiction novels, from classic stuff like Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick to cheap, no-name pulp bullshit. So, yes, I think I have the experience to make, and back up, that claim.

It's been hard, in the decade since it went off the air, to see lesser shows succeed where Firefly was never offered a chance to. Heroes got four seasons and it was complete fucking trash. Fringe was a cool sci-fi idea, even if it never really completely jelled for me. Battlestar Galactica had its moments, but in my mind its biggest accomplishment was showing Fox that, hey you fucking morons, there is a market for smart, character-driven space opera! I doubt anyone over there was paying attention -- too busy rolling in piles of American Idol money, most likely -- but the point stands. All of those, and the rest of the TV sci-fi that's come since, only serves to make me ever more bitter at the fate of Firefly. I don't lose sleep over it -- hey, it is a fucking TV show, after all -- but that doesn't mean I'll ever forget, or forgive, the corporate dickbags that smothered my favorite show in its crib.

So yeah. Fuck Fox. Long live Firefly.

The Esquire is airing Firefly's film sequel, Serenity, this Friday and Saturday, February 22-23, as part of their Midnight Madness program.

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